Theft of genetic resources a major problem

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government, concerned over the looting of the country's biological resources and the ensuing loss of intellectual property rights, convened a workshop Thursday to discuss how to respond to the theft.

"Samples of some species have been illegally removed from the country for research purposes by foreign scientists, possibly concealed about their persons," the Forestry Ministry's secretary-general, Boen M. Purnama, said on the sidelines of the biodiversity conservation workshop.

Indonesia has more than 47 different ecosystems, 28,000 indigenous species of flora, and thousands of species of microorganism.

"We need to protect and sustain our biodiversity. It could have vast potential that we don't know about yet," he said.

"Some herbal medicines overseas may actually contain ingredients acquired from the country's forests, and then sold back to Indonesia or to other countries at high prices. It costs us both money and intellectual property rights," Boen explained.

According to the Forestry Ministry, countries like the U.S., Russia and some European nations control 54 percent of the 3.9 million commercially viable genetic plant resources worldwide, while only 16 percent are controlled by international research institutions, with the rest being controlled by developing countries.

In order to protect and sustain the country's biodiversity, Boen said, the Forestry Ministry was holding workshops, conducting research and promoting conservation, while fighting the illegal trade in genetic resources.

With a bill on the conservation and utilization of domestic genetic resources still pending in the House of Representatives, activists from local NGOs are urging the government to take immediate action.

Ali Sofyan, spokesperson for the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (KEHATI), a local NGO, said, "The bill was submitted to the House of Representative in 2002 and it's still on the waiting list."

"Besides the long wait in the House, those involved in the drafting of the bill are still revising it," Ali said.

Stakeholders involved in the drafting of the bill include NGOs, academics, the Agriculture Ministry, the Forestry Ministry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the State Ministry of the Environment.

Desmarita, spokesperson for the World Wide Fund (WWF), told The Jakarta Post, "I don't expect it to be enacted any time next year." (06)
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