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Botswana to protect indigenous traditions

30th August 2011

Officials in Botswana say they want to develop a policy to protect traditional knowledge, including documenting traditional herbal medicines.

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The government is anxious to put in place a framework that will preserve, protect and promote its indigenous knowledge.

Officials are also hopeful that traditional knowledge will find its way into the mainstream economy.

Researchers will study local traditional knowledge, identifying and documenting practices in the fields of healthcare, agriculture and cultural belief.

Researchers from the University of Botswana's Centre for Scientific Research, Indigenous Knowledge and Innovation, led by Mogodisheng Sekhwela, are already compiling information for the project, which is due to be completed in June 2012.

Their research will form part of a legislative framework aimed at protecting traditional knowledge from exploitation and theft.

The government has poured nearly US$1 million into the project, which was launched in June following four months' prelimary work.

Manager Oabona Monngakgotla said the project aimed to empower those who had traditional knowledge through benefit-sharing and royalties.

Traditional herbal medicines were important in improving both health and income, he said.

The project will also seek to boost awareness of the country's traditional knowledge heritage through the medium of education.

Researchers from around the world would be encouraged to carry out medical research into the effectiveness of traditional herbal medicines in particular, he said.

The results should benefit professionals and communities alike.

While other countries with strong indigenous traditions have already taken steps to protect their exponents, Botswana has no laws yet which do this.

However, national policy frameworks on natural resource cultivation, as well as cultural and conservation policies, have done the job instead so far.

International frameworks including the Nagoya Protocol were set up to protect traditional communities from biopiracy and ensure that benefits from research into indigenous knowledge were properly shared.

According to Monngakgotla, the debates around indigenous knowledge have become complex and academic in nature.

Intellectual property legislation and the expectation of regional collaboration further complicate the picture.

Officials plan to use the Southern African Development Committee's science, technology and innovation framework, which encourages regional members to develop indigenous knowledge policies and work towards harmonising them.

Further protection will be available through the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, which is in the process of developing a protocol to protect holders of traditional knowledge from any infringement of their right, and the misappropriation, misuse or exploitation of their knowledge.

When Botswana's policy research project is finished, the authors will set out an implementation plan together with recommendations for the government.


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