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Zimbabwe has registered tremendous progress towards domesticating the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

The treaty aims to protect indigenous knowledge on plant genetic resources and equitable access and benefit sharing from those resources.

At a workshop on the domestication of the ITPGRFA, hosted by the Community Technology Development Organisation (CTDO) in Harare this week, acting curator of the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology Institute (formerly the National Gene Bank of Zimbabwe) Mr Kudzai Kusena said the country had covered major ground towards domesticating the treaty.

“Even though Zimbabwe had ratified the treaty, but was yet to domesticate it through enactment of supporting policies, we have covered at least 80 percent of the work towards domesticating the treaty,” he said.

“At least 20 percent of the work remains incomplete. We remain optimistic about the success we are making towards the domestication of the treaty.

There are programmes within the Government that are already domesticating provisions of the treaty.”

Zimbabwe ratified the ITPGRFA in October 2002. The treaty promotes conservation and sustainable use of plant generic resources for food and agriculture as well as for fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use.

The ITPGRFA also seeks to recognise the right of the farmer to protect indigenous knowledge on plant genetic resources and share benefits from those resources.

Article 9 of the treaty also seeks to make farmers realise their right to produce, save, exchange, re-use, participate in decision making and protect their local knowledge systems.

While Zimbabwe was among the early countries to ratify the treaty, efforts to domesticate the treaty was slowed down by the complex review process, overlapping roles of ministries, underfunding, bureaucracy and lack of urgency on the part of the Government, legal and agricultural experts said at the workshop.

“We are holding this workshop to raise awareness on the implementation of the ITPRGFA and its obligations,” said Mr Regis Mafuratidze, a legal expert with CTDO.

“We need to articulate the need for domestication of Article 6 and 9 of the Treaty.”

He said his organisation was already assisting rural district councils in implementing some of the provisions related to the ITPGRFA.

“We have assisted six rural district councils in developing Access, Benefit, Sharing by-laws so that our local communities can benefit from their natural resources,” he said.

“We need to promote ABS issues and identify issues which are stumbling the domestication of the treaty.”

Through the ITPGRFA, the UN hopes to fight hunger and poverty and achieve Millennium Development Goals 1 and 7, which target eradicating poverty and hunger, and halting the spread of HIV and AIDS while reversing its spread by 2015. Most Zimbabweans living in communal areas were still not aware of their right to access and share the benefits of indigenous genetic resources.

While the Zimbabwe grapples to domesticate the treaty, the country’s rich biological diversity resource base made up of 4 400 plant species comprising of about 1 500 genera (sub-family in the classification of organisms) and 200 families is being lost through biopiracy while local communities endure abject poverty. Genetic resources experts say that the country’s genetic resources have been leaked out of the country for many years now due to lack of laws against biopiracy.

They also say that Africa could be losing more than US$15 billion from its biodiversity as medicines, cosmetics, agricultural products and indigenous knowledge surrounding these are being patented illegally by multinational companies without there being evidence of benefits accruing to local communities in countries of origin.

They say biopiracy cases are still rising as most African countries are losing huge benefits from their resources due to lack of legal protection against biopiracy.

Zimbabwe is also rich in domesticated plant resources which include cereals, industrial and horticultural crops, indigenous and exotic vegetables, roots and tubers and medicinal plants.

“Very little attention has been given towards inventorying, documentation of diversity and distribution of the country’s plant genetic resources even though there are reported to be threatened,” Kusena said.

The global economic importance of genetic resources is estimated to be between US$500 billion and US$800 billion but very little trickles to local communities in countries of origin.

Source : The Herald