Kenya scientists push bio prospecting policy

July 22, 2009
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 22 – Biological researchers now want Cabinet to commence discussions on a proposed policy that seeks protection for organic material used for research or medicinal purposes.

A senior scientist at the Kenya Wildlife Service, Charles Musyoki, said on Wednesday that if the Bio-Prospecting National Policy is passed into law, it would regulate the collection of biological samples for commercial scientific purposes.

He stated that it will ensure effective monitoring of foreigners so that endangered species are not moved out of the country.

“The law that we are proposing in this country seeks to capture issues to do with bio-prospecting,” he said.

 “The industry worldwide generates over $500 million and we would not like Kenya to miss out on this equation. We would be able to develop products that are going to generate revenue,” he said.

Bio-prospecting is the collection of biological materials or samples for medicinal and other scientific research with a view to identify or innovate new commercial uses of genetic resources.

Such activities have contributed immensely to new discoveries, especially of pharmaceutical drugs.

Closely related to bio-prospecting is the inclusion of intellectual property rights to confer ownership over ideas, discoveries and inventions with intentions to use them commercially.

In this aspect, ownership relates to rights to production, distribution, sale and commercialization of the invention or innovation.

Mr Musyoki said that one of the major challenges posed by bio-prospecting where there are weak or no intellectual property regimes comes to play when the patent holder does not get approval from the original resource holder.

He added that at times, the patent holder will get all commercial benefits without sharing with the original resource owner (the community).

Another challenge, he said, comes about when the patent holder is not obliged to the source of its scientific ingredients. But the scientists argue that if the source was clearly identified, then further exploitation of the generic resource might lead to more innovations that might result in more benefits to the community which owns the resource.

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