22 April 2018

Kenya Seeks Share of Billions of Shillings Made From Lake

The cloud behind alleged exportation of enzymes from Lake Bogoria by a foreign university is set to be lifted with the government demanding full disclosure of the details.

The water resource, known for its flamingoes, contains an unusual variety of microbes and micro-organisms from which enzymes have been produced for use in antibiotics and cleaning products.

Tiny organisms found in the lake are the basis of a multi-million dollar global biotech industry.

And now Environment Chief Administrative Secretary William Kiprono says the Baringo County government must demand full disclosure of all the money from the royalties deal.

Mr Kiprono said local communities stand to benefit from such discoveries in line with the Nagoya Protocol, on access and benefit-sharing with regard to genetic resources and their use, which Kenya is a signatory of.

"It will be heartbreaking if researchers are really making millions yet nothing is ploughed back into the community which is grappling with a myriad of challenges. We feel that the community was shortchanged in the deal," said Mr Kiprono.

He spoke at Maji Mazuri in Eldama Ravine Sub-County during a national tree planting exercise.

In 1992, a researcher from a British university harvested some micro-organisms illegally from the lake, and in 1995 sold them to companies in the Netherlands and the US. The firms were later sued by the Kenyan government for not sharing the financial benefits of their subsequent innovations.

Among living organisms collected from the lake during the research included an enzyme that would later be used by a company to develop an extremely successful line of Tide bleach for stonewashing denim clothes.

In 2004, the Kenya Wildlife Service went to court seeking a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars generated from the sale of the popular detergent and bleaching agent manufactured in the US whose active ingredients were acquired from the lake illegally.

According to Mr Kiprono, the community was later given a paltry Sh2.3 million by the Dutch bio-enzyme company which they used as bursaries for over 200 local students.

"Such kind of resource should have been of great benefit to the community. The county government should revisit to see if the amount paid to the community living around the lake is commensurate with the billions of shillings the bio tech industries are getting from the enzymes," said Mr Kiprono.

The lake has a deep spiritual and cultural significance for the minority Endorois people, who have been its custodians for centuries. But it is only in the last few years that they have realised they are sitting on a potential gold mine.

"Relevant authorities should ensure that the community receives a fair share of any resources from the lake," said the official.

Endorois Welfare Council chairman Wilson Kipkazi said companies that conducted research at the lake never involved the community.

"We learned then through the media that multinational companies have made millions of dollars through genetic resources extracted from Lake Bogoria. This made the community furious," said Mr Kipkazi, adding that foreigners have made a killing from the water resource while locals continue to wallow in poverty.

The community which numbers about 70,000 people got a boost in 2010 after the African Union Court sitting in Banjul ordered that their ancestral land around Lake Bogoria Game Reserve be referred back to them by the Kenyan government.

Among other issues, the government had also been ordered to compensate the community for include evicting them and withholding royalties from the revenue being generated from the reserve.


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