March 18, 2005

Moves to protect traditional knowledge

Traditional healers and lawyers are joining forces with scientists in Zambia to help draft a national policy for protecting indigenous knowledge and genetic resources.
The committee, headed by Mwanamwambwa Lewanika, director of the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research, will begin by conducting “situation analyses” in all nine of Zambia’s provinces. Its aim will be to assess how people use traditional knowledge and biological resources, and how much users know about patents and intellectual property rights.
This last aspect of the analysis is important because Zambia's patenting system is complicated, and people who might develop innovations based on traditional knowledge, such as remedies derived from medicinal plants, often do not know the procedure for registering a patent. The draft policy will incorporate strategies to address concerns about the protection of traditional knowledge raised during the research. "Countries need to be in charge of their own resources, and to recognise the role indigenous knowledge and genetic resources play in the community," says committee member Godfrey Mwila, a senior programme officer for conservation at the Southern Africa Development Community gene bank in Lusaka.
According to him, the project, which will be completed in June, would also assist in the documentation of genetic resources and indigenous knowledge. (SciDev.Net, London)

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