On March 8th, 2022, the Bio-economy Research Chair in partnership with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) and GIZ-BioInnovation Africa, hosted a workshop on Benefit sharing for Conservation and Sustainable Use from Biodiscovery in South Africa. The workshop formed part of a series of consultations towards the development of a set of national guidelines for regulator, provider, and user groups to improve benefit sharing for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. These voluntary guidelines are informed by the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) and its associated Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing (BABS) Regulations which set out provisions for accessing indigenous biological resources and associated traditional knowledge and require benefit sharing in the event of commercialisation.

Biodiscovery research often leads to important benefits for biodiversity management and conservation, including capacity development, collaborations, publications and knowledge generation, and technology transfer. However, these benefits are often not strategically leveraged to address biodiversity conservation priorities.

The workshop sought to explore new and existing opportunities and mechanisms to strengthen biodiversity conservation in the biodiscovery research process. Existing links between research, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use were identified, through drawing on the experiences of incorporating conservation benefits into research permit conditions, research agreements, funding agreements and benefit-sharing agreements. Participants also discussed opportunities to strengthen these links, and barriers that prevent the more effective uptake of biodiversity conservation in biodiscovery research.

Experiences were drawn from diverse perspectives including researchers from Rhodes University, the University of the Western Cape, the University of Pretoria, the Agricultural Research Council, research and innovation managers from the Technology Transfer Offices of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and University of Cape Town, conservation officials from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and DFFE: Oceans and Coasts, biodiversity experts and ex-situ collection managers from the South African National Biodiversity Institute, and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment and Department of Science and Innovation.

Many valuable points were raised by participants including:

  • Data, if shared, can be used for multiple purposes and researchers should be aware that their data and research can have biodiversity conservation and sustainable use impact beyond the initial focus.
  • Transdisciplinary consortiums of researchers can facilitate multi-dimensional use of data and make data more readily available for end-use applications.
  • Biodiscovery research collaborations bring together specialised expertise, resources and infrastructure that offer opportunities for biodiversity conservation benefits to be embedded in research agreements.
  • Research can be aligned with biodiversity conservation priorities of the area and/or national priorities by partnering with and giving feedback to conservation authorities from where samples are collected. Data can feed into resource management decision making which in turn can strengthen conservation management and enhance capacity.
  • Repositories are vital for the conservation of threatened and rare species and for use in other research. Researchers should seek to deposit samples with accurate metadata in national repositories.
  • There is scope for research funding to be leveraged for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use if researchers consider links to biodiversity beyond the specific focus of their research.

These insights will form the basis for the Conservation and Benefit Sharing Guidelines for researchers and will help to stimulate further innovative thinking to leverage benefits for conservation and sustainable use from research and innovation.

Photo:  Marek Okon / Unsplash