"Genetic resources" means any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity having effective or potential value (Art.2 CBD, 1992). These resources are at the centre of major economic challenges that require the development of a legal framework in order to allow access to these genetic resources while protecting and involving their owners.

Genetic resources are part of the eco-system service called "supply" just like the ligneous resources (wood), agricultural products or fibres (cotton, silk, etc.).  Unfortunately, according to the UN report on the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment (2005), almost half of the studied supply services (including genetic resources) are being degraded or used in an unsustainable manner.

Genetic resources and economic challenges

However, these days, these genetic resources deriving from biodiversity are becoming increasingly valuable and form the core of crucial economic challenges. In fact, they form the basis of product development in many fields such as agriculture, the agri-food business, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry, the herb trade, horticulture and cosmetics.

Companies around the world rely on genetic resources and the traditional knowledge of indigenous and local communities when developing new products. Laboratory research can ultimately bring benefits to the entire global population (through the development of a medicine or vaccine, for example).

The Nagoya protocol

Nearly two decades after the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD - 1992), which has three main objectives (conservation, sustainable use and Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) of biodiversity), the international community adopted a specific protocol in late October 2010: the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use.

This protocol significantly contributes to achieving the third goal of the CBD by providing a transparent legal framework for users and providers of genetic resources.  It will also help in eventually solving the biopiracy problems, of which some companies are sometimes accused when they seek to develop new products without involving the real holders of genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge.