Main Issue

The development of compounds from a particular tree species in the Malaysian rainforest may lead to a treatment for certain types of cancer. But who owns the trees? And who has the right to benefit from its genetic properties?

Through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its accompanying Nagoya Protocol, the international community seeks to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

Governments need to ensure an appropriate system is in place to guarantee that genetic resources of the species within their jurisdictions are properly accessed and the benefits shared equitably. Users of these genetic resources include research institutes, universities, and private companies in sectors like pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, agriculture, horticulture, and biotechnology.

What We Do

The GEF builds capacity of governments and other stakeholders to determine the legal access to genetic resources and to ensure that benefits from their utilization are shared in a fair and equitable manner (known as access and benefit-sharing, or ABS). Genetic resources are contained within all organisms (plants, animals, or microorganisms) and may be used for different purposes, including basic research and commercialization of products.

The GEF supports national and regional implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. This includes targeted capacity building to facilitate ratification and to develop the necessary national policy and regulations. The successful implementation of ABS at the national level has the potential to make considerable contributions to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.


Since 2003, the GEF has invested more than $72 million to build capacity of countries to implement activities in support of ABS from genetic resources. These funds have leveraged over $181 million from more than 108 countries.

Before the Nagoya Protocol was adopted, the GEF helped 22 countries assess their capacity to implement ABS measures. Through national and regional projects, the GEF also built the capacity of governments in 42 countries to meet their obligations under the convention and to engage with stakeholders such as Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs).

With the protocol’s adoption in 2010, the GEF continued to invest in capacity building through multiple projects to accelerate ratification and to set up pilot agreements between providers and users of genetic resources. ­­­­­

As an example of this work, a GEF project in Panama is helping the government examine the potential of native microorganisms to contribute to the agricultural sector as crop-protection agents while generating global environmental benefits, in accordance with the provisions of the Nagoya Protocol. The project is also ensuring that the rights of populations who live in areas from which microbes are derived are respected. These populations have traditionally managed the ecosystems in a sustainable manner and are supported to receive adequate and appropriate benefits from any commercial uses that are derived from them, in accordance with the provisions of national ABS policies and the Nagoya Protocol. 

Looking Ahead

Under GEF-8, the GEF will support the following core activities to comply with the provisions of the protocol:

Stocktaking and assessment
The GEF will support gap analysis of ABS provisions in existing policies, laws, and regulations; stakeholder identification; user rights and intellectual property rights; and assess institutional capacity including research organizations.

Development (or revision) and implementation of national ABS frameworks
These developments or revisions could include the policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks governing ABS; appointments of National Focal Points or Competent National Authorities; checkpoints; institutional arrangements; administrative procedures for Prior Informed Consent and Mutually Agreed Terms; monitoring the use of genetic resources and publishing information (including on applicable ABS procedures) to the ABS Clearing-House; and compliance and enforcement with legislation and cooperation on transboundary issues.

The GEF will continue financing capacity development to ensure that countries develop clear ABS requirements and permitting systems, including biocultural community protocols for IPLCs, and to ensure the relevant information (including biocultural community protocols) is made available on the ABS Clearing-House. The GEF will also provide support to national coordination and data collection for reporting.

Development or revision of national laws and policies that promote scientific research and development and national investments on the use of genetic resources under national ABS frameworks
These include bioeconomy and scientific development policies that provide policy and economic incentives to foster scientific research and investments on genetic resources.

Capacity building to add value to genetic resources for ABS, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable use
In countries with national ABS policies, the GEF will support capacity building and training for domestic users of genetic resources to add value to genetic resources. This will include not only training on scientific research and development procedures but also biodiversity-friendly practices for value chains needed for industries that use genetic resources. Countries may consider institutional capacity building to carry out research and development to add value to their own genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources. The GEF will also support efforts of IPLCs concerning their traditional knowledge associated to genetic resources, including the cultivation of source species and marketing of products.

The GEF will also enhance national implementation of the Nagoya Protocol through regional collaboration, which will help build capacity of countries to add value to their own genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with the resources, and avoid duplication of regulatory mechanisms while encouraging intra-regional collaboration. This collaboration can also address the financial and human resource constraints faced by small or Least Developed Countries through sharing regulatory and scientific resources.