Bahamas to reap financial benefits from the Biological Resources and Traditional Knowledge Act

Nassau, The Bahamas - The recent passage of the Biological Resources and Traditional Knowledge Act ushers in a new management regime of the country’s natural resources. During his contribution to the mid-year budget communication, March 8, 2021 Minister of the Environment and Housing, the Hon. Romauld Ferreira discussed the new bill and said that the country will finally be able to reap financial benefits derived from biological research.

“Gone are the days when so-called foreign researchers would undertake scientific explorations and discoveries within our territorial waters, and they make hundreds of millions, and we get $52 in permit fees or no fee payment at all,” he quipped. “Now all researchers are required to pay a non-refundable annual permit registration application fee of $1500, if they wish to undertake research in The Bahamas.”

He added that, further to the payment of the registration fee, they will also have to pay the existing permit fees mandated by other ministries such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources and the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation.

Minister Ferreira asserted that the days are over for universities and institutions to apply for permits under the guise of research to study the country’s genetic resources from Bahamian waters or terrestrial environment, only to establish online shops where samples of these unique organisms are sold globally without sharing the financial, technological or capacity benefits.

“These gaps are addressed by the passage of this Act and now require that mutual agreements and prior informed consents be obtained before any commercialization of the genetic resources from The Bahamas can be considered.

He pointed out that prior to the Act, the current regulatory and institutional setting was not able to ‘harness’ the potential value of the country’s genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

“With this act, we will have in place a centralized online permitting system, which will address the present problem,” he said. “Every researcher will have to have a registration permit, and a research permit. Every relevant agency from the local government to the uniformed branches will receive notification on which researcher has been issued a research permit, what location has been approved, and for what specific period of time. No more will persons claim to have authorization and not be required to provide proof of that authorization. And if they are unable to present their permit, then action will be taken.”

The Act will also protect traditional knowledge. He alluded to a well-known Bahamian plant (Diospyros crassinervis), used in the southern islands for sexually-related issues, which is currently being used as the basis of the globally known

‘blue pill,’ a remedy targeted for erectile dysfunction: the Minister said that the country’s bush medicine will no longer be used without clear disclosure and written permission. 

“The traditional knowledge acquired from our forefathers regarding bush medicine took years and generations to perfect,” emphasized Minister Ferreira. “This information was generated because they didn’t have the resources to seek what was call ‘proper medical care.’  We as the present guardians of that knowledge, cannot and will not allow our ancestral wisdom to be stolen by others. We have always been a sharing people, and we will continue to be.  But we do demand that proper respect and appropriate compensation be provided. This Act opens the door to ensure same.”