TK & Biological Resources
Markets for indigenous knowledge and genetic resources are growing exponentially. The last comprehensive analysis of the global markets for products derived from genetic resources was estimated their value between $500-800 billion in 1997. The wild or bush foods and cosmetic treatment industries fall within these markets and are very significant economic sectors on their own, involving trade both within domestic and international markets. Overall, there is great capacity for growth in both of these sectors. However, the involvement of indigenous people– both as employees or business owners or investors – has so far been limited.
A number of isolated examples demonstrate the great opportunities for indigenous engagement in these industries. These include both models where indigenous individuals or communities become business owners, work as employees, or form innovative partnerships with mainstream corporations.
For example, Robins Foods has contributed to the economic self sufficiency of Aboriginal people by creating jobs through Indigenous Australian Food (IAF), their partner and an indigenous-owned supply chain from which they source products from various parts of Australia, including from remote communities. IAF is now controlled indigenous interests including community organizations from around Australia. Coles supermarkets have started a fund to engage indigenous communities in the development of an Australian native food industry. As well as creating income for Aboriginal communities, initiatives such as these benefit the environment by conserving wild resources and protecting biodiversity. In other parts of the world, value adding in the food industry has been successfully developed, for example, the Alimentos Nutri-Naturales, Guatemala (ANG) have developed a national business based on the Maya nut once the staple food for the ancient Mayans. This project has resulted in the conservation of 90,000 hectares of Maya nut forests and the planting of 150,000 new trees across Guatemala. ANG has markets Maya-nut-based school lunches and snacks to school districts, to resolve malnutrition, rural poverty and dependence on imported foodstuffs. The success of these enterprises demonstrates the importance of not simply using natural resources alone, but adding value in the provision of products and services.
In the cosmetic treatment industry, the Aveda corporation, for example, helped establish the Songman's Circle of Wisdom, a sustainable business protocol between the Kuktabubba Aboriginal community, Mt. Romance (a sandalwood supplier) and Aveda. The arrangement is designed to protect the fair trade of natural resources. More recently, Aveda has helped the aboriginal peoples gain access to natural sandalwood resources. As a result, the aboriginal community is now receiving seven times more than previously for the extraction and production of their Australian sandalwood. In another example, Indigenous involvement in the emu oil industry is strong, with potential for further value adding activities.
Although there has been some research, analysis and consensus building on the part of academics, indigenous organizations and organisations, around these issues, large information and capacity gaps exist that inhibit communities from developing these opportunities.
This activity aims to facilitate interaction between indigenous communities and industry experts to identify opportunities for market entry by indigenous communities to the wild foods and cosmetic treatments industry.
The project activity will commence with an industry survey to ascertain the size of existing market and the size and nature of potential markets. This survey will in the immediate term fill an important information gap, provide important preparatory material and assist identifying interesting opportunities. In the longer term the survey will also be a valuable tool for raising finance (equity and debt) for any pilot business that are launched in the foreseeable future by providing basic financial data about the market that will be needed to interest potential investors and/or lenders. Several companies have also expressed an interest in supporting such a survey and discussions are underway as to securing their support.
Further activities considered include:
- Further development of the database of commercial use of TK (i.e. the “Bioprospecting Information Resource” currently on Antarctic, the Pacific, Marine and the Arctic) and to expand the collaborative nature of this project through allowing companies and research organisations access to upload information directly, to make the Bioprospector interoperable with other relevant databases, such as international patent libraries and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, and to provide mapping facilities through the use of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technologies
- Substantive input into the development of the World Intellectual Property Organization Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore community and institutional TK tools portal
- Workshops for the wild foods or bush tucker and cosmetic industries to identify emerging market opportunities for under utilised, non-commercialised traditional knowledge
- Pilot projects to develop a business plan and long-range enterprise strategy will be designed, with inputs from industry mentors, and the facilitation of the interaction needed to access sources of capital and implementation advice.