Tewolde Berhan
( 2000 , Ethiopia )

...for his exemplary work to safeguard biodiversity and the traditional rights of farmers and communities to their genetic resources.

I am local, rural, communal. And I find that the whole world is a community. We have made progress in asserting our local community rights globally. We shall continue to do so.


Tewolde Berhan was born in 1940, graduated in 1963 from the University of Addis Ababa and took a doctorate from the University of Wales in 1969. He went back to the University of Addis Ababa and was Dean of the Faculty of Science, 1974-78. From 1978 to ’83 he was keeper of the National Herbarium, President of Aswara University 1983-91 and Director of the Ethiopian Conservation Strategy Secretariat 1991-94. Since then he has been General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia, which is effectively the country’s Ministry of the Environment.

Contact

Tewolde Berhan
Environmental Protection Authority
P.O. Box 12760
Addis Ababa
ETHIOPIA

Biography

Tewolde Berhan was born in 1940, graduated in 1963 from the University of Addis Ababa and took a doctorate from the University of Wales in 1969.

He went back to the University of Addis Ababa and was Dean of the Faculty of Science, 1974-78. From 1978 to ’83 he was keeper of the National Herbarium, President of Aswara University 1983-91 and Director of the Ethiopian Conservation Strategy Secretariat 1991-94. Since then he has been General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia, which is effectively the country’s Ministry of the Environment.

During the 1990s Tewolde put much of his energy into negotiations at the various biodiversity-related fora, especially the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In this time he built up a strong group of well-prepared African negotiators who began to take the lead in the G77 and China Group.

Africa came out with united, strong, progressive positions, such as no patents on living materials and the recognition of community rights. This strengthened the G77 and China’s negotiating positions.

Tewolde was instrumental in securing recommendations from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) encouraging African countries to develop and implement community rights, a common position on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and a clear stance against patents on life. Tewolde also guided the drafting of th …

Tewolde Berhan was born in 1940, graduated in 1963 from the University of Addis Ababa and took a doctorate from the University of Wales in 1969.

He went back to the University of Addis Ababa and was Dean of the Faculty of Science, 1974-78. From 1978 to ’83 he was keeper of the National Herbarium, President of Aswara University 1983-91 and Director of the Ethiopian Conservation Strategy Secretariat 1991-94. Since then he has been General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia, which is effectively the country’s Ministry of the Environment.

During the 1990s Tewolde put much of his energy into negotiations at the various biodiversity-related fora, especially the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In this time he built up a strong group of well-prepared African negotiators who began to take the lead in the G77 and China Group.

Africa came out with united, strong, progressive positions, such as no patents on living materials and the recognition of community rights. This strengthened the G77 and China’s negotiating positions.

Tewolde was instrumental in securing recommendations from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) encouraging African countries to develop and implement community rights, a common position on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and a clear stance against patents on life. Tewolde also guided the drafting of the OAU model legislation for community rights, which is now used as the common basis for all African countries.

At the 1999 biosafety negotiations in Cartagena, Colombia, Tewolde was the spokesperson for the majority of the G77 countries, called ‘The Like-Minded Group’. These negotiations ended in deadlock, but reached a successful conclusion in Montreal in January 2000. Tewolde’s leadership of the Like-Minded Group in the negotiations played a key role in achieving an outcome – against strong US and EU opposition – that protects biosafety and biodiversity and respects traditional and community rights in developing countries.

In 2004, Tewolde Berhan was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa by the Addis Ababa University, in recognition of his leadership in developing the science of botany in Ethiopia and in conserving biological diversity globally. In 2006, he received a ‘Champions of the Earth’ award, presented by the United Nations Environmental Programme to outstanding environmental leaders.

 
 

FAQ about Tewolde Berhan

asked in 2005

1. You are an internationally experienced negotiator. What advice can you give on the art of negotiating in international environmental policy?

First, know your facts. Second, analyse and express them clearly and simply so that the non-specialist can understand you fully. Express your ideas in writing to your regional group well ahead of negotiations. Refuse to be baited into belligerence both within your regional group and with opposing groups; but always be clear and unwavering in expressing yourself; clarity can go with humility. Your regional group will give you more work, do it. Never fail to fulfil your commitment, and your group will win.

2. If you had one choice: What new binding international agreement would you like to introduce?

A globally binding liability and redress regime for preventing environmental and human harm; a regime which cannot be escaped by changes in the identity of any culprit company or other agent through take-over, sale, bankruptcy or death; a regime which holds the state of the country of the culprit agent responsible when the culprit agent is unavailable.

3. What does biodiversity have to do with community rights?

A local community lives in an ecosystem interacting with, making use of, and caring for the living and non-living components. Because the living components are both the more complex and the more essential for human life, the major components of knowledge and technologies relate to biodiversity. But existing intellectual property rights regimes attribute it all to the individual. Community right therefore, tries to correct this error and recognizes the local community as the creator of the knowledge and technologies on biodiversity.

4. Unilateral action by the most powerful has killed multilateralism. Why do you waste your time in negotiations?

The unilateral acts of the last decade may have made it seem that multilateralism is dead. It is not. However, it is changing shape. The very globalization that has made unilateral acts so invasive, underlines the need for multilateralism, and the ease with which it can be achieved. Unilateralism is a passing phase championed by the greedy. In this interconnected Earth, the universalisation of the respect for human rights and learning to live within what the biosphere can allow are steadily taking over. The need for survival will force humanity to heed them more and thus value multilateralism more.

5. You are from a poor country. Why do you not leave the rich, who can afford it, to worry about the environment?

In a deteriorating environment, it is the poor like my people that suffer the most. This is because the poor are the more intimately related with the environment, in fulfilling their needs from their immediate environment, in being vulnerable to any deterioration as they have very little to cushion them.

6. What effect has the RLA had on your work?

The RLA has given the issues I have been fighting for a greater visibility. It has, therefore, increased global awareness on these issues and made it easier for me to be heard. On the other hand, putting me and my ideas in the limelight has meant greater stress for me. Fortunately for me, my wife and children are very supportive, and this helps me bear it.

Publications

Biosafety for local communities that are secure. Long speech prepared for the Right Livelihood Award Ceremony, December 2000. Download(pdf)

The Life’s Salvation Manifesto – A Draft. 2005. Download (pdf)