Climate change adaptation and mutually supportive implementation of access and benefit sharing policies in Uganda

By Gloria Otieno, John Wasswa Mulumba and Francis Ogwal

Climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda by 1.5 ºC in the next 20 years and 4.3 ºC by the 2080s. Changes in annual rainfall patterns and total amount of annual rainfall are also expected. Uganda may become wetter on average. The increase in rainfall may be unevenly distributed in space and time influenced by more extreme or more frequent periods of intense rainfall. Besides changes in rainfall, changes in temperature are likely to have significant implications for agriculture, water resources, food security, and natural resource management.  Agriculture is likely to be one of the most affected sectors with repercussions on livelihoods of farmers, food security and the environment. The effects of climate change could threaten the survival of crop genetic resources and affect future adaptive capacity. If properly maintained, crop genetic resources will be essential to climate change adaptation in farmer’s fields and for breeding programs. A strategy for climate change adaptation is to ensure facilitated access to genetic resources at national and international levels through agreements such as the multilateral system of Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) and the CBD Nagoya protocol. The problem of the current germplasm exchange system is the potential limit on the amount of germplasm that farmers and plant breeders may access from both farmers fields and international and national centres that have ex situ collections due to the prevailing national and international policy and regulatory framework.

A strategy for adaptation to climate change using crop diversity and GIS modelling

Research by Bioversity international and the National Agricultural Research Organization’s Plant Genetic Resources center (NARO-PGRC) reveals that the diversity of genetic traits of crops represents our most important resource for adapting agriculture to the 21st century climate change. The high diversity within common bean in Uganda and East Africa can be used to adapt local farmers’ systems to climate change. Indeed, an important means for small-scale farmers to adapt to climate change is by shifting their crop varieties to those better suited to future environmental conditions. GIS-based selection of varieties is potentially a rapid and cost-effective way to find new and better adapted varieties. GIS tools can be used to search for varieties that have been collected in climatic conditions that are similar to the present and future climate conditions in a particular site.

Two communities, Hoima and Mbarara –Sheema district in Uganda, were identified by national partners as predominantly bean growing areas that are facing climate related stresses of increased temperature, shifting seasons and high erratic rainfall. Beans are the most important source of protein in the country. The projected climate in 2050 indicates that temperature and rainfall would increase on average by 1 to 1.5 degrees and 200mm per annum respectively. This means that new bean varieties would be required to allow communities to adapt successfully.

Based on simulations for these two communities, potentially adaptable bean varieties were identified in regional collections of beans held by CIAT and held by local communities in Uganda and Rwanda. Hoima at present has higher temperatures of between 23-27 degrees and precipitation of 700-1000 mm per annum. Nine potentially suitable accessions were identified from Ethiopia and Tanzania in the regional collections held by CIAT. 2050’s climatic conditions indicate increased temperatures and precipitation and using GIS based modeling, 29 accessions were identified from other parts of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

Local community seed bank’s roles in adapting to climate change

In addition, through an exchange visit between two community seed banks in Uganda and Rwanda, local farmers in both countries were able to identify potentially suitable local varieties. Through participatory varietal ranking of the local varieties they are currently growing and conserving these varieties in the community seed banks based on traits such as yield, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, water logging, taste and cookability. The Kiziba community seed bank in Sheema Mbarara district in Uganda holding a repository of the community’s 47 varieties of beans provided about 10 potentially suitable varieties identified by farmers. These were requested by farmers in Hoima and in Rwanda. Farmers in Bugesera and Gicumbi districts in Rwanda identified 10 varieties of beans that are potentially suitable for climate related stresses. An exchange of these varieties was organized between the two communities by national institutions.

Implications for agricultural and mutually supportive implementation of access and benefit sharing policies

Given that the potentially adapted materials from the regional collections held by CIAT are automatically included in the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing of the ITPGRFA, the exchange of varieties was facilitated through the use of SMTA. The varieties have been made available to the communities for testing on farm and on station, activities currently underway. This demonstrates and reiterates the importance of having facilitated access under the multilateral system. The varieties held by community seed banks are not automatically in the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing. They could only be exchanged through negotiation with relevant institutions in consideration of the current Ugandan 2007 ABS law and regulations. These require that negotiations concerning prior informed consent and transfer of material take place between the two countries and their relevant institutions, in practice the Uganda national gene bank which is in charge of PGRFA for food and agriculture and is the focal point for the ITPGRFA; the Uganda national council for Science and Technology (UNCST) which is the competent Authority for both the ITPGRFA and the CBD/Nagoya protocol and the National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA) of Uganda which is the focal point for CBD/Nagoya protocol.

This required a lengthy process in which institutions had to discuss who has the mandate to provide the requested germplasm under which conditions. Unfortunately, the existing policies and guidelines on ABS did not provide clear roles and mandates for institutions. Alternatively, the relevant institutions could have provided incentives for voluntary inclusion of these materials by communities in the multilateral system so that farmers in communities in Rwanda would be able to access them. Under the 2007 ABS law and regulations it seemed very difficult to realize this. Institutions in Uganda therefore decided to review the existing ABS regulations.

A need for mutually supportive implementation of ABS and recent policy developments

Uganda is a Party to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Having deposited instruments of accession on 25 March 2003, Uganda is obliged to provide facilitated access to genetic resources of 64 crops and forages that are under the management and control of the national government, and in the public domain. In return, Ugandan organizations and individuals are entitled to facilitated access to PGRFA of the same 64 crops held by the other 133 Treaty member states as part of the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing. The process of national level Treaty implementation and domestication in Uganda has been going on since 2003, necessitating both institutional and collaborative efforts to meet Treaty obligations. Some of the key measures for a country’s implementation of the Treaty include: (i) creating legal space for its implementation; (ii) notifying the Treaty secretariat of materials which are held by public institutions and therefore in the MLS; (iii) providing a clear process for access to PGRFA in Annex1 and non-Annex 1 PGRFA; and (iv) promoting farmers’ rights and incentives for voluntary inclusions of materials not in the MLS and held by natural and legal persons. The process of treaty implementation has seen Uganda notify the Treaty secretariat of all of its collection under management and control of public institutions in 2014. About 700 collections of annex 1 crops were notified to the Treaty secretariat, of which more than 100 are bean accessions. In 2015, Uganda also became signatory to the Nagoya Protocol of the CBD, which governs access and benefit sharing (ABS) of all genetic resources.

Uganda has developed a national policy on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, but this has not yet been passed into law and awaits tabling through parliament. The country is also in the process of developing guidelines for ABS under the ITPGRFA in harmony with the provisions of the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol. A ministerial order was issued and a committee set up to provide modalities for harmonizing ABS laws under the Nagoya Protocol and the ITPGRFA and for strengthening institutional arrangements for their mutually supportive implementation. A memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was developed between the lead institutions, namely UNCST, NARO-PGRC and NEMA. The committee was requested to come up with interim measures for accessing plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (Statutory Instrument) in Uganda while the review of the ABS law is underway. The temporary procedure provides that all PGRFA be accessed through NARO-PGRC and be notified to the competent authority UNCST, that any PGRFA that is not in the MLS will be accessed through NARO in consultation with NEMA. UNCST provides clearance for all PGRFA. This has made it easier and clearer for all parties to have access to PGRFA which is important for climate change adaptation and ultimately for the country’s food security.