Kenya deal Novozymes raises eyebrows

29-08-2007 | |

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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