The Kenyan government made moves this week to begin laying down a framework for regulating bio-prospecting by foreign groups, seeking simultaneously to discourage bio-piracy and capitalize upon a valuable resource. Bio-prospecting is the practice of identifying plant and animal species that may be valuable commercially, either through their use in the production of medicines or as agricultural resources. Though several patents have already resulted from biological materials found in Kenya and exported internationally, Kenyan authorities say that the country is not being fairly compensated for the genetic harvesting that is taking place within its borders.
"Research on genetic materials from Kenya has been a source of many patents on biotechnology innovations globally with no adequate economic returns to our country," said Kenya Wildlife Service director Julius Kipng'etich. The illegal removal of such materials is called bio-piracy and the Kenyan government plans to implement a five-step process to discourage it and penalize its practitioners. The strategy includes making legislation and institutional reforms, evaluation of the country's biodiversity, sharing benefits with the local communities, technology transfer and the establishment of centers of excellence. David Mwiraria, KWS chairman, says the process will require a budget of 10 billion Kenyan shillings, or $10,282,800 USD.
Kenya's economy relies primarily upon tourism and agriculture, which comprise about 63% and 24%, respectively, of the national GDP. If Kenya's government can help local communities benefit from the indigenous knowledge and biological capital gleaned by international entrepreneurs, bio-prospecting could become a valuable revenue source as pharmaceutical research expands.