Meeting with Industries and Institutions Accessing Snake Venom on ABS compliance under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 at Chennai

24 Oct, 2018

The Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Partnership Project has been engaging with commercial users of biological resources to create awareness on legal provisions and ABS compliance under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. The Act covers plants, animals, microorganisms, and their parts, genetic material and by-products with actual or potential use or value. Access to snake venom requires approval of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) or State Biodiversity Boards. The Irula Snake Catcher’s Industrial Co-operative Society, Kanchipuram is the only venom extraction centre in India and they operate in northern Tamil Nadu.

A meeting was organised at Chennai with representatives from industries and institutions which have accessed snake venom from the Irula Society in 2017-2018. The aim of the meeting was to inform the users on compliance and application procedures under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Officials from NBA, Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Board (TNBB), and Tamil Nadu Forest Department as well as members of the Irula Snake Catcher’s Industrial Co-operative Society, who are defined as “benefit claimers” under the Act, were present in the meeting.

Representatives from industries and institutions in discussion with NBA, TNBB and Chief Wildlife Warden

Members of the Irula Society at the meeting

The meeting began with introductory remarks by Mr. A. Udhayan IFS, Secretary, TNBB. Mr. T. Rabikumar IFS, Secretary, NBA emphasised the need for interaction between the user companies and regulators to enhance the understanding of the implications of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 for activities undertaken by industries, institutions and organisations using biological resources. Mr. T. P. Raghunath IFS, PCCF & Chief Wildlife Warden highlighted that snake venom is one of the first animal-based resources that will be involved in Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) agreements. He insisted that compliance is not only an obligation by law but also a moral obligation to ensure sustainability.

Dr. Raghuram, Technical Officer - Benefit Sharing, NBA introduced the participants to the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. He informed the participants about India’s compliance with international regulations on biodiversity conservation, its sustainable use and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of these resources. Detailed information on access regulations under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, was also shared with the participants. The application procedure, including e-filing the applications, and an overview of the processing of these applications were explained. Dr. Raghuram reiterated that the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 is in addition to and not in derogation of any other law on forests and wildlife.

Ms. Shameeka Rao, GIZ, provided details on the trade of snake venom over 6 months in 2017-2018 which highlighted the quantity of venom sold from the Irula Snake Catcher’s Industrial Co-operative Society, Kanchipuram, and the type of entities that procure it. About 99% of the venom sold by the Society was procured by industries producing anti-snake venom and 1% of the venom by institutions for research.

Interactive discussions with the participants provided an insight into the various uses of snake venom by the different entities, the challenges they faced with procurement as well as the use of snake venom. The discussions also emphasised that additional compliance procedures should not be time-consuming and that the current supply of snake venom is not enough to meet the demand for anti-snake venom in India.

Research studies have revealed that there are variations in the toxicity of the venom collected, based on their geography, which may impact the efficacy of the anti-snake venom produced. It was also suggested that the Irula Snake Catcher’s Industrial Co-operative Society consider establishing centres across India to improve the quality and specificity of the venom collected as well as increase the efficiency of the anti-snake venom produced.

Mr. T. P. Raghunath affirmed that the NBA, TNBB and Chief Wildlife Warden would work in partnership to operationalise ABS agreements on snake venom in India. He reiterated that the purpose of the Act is to ensure sustainability, which in this instance is the conservation of snakes. Future steps include conducting a workshop for entities procuring snake venom from Tamil Nadu on application procedures to NBA or TNBB.