Learning from experience: Myanmar
Institution: A museum/collection in Germany
Biological material: Animals (Birds)
Research field: Conservation biology, Genetics, Taxonomy, Zoology
Research: Basic, non-commercial
Focus: Within species diversification of Asian passerine birds was analyzed with the aim of identifying distinct genetic lineages, e.g. previously unidentified taxonomic units. For this purpose, sequence data were generated. This research was conducted within the framework of a proposed nomination procedure of the study area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and therefore had a strong conservational focus.
Collaboration partner: The collaboration partners included non-commercial research institutes and universities from Myanmar (3), Germany (2), Austria (1) and the USA (1) and the UNESCO Thailand as the funding Organisation.
Collection: The material was collected by a cooperation partner from Austria in close cooperation with the collaboration partners from Myanmar and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC).
Funding period: 2016-2017
Photo: M. Suarez-Rubio & S. Renner
Time needed for first response from the National Focal Point: less than 1 week
Amount of time invested full time in the process: 2 months
Time needed until all ABS documents were obtained: 18 months
ABS documents obtained: A letter of confirmation that the material could be used for research, two agreements signed by the Austrian partner and the German research institute responsible for the genetic analyses
Other documents required: Export Permit
The researchers in Germany got advice from the German Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the collaboration partners in Myanmar before making enquiries about ABS.
At the time of this research project, the formal processes for prior informed consent and mutually agreed terms had not yet been established.
The research took place in two phases. In the first phase, the principal investigator from the Austrian partner organised a collection trip to Myanmar to collect blood samples. An agreement was signed by the Austrian partner responsible for the fieldwork and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) prior to the fieldwork starting.
UNESCO funding became available for genetic studies within the framework of a World Heritage nomination. In the second phase, the German partner museum joined the research to lead the genetic analyses on the material collected in Myanmar. The National Focal Point of Myanmar was contacted for guidance about the implications of conducting the genetic analyses at the German museum.
Finally, a second agreement was signed by the German museum and MONREC. MONREC also issued a letter to the German museum confirming that the samples collected could be used for the proposed research.
Photo: M. Suarez-Rubio & S. Renner
The agreements signed were not formally referred to as mutually agreed terms or a material transfer agreement but included provisions for the transfer of the material and sharing of benefits etc. What benefits were agreed to?
- results and data were shared among the cooperation partners
- joint publication in an international journal on nature conservation with three co-authors from Myanmar
An additional benefit was the joint engagement by the partners from Europe and Myanmar in the preparation of the report for the UNESCO nomination process, which was submitted in February 2018.
Advice for other researchers obtaining biological material from Myanmar
Check whether there is any existing ABS documentation for the material you intend to use AND whether you need further documentation for your project. The existence of ABS documentation may not necessarily mean that what you are proposing to do is covered and you may therefore have to arrange additional documents.
Even if there are no ABS laws, there may be other policies or administrative processes that apply. Contact the national focal point to check this. You can find the contact details in the ABS Clearing House.
If applying for permits, make sure that the work done by all project partners is covered. If there is a possibility that further non-commercial research could flow from your research project, consider exploring this option with the provider and making provision for it in the ABS documentation in the first instance. This can avoid duplicating the ABS process for closely related research. Clear communication between project partners is needed about ABS requirements and reponsibilities within the project.
Start early with the process. Although the authorities responded quickly to enquiries, it can take some time to clarify what is required and to make the necessary arrangements. Starting early can help to avoid any possible delays in your research project.
Consider asking your local collaboration partners to support the communication with the relevant government authorities.