Why Rwanda needs law on use of genetic resources

Women weave Rwandan traditional baskets ‘Agaseke’ from different plants in Musanze District. / Photo: File.

A number of testimonies recently compiled in ‘a Tool Kit and Guideline on access to Genetic Resources’, shows why Rwanda needs a law on exploiting genetic resources.

Genetic material is any material of plant, animal, microbial, bacteria or other origin used for research or product development that finally delivers commercially-valuable products.

 

A member of Bugesera Women’s Cooperative (COVANYA) said a tourist one time asked them the procedures of weaving Rwandan traditional baskets ‘Agaseke’ and took some samples of raw materials that the cooperative members were using.

 

The cooperative gave their expertise and genetic resources to the woman for free and didn’t benefit anything.

 

Another testimony is of a Rwandan traditional healer who used to give traditional knowledge about medicinal plants to people from various countries without gaining benefits.

There are over 100 medicinal plant species protected at the Museum of environment and 90 per cent of genetic resources are from plants.

However, once a ministerial order governing the access to genetic resources is released, no one will simply come into a community in Rwanda and get ahold of a plant, animal, microbial or other origin and take it without consent according to conservation experts who talked to The New Times.

Aloysie Manishimwe, a conservation expert and researcher, said there are some genetic resources that might have been taken out of Rwanda for a long time without benefiting the community and therefore regulations are needed.

“Many researchers have a patent (trade mark) for using genetic resources for research development in Rwanda. It is difficult to know how some ended up abroad but it seems that between 1976 and 2010, researchers had patents for these genetic resources,” she explained.

She refers to “Biodiversity in the Patent System: A country study of biodiversity, genetic resources and global patent activity for Rwanda”.

The study was conducted in 2013 by One World Analytics.

The research was initially limited to searches of patent data from the United States, the European Patent Office and the international Patent Cooperation Treaty in the period 1976-2010 and other documents between 1900 and 2013

Prof. Beth Kaplin. Photo: Courtesy.

Although Rwanda shares a significant proportion of its known biodiversity with other countries in Africa and around the world, the study identified about 707 species names that are known to grow in Rwanda for which researchers and companies have patents.

Out of these, 329 are plant names.

Specifically, it says that there is evidence that the herb species known as ‘Ocimum canum’ also known as, hoary basil or African mint was sourced from Rwanda in Huye district.

It is said that linalool (fragrant liquid) from its leaves were collected, air-dried according to traditional practice, and express-shipped to Montana State University where they were stored.

Regulations in offing

In 2017, Rwanda started a journey to establish legal institutional frameworks to implement Nagoya Protocol that entered into force in 2014 to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources use.

Prof. Beth Kaplin, the Acting Director for Center of Excellence in Biodiversity & Natural Resources Management at University of Rwanda says that the law and the ministerial order will ensure users and providers of those genetic resources or the knowledge share the benefits once such plants and animals are used for medicines, foods or other purposes.

“This means that someone cannot simply come into Rwanda and get a hold of a plant and take it without consent,” she said.

For example, she said, the consent is needed so that pharmaceutical companies from foreign countries that may come to Rwanda to search for a plant that provides a cure for a type of disease can share benefits.

Without laws in place, she said, the company can put medicine on the market and makes a lot of money without benefitting providers.

The medicinal plant can also go extinct due to over exploitation.

Juma Nsanzimana, who is in charge of Environment Education and Mainstreaming at REMA explained that the law on biodiversity conservation and wildlife was moved from law reform commission and is yet to be gazetted and that the ministerial order to guide sharing of the benefits in in law reform commission and could be issued in the next six months.

Benefits

Kaplin said that some benefits to traditional healers can be in the form of training, infrastructure, shares in marketed products derived from their knowledge, or other material goods.

 Benefits can also be conservation of plants and animals, she said.

According to Emmanuel Munyaneza, a scientist and researcher in Natural Sciences, they can be non-monetary and monetary benefits.

Non-monetary benefits include collaboration in scientific research, education and training, technology transfer, research in health and food security needs, food and livelihood security benefits among others.

The monetary benefits include access fees per sample of genetic resource collected, up-front payments, payment of royalties, and license fees in case of commercialization, special fees paid to trust funds to support conservation of biodiversity, research funding and others.

These are highlighted in “Guideline and Toolkit for Access and Benefit Sharing of Traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources” completed in April 2019.

The guideline looks at providers of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resource, users of the genetic resources and regulators from national government agencies and authorities

The guideline recommends research permits for users interested in genetic resources, access and benefit sharing agreement between providers and users subject to research and development as well as compliance monitoring.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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