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Time to put Africa’s traditional medicine and plant extracts on the blockchain

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Africa biodiversity
Africa biodiversity

Africa’s traditional medicine and plant extracts have great value if proper documentation and tracking is condcuted. At the recently concluded Africa Blockchain Conference in Kampala a keynote presentation was given by Her Excellency Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who served as the 6th president of Mauritius between 2015 and 2018.  Post-presidency, she has dedicated her efforts towards African biodiversity amongst other things and currently a co-founder of The Centre for Phytotherapy Research (CEPHYR) which undertakes activities towards to production of innovative ingredients for cosmetic, perfume, pharma and food sectors.

She gave a well-researched argument about the need for Africa to preserve its green assets as an opportunity to unlock the opportunities therein.  African plants have been used for medical purposes for centuries. However, the knowledge is not recorded properly or passed down from one generation to another. The plant extracts are used to form chemicals that are used globally with little or no benefit to Africa.

Interesting statistics

Africa contributes 25% of world’s genetic assets.  However, Africa is losing its genetic assets leading to loss of knowledge associated with it.

According to WHO, 80% of the global people use herbal medicine of some sort.

Of the 60% of medicines sold in pharmacies that comes from plants, 25% comes from Africa

However, the majority of the harvesting methods are unsustainable

Despite the above contribution, Africa contributes only 83 of the 1100 blockbuster medicines sold in shops

Examples of extracts from the continent

Madagascar palms

Shea butter

Acacia trees: one of the components of your soft drinks comes from it. Gum Arabic also known as acacia gum is a very lucrative commodity. Many soft drink companies use it. It is a ‘desert gold’ but global soft drink giants are hardly transparency about its sourcing in arid areas of countries such as Sudan and even Kenya. Read more about this in this report by Guardian and this one by Daily Nation.

However, there is no benefit attributed to these countries mainly because of policy loopholes.

The above examples show that Africa’s knowledge systems have not been developed properly.

Chinese and the Indians have codified and passed the knowledge through generations.

Africa ratified the Rio 92 Earth Summit about environmental protection without understanding the full ramifications for Africa’s green gold/assets and biodiversity.

Blockchain solution

The major challenge we have is that traditional knowledge stays with the families and communities and mainly the elderly. Trying to get them to share the knowledge is the first step and then tested in labs. If the results are confirmed, the information is shared on the private blockchains with attribution to the source and community.

The next step is to allow genetic knowledge sharing of data. Innovations can then be allowed under national certification. In case the information is to be used overseas, the supplying country owns the genetic resource. It will now be clear which plant extract comes from where and it can be tracked.

Already the project has entered into a partnership with MIT

You can follow Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim’s work on this website and on Twitter.

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