Remembering Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher: A champion of biodiversity

Noted food policy analyst Dr Devinder Sharma from India pays homage to the renowned Ethiopian scientist

Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher (19 February 1940 – 20 March 2023) was an Ethiopian scientist. He had won the Right Livelihood Award in 2000 “for his exemplary work to safeguard biodiversity and the traditional rights of farmers and communities to their genetic resources.”

We lost Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, from Ethiopia, this week. He died at the age of 83. I am not sure how many of you would have heard of him. And that is why I feel it is always time to remember our heroes. Let it be known that he was truly a champion of biodiversity and community rights from Africa. During the 1990s, I remember meeting him a number of times at various places across the globe and believe me it was always a treat to spend time with him.

A Right Livelihood Award winner, Dr Tewolde was always on the forefront of finding ways to protect biodiversity and traditional rights. He was the chief negotiator at the Cartagena Protocol representing the like-minded groups from the South. He played a significant role in Africa’s negotiating position at the Convention on Biological Diversity and was instrumental in developing the legal framework for community rights and farmer’s rights. During my days as a member of the CGIAR’s Central Advisory Board on Intellectual Property Rights (CGIAR-IPRs) I would always find it convenient to consult him.

I also recall when both of us were invited to address a parliamentary briefing at the House of Commons in London, where we spoke on biodiversity conservation, patents and why the need for a legislation for farmers rights. And later we were the only two speakers hailing from the Global South invited to the multinational industry-sponsored 1st World Food and Farming Congress at London.

As I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family and friends, let me acknowledge that his leadership (besides a few others) at the crucial times when the multinational effort was to seek control over plant genetic resources, has helped work towards legal frameworks that allow us the protection. Your contributions cannot go unsung, Dr Tewolde. Rest in peace.

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