Protecting & Promoting Indigenous Bush Foods & Medicine

Purpose

To make sure Indigenous communities receive their fair share of benefits that flow from the research and development of traditional bush foods and medicines.

To protect and promote Indigenous intellectual property rights so they are not appropriated by bioprospectors and foreign companies.

To support partnerships for fair and ethical trade in bush foods and medicines

Researchers

Daniel

Daniel Robinson

Professor, School of Humanities and Languages

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Margaret Raven

Scientia Fellow, UNSW Social Policy Research Centre
 

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The Context

When it comes to standing up for Indigenous peoples’ land and resources rights, most countries have a chequered history. That is why it is so refreshing to come across the work of Professor Daniel Robinson and Dr Margaret Raven who harness the power of the law to protect Indigenous IP rights and makes sure the benefits of products developed from local bush food and medicine are shared fairly. 

The ARC Discovery project that Daniel and Margaret lead also involves the development of community protocols relating to their bush foods and medicines. The team have worked with communities in remote parts of Vanuatu and Cook islands to develop a number of draft community protocols. These quasi-legal tools help communities assert their customary laws, rights and interests; they may be instructive for researchers and tourists; and may support community conservation efforts through the sign-posting of community rules.

Kava Root Processing
Kava drying for foreign export, Vanuatu.
Tamanu nut processing, Vanuatu.
Tamanu nut processing, Vanuatu.

The Solution

In close association with his colleague, Dr Margaret Raven, an Indigenous UNSW Scientia Fellow, from the Yamatji and Noongar peoples of Western Australia, they broker ABS agreements which are then binding under local and international law such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol.

They are always unique, but generally include mechanisms such as fair-trade arrangements, sustainability provisions for supply chains, royalties once the product goes to market, compliance with permit systems, and the protection of Indigenous intellectual property rights so they are not appropriated by foreign companies.

“Professor Robinson and Dr Raven have run workshops for the Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance (NAAKPA), reviewed contract templates, and generously shared their network of international experts” 

- Pat Torres, Mayi Harvest and spokesperson for NAAKPA

A Real-world Success Story

One of their big success stories relates to the Kakadu Plum, native to northern Australia. When American cosmetics giant, Mary Kay, applied for a patent to extract ingredients from the plum, Robinson and colleagues successfully challenged it.

As a result, many Indigenous-led enterprises have been able to bring their own products to market through the Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance (NAAKPA). 

Kakadu Plum

“Professor Robinson and Dr Raven have run workshops for the Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance (NAAKPA), reviewed contract templates, and generously shared their network of international experts” 

- Pat Torres, Mayi Harvest and spokesperson for NAAKPA

Patent Landscaping

Focus Area: Patent Landscaping

Another area of focus for Robinson and Raven is patent landscaping, which is a research process that seeks to create an overview of patents pending in a particular area. In one study of Australia and New Zealand they found thousands of patents, from foreign companies, relating to endemic species. To develop a case for change, Robinson collects data and examines existing agreements to see if the locals are getting a fair deal. 

For example, in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation (DEPC) in Vanuatu, he used local and international law to raise awareness about the need for ABS agreements with companies using oil from the local Tamanu and Nangai nut trees for cosmetics.

Robinson’s work helps build knowledge and capacity in communities so they can be more proactive. “The DEPC is looking forward to continuing this work and future initiatives to promote ABS in Vanuatu.”

- Trinison Tari, Principal Officer, Provincial Environmental Outreach at DEPC.

Collaborating With Policymakers

Another part of Robinson’s role is to collaborate with policymakers in Australia and the Pacific to reform biodiversity laws and enhance the protection of traditional knowledge.

He has been on an expert advisory panel to the Queensland Government, which is undertaking reforms to its Biodiscovery Act, and he has made influential submissions to Intellectual Property Australia. Robinson is also the Pacific Regional Manager of the multi-donor ABS Capacity Development Initiative (ABSCDI) supporting implementation of the Nagoya Protocol throughout the Pacific region.

Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Biodiversity Forum, 2019.
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Biodiversity Forum, 2019.