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Developing Bio-Cultural Community Protocols In India


The Nagoya Protocol contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity by providing a platform for greater legal certainty and transparency for the providers and users of genetic resources. The Protocol supports the effective implementation of one of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) three objectives, the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources (ABS). Article 12 of the Nagoya Protocol includes a provision to develop community protocols to secure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits that arises from the use of genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources.

A Bio-cultural Community Protocol (BCP) is tool to support implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. It provides clear terms and conditions regarding how local community engage with third parties, such as governments, researchers, and non-profit organizations, regarding access to local resources and knowledge found within their territories. BCPs promote recognition of and support for community-based traditional, sustainable conservation and natural resource management practices. The Protocol is used to define a community’s rights and responsibilities relating to natural resources. It provides a platform for communities to initiate the discussion and negotiation process to formulate legal agreements for sharing equitable benefits between resource and traditional knowledge users and providers. A BCP agreement strengthens the opportunity for fair and equitable sharing of benefits, creates incentives to conserve biological diversity, and provides a source of livelihood to the local communities conserving and managing biological resources.

This best practice draws from the experiences of preparing BCPs for local communities in three Indian States, under the Government of India-UNDP-GEF project “Mainstreaming Conservation and Sustainable Use of Medicinal Plants in India.” BCP’s were established for the communities of Apatanis in Arunachal Pradesh, Baigas in Chhattisgarh and Bastiya in Uttarakhand. This best practice provides a snapshot of the process to develop BCPs and explains the benefits accrued to the local communities from the preparation of these Protocols.

Problem, challenge or context: 

Article 12 of the Nagoya Protocol supports the preparation of BCPs. It states, ‘Parties shall support, as appropriate, the development by indigenous and local communities, including women within these communities, of (a) Community protocols in relation to access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of such knowledge; (b) Minimum requirements for mutually agreed terms to secure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources; and (c) Model contractual clauses for benefit-sharing arising from the utilization of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources.”

BCPs also provide a mechanism for the implementation of certain provisions under Article’s 5,6,7,20,21,22 of the Nagoya Protocol, including the means to facilitate negotiation of Mutually Agreed Terms; mechanisms to access natural resources and associated Traditional Knowledge for equitable benefit sharing; provisions for Prior Informed Consent of the party providing such resources; methods for raising awareness of the importance of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge; tools for capacity building and developing voluntary codes of conduct, and related guidelines, best practices and standards

BCPs support Aichi Biodiversity Target 16, which states that, “ By 2015, the Nagoya Protocol on ABS is in force and operational, consistent with national legislation.” BCPs also supports Aichi Biodiversity Target 18, which states that, “By 2020, the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at all relevant levels.”

India’s National Biodiversity Target 4 also promises that, “By 2015, ABS, as per the Nagoya Protocol, are operational, consistent with national legislations. Read more about that target here:

Specific elements of components: 

India, with only 2.4% of the world's land area, accounts for 7–8% of all recorded species in the world. This mega diverse country harbors a tremendous diversity of ecological habitats, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, desert, coastal and marine ecosystems.

There is a rich tradition of indigenous medicine that is based on medicinal plants and includes codified traditions such as Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha. India’s local communities practice vast collections of non-codified living traditions of ethno or folk medicine. The knowledgebase and potential of these practices are not fully understood; yet, in the absence of modern medical care, or due to its prohibitive cost, biomedicine continues to be locally relevant. In India, there are approximately 6,780 pharmacies and 4,00,000 practitioners of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and other homeopathy systems (2006). Ninety percent of raw material for medicine is collected from wild sources. More than 70% of plant collection in India involves destructive harvesting, because of the use of roots, bark, wood, stem and/or the whole plant. These practices threaten several medicinal plant species (Khanuja et al 2006). The ethno-botanical resources used in traditional practices are ecosystem specific and embody traditional lifestyles and cultural practices, including the intellectual and intangible cultural heritage, practices and knowledge systems of traditional communities. There is international and national recognition of the need to empower local communities and endow them with legal rights to protected ethno-botanical knowledge and resources. There is also a need to ensure that those accessing and/or using genetic resources, their derivatives and/or associated traditional knowledge, in particular applicants for intellectual property rights, comply with national laws of prior informed consent, mutually agreed terms, fair and equitable benefit-sharing and disclosure of origin.

BCPs have helped communities in India set out terms & conditions on how they expect other stakeholders to engage with them and on what terms and conditions.

The action taken: The project team developed BCP’s for the communities of Apatanis in Arunachal Pradesh, Baigas in Chhattisgarh and Bastiya in Uttarakhand. Based on detailed desk reviews and experiences from the GEF medicinal plants project in India, the following steps were undertaken to develop bio cultural community protocols:

  • Strong institutional setups at the local level: Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) were established at the local level under the Biological Diversity Act of India 2002.
  • People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs): The Biological Diversity Act of India 2002 warrants for the documentation of all the bio-resources and associated traditional knowledge into PBRs. Till date 2485 PBRs have been prepared in India /pbr.html. Local community members in all three states conducted surveys and documented genetic resources and associated TK into these PBRs.
  • Initiating the process of developing BCPs: While PBRs are only an inventory of the bio-resources and the associated traditional knowledge, BCPs provide a tool for legal certainty and accountability whereby the countries/ local communities/ authorities that are providing genetic resources can follow up and ensure compliance of the terms and conditions by users (Mutually Agreed Terms and Prior Informed Consent). Therefore, after the preparation of PBRs and creating awareness amongst the local institutions and communities regarding their rights and obligations under ABS, the process of developing BCPs was initiated.
  • Tools used for developing the BCPs: Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercises such as Focused group discussions with local men, women and youth, timeline, transect walk, pie-charts, capacity assessments, resource mapping etc. were conducted to raise awareness about ABS mechanisms. Community development plans were reviewed and key informant interviews held with heads of local institutions such as the Sarpanch of Local Panchayat and the BMC chairperson, Self-Help Group members, local government authorities, including the officials from the Forest Department and Forest Rangers regarding the strengths and challenges of their existing natural resource governance system. Using a multi-stakeholder consultation process, a BCP Template was developed. Once the information was collated, BCP experts consolidated the information into the template. The BCPs include documentation of information on:
  • Natural resources and TK of the state and region;
  • Local community customary laws and practices best practices for resource use, conservation and management, i.e. agriculture, forestry, aquatic ecology, horticulture, medicinal plants, Globally Significant Medicinal Plants (GSMP) and CITES species found in the territorial jurisdiction of the local communities;
  • Tangible benefits accrued from the natural resources and TK such as economic benefits, medicines for traditional healing, fuel and fodder;
  • Defined resource boundaries and land use categories (customary use, bio-cultural heritage sites, legal) using GIS applications (GPS, ArcGIS, ERDAS);
  • Status of existing community rights on the resources under national and state legal frameworks;
  • Statutory and traditional local governance structures and community based monitoring mechanisms;
  • Community’s ABS rights and their expectations from outsiders;
  • Free and Prior Informed Consent and Mutually Agreed Terms; (While entering into a contract with a third party, a community may want to present it’s research priorities, the types of benefits the it may want to secure, it’s terms and conditions under which it would negotiate with potential commercial and non-commercial stakeholders, and the procedures relating to providing their Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC). These terms and conditions are known as Mutually Agreed Terms (MAT), which are negotiated in an inclusive manner between the community and the third party wanting access to their resources and TK.);
  • Arbitration and penalty clauses for ABS as per the national legal framework. After experts drafted the BCPs, the local community members, heads of local governance institutions and the State Biodiversity Board vetted them. After incorporating the comments from all the stakeholders, the BCPs were finalized and published, with copies sent to the local communities, their apex bodies and the State Biodiversity Board.
Key lessons learned: 

BCP’s provide a platform for expanding and establishing institutional and market linkages to a local community that may be isolated due to its unique language, culture and traditions. Preparing BCPs for the local communities provided a reflection on the inter-connectedness of various aspects of community’s ways of life, such as their historic evolution, unique cultural facets, various customary laws and customary practices relating to Natural Resource management and traditional governance structure. Documenting biocultural heritage highlights that community’s customary laws and practices are based on certain principals of reciprocity and equality that helps them manage the natural resources in a sustainable way.

One of the major challenges was the ambiguity among the local communities regarding their territorial jurisdiction and legal rights on the natural resources. Participatory Rural Appraisal tools are an excellent way to connect with and collect information from the local communities.

Communities are better placed to determine for themselves on how to negotiate with a variety of actors after they have considered the interconnections of their land rights, current socio-economic situation, environmental concerns, customary laws and Traditional Knowledge. By drawing on international and national laws that call for FPIC to carry out development activities on community land or to use their traditional knowledge, communities can ensure that any intervention is undertaken according to their customary laws and sustainable customary practices. This also creates incentives for local communities to conserve biological diversity and provides for an alternate source of livelihood.

Impacts and outcomes: 

Several outcomes resulted from the development of the BCPs in the project:

  • During the development of BCPs for the Apatani communities in Arunachal Pradesh, the neighboring communities of villages Niitii and Nichii were able to identify conflicts related to land irregularities that were impeding communities from conservation and management of natural resources available on their land. These conflicts are now being resolved.
  • The local community in Bastiya, which is in the state of Uttarakhand, used their BCP to initiate discussions with an Ayurvedic drug manufacturing company who wanted to access plants such as Vasaka (Justicia adhatoda), Musli (Chlorophytum Arundinaceum) and Vidarikand (Pueraria Tuberosa). The negotiations and use of the protocol have sensitized the community to the economic opportunities that they can procure from the sustainable use of their bio-resources in the future.
  • One of the most important outcomes of the BCP process was the documentation of the local community’s sustainable customary practices for the conservation and management of natural resources. These customary practices were becoming obsolete and the knowledge resided only with a few community members. The BCPs will not only conserve these customary practices but also help disseminate them amongst the younger generations.
  • The process of developing BCPs helped build the capacity of local community members by improving their knowledge about ABS mechanisms, genetic resources and Traditional Knowledge rights. There are now strong local institutions that are technically trained in ABS and have staff that can conduct biological surveys, as they assisted in the quantitative surveys during BCP development. Several civil society members who helped develop the BCP’s are now supporting the government to replicate the process in other districts and states.
  • The BCP process also helped create stronger linkages between the local communities and various government and non-government institutions.
  • The focused group discussions during the BCP preparation mobilized the local community members to discuss the development needs of the community by sharing their perspectives on various aspects such as infrastructure, sanitation, education facilities and electricity. The process was also inclusive of the women of the community.
  • The process of developing BCPs also created livelihood opportunities by linking the communities to various institutions for future projects and skill building.
Contact details: 
Ruchi Pant, UNDP India, Email:, Vibhupriya Singh, Email:
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