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News 550 views last update:6 Aug 2012

Kenya deal Novozymes raises eyebrows

A contract between state-controlled Kenya Wildlife Service and Danish biotechnology multinational Novozymes is the subject of a new controversy.

Scientists and legal experts warn that Kenya could lose invaluable biological wealth by rushing into the deal when the country has neither a legal framework nor the capacity to monitor and audit the operations of such international biotechnology firms.

Signed in May, the contract permits scientists from either party to seek minute organisms "hidden" in the country's nature reserves and isolate what they believe could be of industrial significance.

Training and technology
It entitles KWS to one-off payments and "running royalties" from the sales of the biological products. In addition, the contract obliges Novozymes to provide training to KWS scientific staff and to transfer the necessary technology.

It is touted as a project that will usher KWS into the highly lucrative but risk-prone research and development of commercial products from biological resources found in its 55 national parks and reserves.

Weak contract
But now, questions have been raised not only over the hasty manner with which the Novozymes deal was made, but also over the fact that KWS's rights and obligations under the contract are covered merely by a memorandum of understanding (MoU), which is no more than a gentleman's agreement.

"The deal will end up giving scientists from Novozymes unlimited access to the country's national parks, which is risky because it will be extremely difficult for KWS to monitor what happens," said Dr Daniel Maingi, a microbiologist with Africa Network for Animal Welfare.

KWS Director Dr Julius Kipng'etich defended the deal, saying that he does not see any risk of Kenya losing its biological wealth.

He said that KWS scientists will be involved all down the line and that in the event that industrially important organisms are discovered and developed, KWS will co-own the patents with the Denmark-based biotech giant. "Novozymes will have no exclusive rights," he said.

Related websites:
KWS 
Novozymes

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