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International Conference of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests

Monday, 18 November 2002, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya.

I would like to express my gratitude and thanks to the Masai for giving us such a wonderful opening. It gives you a real feeling for this Continent and for this country of Kenya.

We are very, very, happy to have you all here. Your motto for this conference is: "Our vision: past, present, future".

On this 10th anniversary of the International Alliance, it is important to also look at the past to look at what has happened since Rio, since the conference in Kari-Oca which led to the Kari-Oca declaration and the Indigenous Peoples' Earth Charter.

It was, ten years ago, a clear signal to the world that this issue is not a nostalgic one but the basis for stability in a globalized world. That cultural and indigenous diversity is an investment in all of our common future.

This was the message from Rio and it was good that, only a short time later in 1993 there was a proclamation in the International Year for the World's Indigenous Peoples and that in 1994 there was launched the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

This was all stimulated by you, by the people themselves and this has in turn become linked with this United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

We have also recently had the Rio plus 10 summit, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), in Johannesburg where we underlined that what was decided in Rio ten years before remains valid. It was underlined too that what is missing is implementation, is action and this very much relates to your topics too.

Declarations are very readily available, singling out what is needed, what we have to do. Now we have to go to implementation, so your meeting here is more than timely.

I am very happy to read this Kimberely declaration made in South Africa in August this year prior to WSSD. If you read it, you will see that it is very concrete and action orientated.

I very happy to see that you are asking for provisions such as a cultural impact analysis. We have for some time had environmental impacts assessments. No investment can be implemented until it has had an environmental impact assessment.

I believe we also urgently need a cultural impact assessment process too. For example, what are the consequences of a tourism activity on cultural identity. What are the consequences of mining and logging, not only on the environment, but cultures nearby.

We at UNEP, an environmental organization, are very interested in the interactions between the environment and cultural diversity.

In 1999, we made a voluminous study asking what the interrelations are between cultural and spiritual values and sustainable development.

If you only look at languages, you can see the links. On a global level we have less than 7,000 languages and of those up to 2,500 are on the Red List of endangered languages. And if you correlate this to biodiversity, you see that where you are losing cultural and linguistic diversity you are losing biodiversity and visa versa.

Let me give you some more figures. In 1903, just at the beginning of the last millennium, we had 287 varieties of carrots. Now we have 21.

You may come back and say, 'why the devil are we caring about the numbers of different varieties of carrots?'

Well the more we lose diversity, culturally and in the natural world, the higher the possibility of instability, the higher the possibility of disasters.

So, again, we must implement what was decided in Rio in relation to the Convention on Biological Diversity. We have the very important Article 8 (j) linked with indigenous knowledge. It states: "Subject to its national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices".

The key phrase here is " with the involvement of the holders of such knowledge" in other words with the involvement of indigenous people.

Coming to access and benefit sharing of indigenous knowledge and genetic resources.

Until now, indigenous knowledge and genetic resources have been what we call a common public good. They are available for everybody, nobody has to pay for them, there are no property rights.

But this area if very much linked with property rights. In the World Trade Organization we have the TRIPs, the trade related intellectual property rights.

These touch on numerous areas such as pharmaceuticals. For example, the price of drugs to fight AIDS are extremely high which means they cannot be used by poorer people. However while intellectual property rights cover these products, we do not have intellectual property rights for indigenous knowledge and genetic resources.

These issues were high on the agenda in Johannesburg. We need to create the same kind of structure for those holders of indigenous, medical, knowledge so they have intellectual property rights. Indeed I know from my own recent experience that traditional medical knowledge can be better than what is on offer in the doctor's office.

So indigenous knowledge is economically, very important.

We have just started in partnership with the Global Environment Facility a project on greening Africa's Desert Margins. Desertification is an important issue especially here in Africa.

We are working in Kenya with the agricultural research institute and the project is very much focusing on the gathering and sharing of traditional, indigenous knowledge, and marrying this with modern, land management, techniques.

Local people and tribes have, for millennia, developed strategies and methods for surviving in these harsh, low rainfall, areas. These have allowed them to grow crops and graze livestock without sacrificing the fertility and stability of the land.

The Turkana of Northern Kenya traditionally plan crop planting around an intimate knowledge of the behaviour of frogs and birds, such as the ground hornbill, green wood hoopoe, spotted eagle owl and nightjar, which are revered as "prophets of rain".

In Johannesburg we organized a round table on Cultural and Biological Diversity for Sustainable Development. The main driver of this was President Chirac of France and we had on the podium 14 people, other heads of state, NGOs and scientists.

What was clear, is that these issues are a real challenge for the UN system.

We will lay these issues before UNEP Governing Council in February and ask governments, what can we do more in cooperation of course with the Convention on Biological Diversity and the other articles on genetic resources.

I could go on and on with this topic, I do not have to prepare a speech, I am personally involved.

Thank You.