In the 1960s Ethiopian barley was introduced into the genetic material of the American barley as a treatment for the disease affecting production. Photo: UNDP Ethiopia

By Wubua Mekonnen, Programme Specialist


A landlocked country in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is endowed with an incredibly rich biodiversity:  It is home to 6,000 species of which 10% are endemic and is ranked as one of the top 25 endemic rich countries of the world in wild animal diversity.

Yet, the huge potential of these resources has not yet made a significant economic contribution to the economy, as compared to other countries such as India, Kenya, and Seychelles.

This is mostly due to a lack of awareness of the ‘monetary value’ of genetic resources; compounded by limited national technical capacities in the sector.


Putting the laws in place

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, 1992), and the Nagoya Protocol (NP) on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS, 2010, 2014) paved the way for Ethiopia’s active involvement and action in the international and national movement on biodiversity.

The country is a party to both international treaties, and has put in place institutional and legal frameworks, among others, to facilitate access and ensure fair and equitable benefit sharing of genetic resources and traditional knowledge.


Doing business with biodiversity

So far, the country has negotiated agreements on 13 species for commercial purposes [1] and out of these, five agreements have been signed with local and foreign companies for bio-prospecting purposes.

Among these investors, an Ethiopian biotech company has accessed microbial GRs (Rhizobium) to produce bio-fertilizer at a lower price than imported chemical fertilizers. This signals to potential savings in foreign exchange, agricultural productivity booster and job opportunities for local communities.

Biodiversity resources are also attracting foreign investment, bringing substantial benefits to the country through savings in foreign currency, securing royalty payment and other dues in foreign currency.

On top of monetary benefits, foreign companies are expected to involve Ethiopian scientists in the research, share the knowledge and technologies generated; and provide training for experts and local communities.


Prospects for the future

History tells us that the country’s genetic resources have been used by foreign countries long before the international treaties came to play.

In the 1960s, when the Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) critically challenged USA farmers, Ethiopian Barley was introduced into the genetic material of the American barley as a treatment for the disease affected Barley production. US farmers have been earning about USD 150 million per year since then [2]. 

Another miraculous plant, the Phytolaca dedecandra is endemic to Ethiopia and has been used to control the Zebra Mussels wreaking havoc in the US sewerage system and in its great lakes.

Genetic resources and traditional knowledge can bring multiple benefits. As the global economy expands, the demand for luxury items such as perfume and cosmetics will accelerate the growth of the sector. 

The impact of climate change is also likely to aggravate existing diseases and provoke new diseases which will increase demand for medicinal plants. This calls for intensive research and united action by all stakeholders including development partners, academia, NGOs, the private sectors, CBOs, and Government.  


Achieving the SDGs

The importance of the ABS mechanism is not only embodied in the convention and protocol but also in the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including target 6 of SDG 15: “Ensure fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of Genetic Resources and promote appropriate access to such resources”.

To conserve and use its biodiversity resources sustainably is, therefore, a means for Ethiopia to achieve most of its SDGs, and that is why biodiversity and ABS is one of the strategic areas of UNDP and GEF support for the Horn of Africa country. 


[1] (i). Eragrostis tef , (ii)Vernonia galamensis, (iii) Withania somnifera, (iv) Osyris species, (v) Dichrostachys cinerea, (vi)Moringa stenopetala, (vii) Aloe debrana, (viii) Eucalyptus globulus, (ix) Phytolacca dedocandria (Endod), (x) Rhizobium bacteria (bio-fertilizer),(xi) Bidens macropetra, (xii) Azadirachta indica and (xiii) Ricinus communis

[2] Getachew Mengiste BIOPROSPECTING IN ETHIOPIA- Enhancing Scientific and Technological Capacity (African Centre for Technology Studies, Kenya , 2001), p9

Ethiopia is endowed with an incredibly rich biodiversity. Photo: UNDP Ethiopia
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