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The Principles on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-Sharing: A Pilot Project for Botanic Gardens

Volume 3 Number 7 - December 2001

China Williams

The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has now been ratified by 182 governments and the European Union (see for recent updates). It affects all aspects of botanic gardens’ work. In particular it governs the way genetic resources are exchanged and used, and introduces new obligations to obtain prior informed consent and share benefits arising from their use. However, as a framework convention that relies on implementation at a national level, it raises problems for the international botanical community. Botanic gardens and herbaria need to be able to continue to collect and exchange material. They hold important ex situ collections which, to be of value to science and conservation, need to be maintained and improved. But they have no clear guidance on how to do this within the changing legal framework.

Developing a Common Approach

In this context a project was co-ordinated by the CBD Unit of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG, Kew), and funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID). The aim was for botanic gardens to be proactive and develop their own harmonised policy on access and benefit sharing under the CBD. Representatives of twenty-eight botanic gardens from twenty-one countries have worked together for over four years. The project group was chosen to be as representative as possible of the world's 2000 botanic gardens. It included participants from large, long-established botanic gardens with hundreds of staff, from much smaller gardens, and some newly created ones. The gardens represented come from countries that are responding in different ways to the access and benefit sharing provisions of the CBD; some have already introduced access legislation, others are in the course of developing it, others have no present intention to introduce such laws. The idea was that if this diverse group could agree on a common approach then this was likely to be a realistic model for the entire botanic garden community, and one that was likely to remain practical as more countries introduce laws and policies on access and benefit sharing.

The project involved four workshops (held at RBG, Kew in December 1997, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, South Africa in September 1998, Institute of Botany, Beijing, China in May 1999 and in Cartagena, Colombia in November 2000). In between these meetings, participants worked with staff and management in their own gardens to discuss the development of the policy, and to obtain comments from stakeholders (including government and indigenous people), and national botanic garden networks. This information was vital to the process of developing a solution that all members of the group felt was workable.

The Principles

At the fourth and final workshop, held in Cartagena, Colombia, in November 2001, the group concluded that it was important to produce a common approach, but that it should be flexible enough to allow each organisation to tailor implementation to its own abilities and circumstances. Consequently the group developed a set of non-legally binding Principles which can guide gardens in developing a more detailed institutional policy. The Principles cover the acquisition, use and supply of genetic resources, benefit sharing, curation, and the preparation of a transparent policy on commercialisation. They are open to any institution to endorse. The Board of Management or Director should write to the CBD Unit at RBG Kew who will add their name to the list of endorsing institutions.

Since agreeing on the Principles gardens have been moving towards taking practical steps towards their implementation. At Kew we have developed a web-based staff guide, and expanded the use of a committee to oversee all fieldwork. Limbe Botanic Garden has developed a suite of policy documents and agreements which it is currently circulating to key partners and stakeholders for comments. Australian gardens have found that the Principles have facilitated their situation where each garden is covered by separate legislation with regard to implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity. In addition, the Commonwealth Government's Environment Australia Department is using the Principles and Common Policy Guidelines in the development of Regulations regarding access to biodiversity on Commonwealth Lands.

Other Products

As well as the Principles, the group developed Common Policy Guidelines to assist gardens preparing an institutional policy in line with the Principles, and an Explanatory Text which provides some practical solutions and additional information on issues raised and discussed during the project. The gardens involved intend to continue to work together on an informal basis, exchanging ideas and workable solutions for implementing the CBD. We welcome all comments from others in the botanic garden community.

Please see www.rbgkew.orgconservation for online versions of all documents (and translations of the Principles in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and German), as well as an up to date list of gardens that have adopted the Principles. If you would like further information, or a hard copy of the Results of the Pilot Project for Botanic Gardens booklet, please e-mail

Botanic gardens and herbaria which participated in the project

  • Aburi Botanic Gardens, Ghana
  • Australian National Botanic Garden, Sydney, Australia
  • Beijing Botanical Garden, China
  • Botanic Garden of Irkutsk State University, Russian Federation
  • Bonn University Botanic Garden, Germany
  • Botanic Garden and Museum, Berlin-Dahlem, Germany
  • Freiburg Botanic Garden, Switzerland
  • Forest Research Institute, Malaysia
  • Herbarium of the University South Pacific, Fiji
  • Jardín Botánico de La Paz, Bolivia
  • Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Morocco
  • Jardín Botánico ‘Arturo E. Ragonese’, Castelar, del Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Jardín Botánico del Instituto de Biología, UNAM, Mexico
  • Jardín Botánico de Bogotá, “José Celestino Mutis”, Colombia
  • Jardín Botánico del Quindío, Colombia
  • Jardín Botánico de Puebla, Mexico
  • Jardín Botánico Guillermo Piñeres”, Cartagena, Colombia
  • Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, South Africa
  • Limbé Botanic Garden, Cameroon
  • Nanjing Botanic Garden, China
  • National Botanical Research Institute, India
  • National Herbarium, Ethiopia
  • New York Botanical Garden, U.S.A.
  • Missouri Botanical Garden, U.S.A.
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Hamilton, Canada
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K.
  • Sydney Botanical Garden, Australia


  • Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI)
  • International Association of Botanic Gardens (IABG)

Principles on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing for Participating Institutions

Participating Institutions endorse the following Principles on access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing:

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and laws related to access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge and benefit-sharing

  • Honour the letter and spirit of the CBD, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and laws relating to access and benefit-sharing, including those relating to traditional knowledge.

Acquisition of genetic resources

  • In order to obtain prior informed consent, provide a full explanation of how the genetic resources will be acquired and used.
  • When acquiring genetic resources from in situ conditions, obtain prior informed consent from the government of the country of origin and any other relevant Stakeholders, according to applicable law and best practice.
  • When acquiring genetic resources from ex situ collections (such as botanic gardens), obtain prior informed consent from the body governing the ex situ collection and any additional consents required by that body.
  • When acquiring genetic resources from ex situ sources, whether from ex situ collections, commercial sources or individuals, evaluate available documentation and, where necessary, take appropriate steps to ensure that the genetic resources were acquired in accordance with applicable law and best practice.

Use and supply of genetic resources

  • Use and supply genetic resources and their derivatives on terms and conditions consistent with those under which they were acquired.
  • Prepare a transparent policy on the commercialisation (including plant sales) of genetic resources acquired before and since the CBD entered into force and their derivatives, whether by the Participating Institution or a recipient third party.

Use of written agreements

  • Acquire genetic resources and supply genetic resources and derivatives using written agreements, where required by applicable law and best practice, setting out the terms and conditions under which the genetic resources may be acquired, used and supplied and resulting benefits shared.


  • Share fairly and equitably with the country of origin and other Stakeholders, the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources and their derivatives including non-monetary, and, in the case of commercialisation, also monetary benefits.
  • Share benefits arising from the use of genetic resources acquired prior to the entry into force of the CBD, as far as possible, in the same manner as for those acquired thereafter.


In order to comply with these Principles, maintain records and mechanisms to:

  • record the terms and conditions under which genetic resources are acquired;
  • track the use in the Participating Institution and benefits arising from that use; and
  • record supply to third parties, including the terms and conditions of supply.

Prepare a policy

  • Prepare, adopt and communicate an institutional policy setting out how the Participating Institution will implement these Principles.