Cameroon’s biodiversity and traditional knowledge have long been exploited by foreign firms. To help protect its natural wealth, the country is taking new steps to enforce the Nagoya Protocol – a decade-old international treaty that ensures local communities benefit from sharing their genetic resources.
Home to more than 11,000 species of plants, birds, amphibians and fish, Cameroon is a trove of biodiversity – "genetic resources" that are indispensable for the country's social and economic wellbeing.
International pharmaceutical companies have shown strong interest in Cameroon's plant-based medicines, used by an estimated 80 percent of people in rural areas.
The bark of prunus africana – the African cherry tree – has long been a staple of traditional medicine to treat prostate cancer, for instance, and is now widely exported for use in herbal remedies.
"Every year, an average of 514 tonnes of prunus africana leaves the country," says Aurélie Taylor Patience Dingom, an expert in traditional knowledge at Cameroon's Environment Ministry.
While companies buy prunus africana in Cameroon for around 2 euros a kilogram, its value jumps to approximately 400 euros when sold in drug-form.
"The worrying issue is that none of that benefit is coming back to the communities where the prunus africana was harvested," says Dingom, whose job includes monitoring the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol.
She cites the example of Brazil, where 1 percent of the net income generated is paid into a national fund that is shared with the communities where the plant is grown.
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