Rwanda: New Conservation Law to Promote Fair Sharing of Genetic Resources

19 November 2021

Biodiversity conservation experts in Rwanda have welcomed the recently gazetted law on biological diversity and wildlife conservation, saying it will play a role in implementing Nagoya Protocol.

The Nagoya Protocol is an international agreement to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources. It aims to achieve sustainable use of biodiversity.

Genetic material is any material of plant, animal, microbial, bacteria or other origin used for research or product development that finally delivers commercially-valuable products such as medicines.

In 2017, Rwanda embarked on a journey to establish legal institutional frameworks to implement the Nagoya Protocol that entered into force in 2014.

Without laws, experts say researchers and pharmaceutical firms can put medicine made from genetic resources on the market and make a lot of money without benefitting providers.

Aloysie Manishimwe, a conservation expert and researcher said that the new law which has set fines on persons carrying out scientific research in protected areas without a permit will also be protecting genetic resources at the same time.

"The research may also be a research that will lead to the use of genetic resources. This has to be known by an authority to plan for fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of such genetic resources," she said.

According to the law, any person who conducts studies on genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge, accesses or export them without a relevant permit commits a crime and he or she is liable to an administrative fine of not less than Rwf2 million and not more than Rwf5 million.

In addition to the sanctions, the law also empowers authorities to seize genetic resources on which the offence was committed as well as the equipment used to commit it.

"The previous laws on biodiversity and wildlife were silent on genetic resources because Rwanda was not party to the Nagoya Protocol," she stated.

A Prime Minister's Order is also awaited to establish a gene bank for preserving and conserving the genetic content of fauna and flora and determines modalities for its management and use

Scientific research in protected areas

According to article 78 of the law, a person who carries out scientific research in a protected area without a permit commits an offence.

Upon conviction, the researcher is liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than six months but not more than two years and a fine of not less than Rwf500,000 but not more than Rwf1 million.

If the offence is committed in a national park or a strict nature reserve, the penalty is a jail term of not less than three years but not more than five years and a fine of not less than Rwf2 million but not more than Rwf5 million.

"A person carrying out scientific research in a protected area without a permit commits an offence because a protected area is protected because of different reasons. Protected areas have their total economic values that are many times higher than what we may do in such areas," Manishimwe said.

She said that carrying out research without a permit may be harmful to biodiversity and ecosystem services.

"Some impacts may be irreversible such as harvesting or killing a keystone species in an ecosystem which may affect the functioning of the whole ecosystem," she said.

Prof. Beth Kaplin, the Acting Director for Centre of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management at the University of Rwanda welcomed the law saying it makes it clear that one cannot simply go into a protected area and carry out research or take specimens.

"A research permit is needed, and this is important so that the country knows what research is going on and where, and data are captured and can be used towards science-based decision making," she said, "This should also help promote collaborations among researchers and government agencies and academic institutions, and support the applications of research for policy and innovation."

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