• Panama is first to benefit from fund to tackle biopiracy

    Aleida Rueda


The Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) — has announced its first beneficiary: a project exploring Panama's natural resources for use in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.

The Nagoya Protocol was agreed in October 2010 by 193 countries to tackle biopiracy and share the benefits of research into natural resources in an equitable manner.

The NPIF was set up by the UN funding agency the Global Environment Facility (GEF) four months later, as a multi-donor trust fund to help nations implement the protocol.

The GEF announced earlier this month (12 January) that Panama will receive US$1 million from the NPIF to carry out a three-year project at the Coiba Island National Marine Park — one of the most important nature reserves in the country — located in the Gulf of Chiriqui.

Researchers will collect samples of plants, fungi and algae that have symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with corals, and bacteria in fresh and sea water, according to Dario Luque, an officer at the country's National Environmental Authority (ANAM).

The samples will then be analysed in the hope of discovering compounds to create new, natural insecticides or drugs to treat tropical diseases and cancer.

Some research groups examining samples of microscopic algae from Coiba Island have already found active compounds that could potentially be developed into drugs to treat cancer, said Luque.

Other international partners are contributing the rest of the project's US$3.4 million budget, and will share its benefits. These include the US-based University of California, the University of Utah, the US National Institutes of Health, as well as private sector companies based in Japan and the United States.

As one of a number of partners, Panama will share the rights to any products that arise from the project. But the terms of the contract can be renegotiated "if biologically active compounds are obtained in the first year of the project", said Luque.

Gabriel Nemoga, a professor at the National University of Colombia and the University of Manitoba, Canada, said the contract should benefit the country beyond being a mere supplier of biodiversity.

"It's not known whether Panama has the environmental and legal institutions or the bureaucratic experience to tackle this project", making it harder to negotiate the most beneficial agreement, he told SciDev.Net.