Ethiopian Laureate Tewolde Berhan, who fought for biodiversity and community rights, dies at 83
Ethiopian environmental scientist Tewolde Berhan, renowned for his advocacy against patents on life and the protection of community rights, passed away on Monday, March 20 at the age of 83, according to local media reports.
“Tewolde Berhan’s commitment to biosafety and community rights has had a transformative impact on the world,” said Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood’s Executive Director. “His leadership in advocating for African countries on the international stage paved the way for progressive and just policies. His legacy will continue to inspire us to work for a more equitable and just world.”
In 2000, Berhan was honoured with the Right Livelihood Award for his leadership in the biosafety discussions that resulted in significant protections of biodiversity and the recognition of community rights in the Global South, despite opposition from powerful actors like the US and European Union.
Berhan’s career in environmental science spanned both academia and government. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Science and Keeper of the National Herbarium at the University of Addis Ababa before becoming President of Asmara University and Director of the Ethiopian Conservation Strategy Secretariat.
Later, he was appointed General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia, where he led a team of African negotiators who called for progressive policies such as the recognition of community rights and the prohibition of patents on living materials.
Berhan also played a key role in drafting the Organisation of African Unity’s model legislation for local community rights, which is now used as the common basis for all African countries.
In his 2000 acceptance speech, Berhan emphasised the importance of local community rights in the face of globalisation, saying, “We have made progress in asserting our local community rights globally. We shall continue to do so.”
Berhan received 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.”