African ministers attending an international conference on biological diversity want strict rules enforced to protect the continent's natural resources. They say that while scientists from the West have for decades stolen Africa's plant and animal resources to create pharmaceutical products worth billions of dollars, Africans have not received a cent.
Africa is home to one quarter of the world's 4,700 mama species. The United Nations Environmental Program says the continent has more than 2,000 species of birds and 2,000 species of fish. Africa harbors up to 60,000 plant species and about 100,000 known species of insects, spiders and arachnids.
Speaking today at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, Uganda's Minister for Water and Environment Maria Mutagamba said the vast variety of Africa's resources are still plundered by the West. She called for concrete resolutions to be made during the conference to stop the exploitation that is known among environmentalists as ‘biopiracy'.
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A recent case of the theft of Africa's biodiversity occurred in Kenya.
German pharmaceutical company acquired a strain of bacteria from Lake Ruiru in Kenya's Rift Valley region. It used the bacteria to develop and patent a drug to treat Type II diabetes. Sale of the drug gave Bayer a profit of 379 million dollars in 2004 alone.
In Uganda, a mycobacterium collected from mud samples since the 1970s has been patented at least five times in the United States. It is used to control chronic viral infections, including HIV.
The Ugandan mycobacterium, R877R, is owned by a British company called SR Pharma. SR Pharma hasn't shown any interest in sharing with Uganda the profits gained from the use of the organism.
John Muchiki, Kenya's environment minister, said biopiracy in Africa and the rest of the world is reaching alarming levels. He gave the example of the theft of the biodiversity in Indonesia to create a drug against bird flu, which natives of the country were not allowed to access.
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Ana Paula Chichava, the deputy environment minister from Mozambique, said Africa won't succeed in defending its biodiversity if the delegates to the Nagoya meeting don't pass regulations to stop the theft. She called for the enactment of legal provisions and mechanisms that can be adopted by individual states to protect the biodiversity.
Uganda is believed to have some of the strongest biodiversity protection laws. In May 2005 it approved the Regulations on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing.
The meeting in Nagoya is expected to agree on protocol on Access Sharing Benefits to that would reinforce Uganda's laws.