Indigenous Seed Banks are the key to Self-Determination

Whoever controls the seed, controls the future...

Traditional Bush Medicine seeds in the Central Desert

Native seeds in the Central Deserts

Indigenous Australians have inhabited the deserts of Central Australia for tens of thousands of years. During this time, Aboriginal people have developed a close relationship with the environment and have cultivated vast wild gardens and dense biodiversity repositories. This great body of TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) includes knowledge of sites and areas; the medicinal and nutritional values of a wide range of Australian plants and animals; land management practices and customs and traditions.

This knowledge is now in demand by bioprospectors. It is heavily sought by medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies in their quest to discover new medicines and new products for commercial exploitation.

Indigenous people report of wide-scale looting of Indigenous knowledge and resources including plants, animals, artistic expression, hair, blood and genes. Indigenous Australians, and indigenous peoples worldwide are concerned that their knowledge is being appropriated without their consent or knowledge and for little or nothing in return. Of greater concern is the threats these interests pose to the continuance of Indigenous cultures. Today, we are living in an era of unprecedented extinctions. (Terry Janke - Biodiversity, Patent and Indigenous Peoples).

With community seed banks and bio-diversity registries, Aboriginal people have a real ability to make a difference to combat 'bio-piracy'. The seeds of the Central deserts are going to be essential for the times ahead, as the plants that tolerate heat and drought assume a special new importance in our changing world.

The Biodiversity Action Network is working to provide Aboriginal communities with innovation and world-leading best practice programs in community seed banking - empowering remote communities to preserve and maintain traditional knowledge and genetic biodiversity.

Traditional Bush Medicine Seed - Macro image

The foundation of the project is to implement a system of Indigenous Governance of Aboriginal native seed germplasm, which is in alignment with the Cartajena and Nagoya Protocols and the UN Charter of Biodiversity, ensuring access to traditional varieties while supporting Aboriginal prosperity through the shared economic, social, and cultural benefits of Aboriginal native seed germplasm.

For Aboriginal communities - genetics - the gene pool is the real treasure as native seed forms the foundation of a wide variety of folklore and crafts including various forms of oral literature, music, dance, artistic motifs and designs crafts such as basketry, beading, carving, weaving and painting. Indigenous peoples have expressed their concern about the commercial exploitation of their folklore and crafts as well as about the reproduction by outsiders of certain cultural manifestations and objects of religious importance, including traditional foods and medicines.

The biodiversity of the traditional territories of indigenous peoples may also be considered as part of the intellectual property of indigenous peoples requiring protection. Biodiversity refers, inter alia, to plant varieties that have been developed through experiment and cultivation for use as food, medicine or materials for houses, boats or other kinds of construction or use.

- Dr. Daes WIPO Roundtable on Intellectual Property and Indigenous Peoples Geneva, July 23 and 24, 1998 Opening Address

Convention of Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity was developed as a result of increasing recognition internationally of the importance of biological diversity as a global asset. The Convention contains several articles which recognize the close relationship Indigenous people have with their land and the resources therein.33 Article 8(j) of the Convention which is concerned with Indigenous people's in-situ conservation, states that: 'Each contracting party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate.... subject to its national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of Indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote the wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and such practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices. Article 10 requests the protection and encouragement of customary use of sustainable resources in accordance with traditional customary practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements. This convention came into force on 29 December 1993 after ratification by 30 countries.

The Nagoya Protocol sets out core obligations for its contracting Parties to take measures in relation to access to genetic resources, benefit-sharing and compliance

Domestic-level access obligation measures are to:
· Create legal certainty, clarity and transparency
· Provide fair and non-arbitrary rules and procedures
· Establish clear rules and procedures for prior informed consent and mutually agreed terms
· Provide for issuance of a permit or equivalent when access is granted
· Create conditions to promote and encourage research contributing to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use
· Pay due regard to cases of present or imminent emergencies that threaten human, animal or plant health
· Consider the importance of genetic resources for food and agriculture for food security

Benefit-sharing obligations

Domestic-level benefit-sharing measures are to provide for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources with the contracting party providing genetic resources. Utilization includes research and development on the genetic or biochemical composition of genetic resources, as well as subsequent applications and commercialization. Sharing is subject to mutually agreed terms. Benefits may be monetary or non-monetary such as royalties and the sharing of research results.

Compliance obligations

Specific obligations to support compliance with the domestic legislation or regulatory requirements of the contracting party providing genetic resources, and contractual obligations reflected in mutually agreed terms, are a significant innovation of the Nagoya Protocol. Contracting Parties are to:

  • Take measures providing that genetic resources utilized within their jurisdiction have been accessed in accordance with prior informed consent, and that mutually agreed terms have been established, as required by another contracting party

  • Cooperate in cases of alleged violation of another contracting party’s requirements

  • Encourage contractual provisions on dispute resolution in mutually agreed terms

  • Ensure an opportunity is available to seek recourse under their legal systems when disputes arise from

    mutually agreed terms

  • Take measures regarding access to justice

  • Take measures to monitor the utilization of genetic resources after they leave a country including by

    designating effective checkpoints at any stage of the value-chain: research, development, innovation, pre-commercialization or commercialization.

The purpose of the Biodiversity Action Network is to help secure claims of Traditional ownership of regional biodiversity, and to preserve the biodiversity for future generations. The Biodiversity Action Network is actively working with local communities to support biodiversity protection and restoration activities in the following ways. 1) Acquisition of traditional plant varieties, 2) Documentation of source materials, 3) conservation, 4) registration, 5) maintaining viability and health of varieties, and overseeing the plant regeneration program for the Seed Bank.

The Biodiversity Action Network is a network of regionalized hubs for bush food and native plant genetic resource activities. The aim is to support the long-term conservation, storage and sustainable utilization of this valuable diversity as a permanent resource for Australian native bush food and traditional medicine enterprises on the homelands.

Processing Native Lemon Grass Seed - First Nations Seed Bank

As communities across the region work together to collect, register and store wild-foraged seeds, our funding and expertise helps to cultivate these plants in regional greenhouses and common gardens. This knowledge helps ecologists observe the resilience and adaptation of native plants. Our ultimate goal is to provide a turn-key system for aboriginal communities across Australia to create seed banks and to participate in the registration process to ensure proper handling and storage requirements (Cartejena Protocol), and also shared benefits (Nygoyo Protocol) returning and sharing benefits back to the Aboriginal communities as these species find their way into markets. The Biodiversity Action Network is intended to provide specific protocols to prevent bio-piracy and puts the ownership and management of traditional seed varieties back into the hands of the Traditional owners.

To ensure ongoing viability, the Biodiversity Action Network is developing a series of seed transfer zones – common gardens to aid our restoration planning efforts. These desert gardens help our team to understand the complexity of local plant populations, ensuring successful native seed selection for cultivation and restoration projects. By studying the unique adaptive strategies of local plant populations, it's possible to prevent a narrow gene pool and retain the wildness and rich diversity native plants offer.

We have begun growing trials of a variety of bush food and medicine plants to tackle species research, toxicology, cultivation practices and harvesting methods, as well as supporting small-scale community projects find their markets.

To our knowledge, the Biodiversity Action Network is the only seed banking project in Australia to focus on supporting remote aboriginal communities to register, value, conserve and regenerate their rich plant heritage. Currently, we house a wide variety of unique bush food and Traditional medicine species found nowhere else in the world. The seed bank is also the key resource in creating a sustainable essential oils and bush foods industry, ensuring sufficient seed supply for the decades ahead. The role of the Biodiversity Action Network includes:

  1. Providing services to support the development of the living collection.

  2. Ensure sufficient viable seed is in stock to support Bush Botanics activities and community projects.

  3. Source seed through community-based collection or seed suppliers: clean, process, and properly store seed.

  4. Ensure accurate records management of seed bank content; prepare and manage

    registration of all seed stock.

  5. Manage seed collection permits and ensure compliance of registered collectors.

  6. Provide seed collection/storage training to staff, community members, volunteers and clients.

  7. Provide accurate and timely advice on seed availability, species suitability, seed

    treatments and germination of species as required.

  8. Manage and provide access to seed bank equipment and materials.

  9. Provide access to reports, technical documents and presentations about how remote communities can establish their own local community seed bank.

  10. Support the delivery of initiatives to improve seed supply and provenance strategies as required.

  11. Support the delivery of activities, training and events undertaken with members,

    volunteers and community.

  12. Provide volunteer activities, field trips, seed storage and cleaning areas.

  13. Provide technical, specialized advice to communities, rangers and staff.

  14. Be a regional peak advocate relating to policy, industry codes and legislation relating to Traditional knowledge, and implement the policies and procedures outlined in the Cartejena protocols and Nygoya protocols to ensure proper handling and shared benefit of genetic materials with indigenous communities.

  15. Seed and seedling production for communities to establish growing capacity.

One of the primary functions of Bush Botanics is to empower small-scale development projects in remote Aboriginal communities, providing plant stock, small-scale farming plot management, greenhouses, seedlings, training and expertise for remote communities. In this way, remote Aboriginal communities can participate in growing and harvesting bush food & botanicals for the Australian marketplace, creating self-sustaining businesses growing Bush Foods & Medicines for small-scale regional enterprises offering skin care products, soaps, food products, candles, soaps Native Bush Foods & Botanicals, made by hand on the land.

Whoever controls the seed, controls the future...

Bush Botanics is a founding partner of the Biodiversity Action Network