Government and University of Zimbabwe determinded to stop biopiracy by swiss University

Initiated by Berne Declaration (Switzerland) and Community Technology Development Trust of Zimbabwe a meeting was held on February 16, 2001, at the University of Zimbabwe to discuss a controversial patent held by Lausanne University. Attending the meeting were concerned stakeholders including the University of Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, the University of Lausanne and the Zimbabwe Traditional Healers Association (Zinatha).

The participants agreed that the patent held by the University of Lausanne for a compound of Swartzia and the Agreement for the Access and Benefit Sharing to Biomaterials of Zimbabwe needs to be renegotiated because they are legally unacceptable.The vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe sharply criticised the representative of Lausanne University for failing to abide by the provisions of the research agreement between the universities signed in 1995. Article 5f of this agreement stipulates that "a joint application will be made for any patent filed". In the case at hand, Lausanne University completely ignored the above provision and proceeded on its own to file a patent without even consulting the University of Zimbabwe. While the research agreement is by no means a perfect document, the University of Lausanne obviously made no effort to respect the content and spirit of the agreement. The conduct of Lausanne University clearly demonstrates that the illegal appropriation of biological resources from developing countries is still common practice by northern universities and corporations.
CTDT and Berne Declaration demand that the current research agreement between the universities concerning the open access to medicinal and poisonous plants of Zimbabwe be suspended with immediate effect for the following reasons:

  • The government is not party to this agreement as required by the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). The representative of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism confirmed at the meeting, that they are the only legal authority to grant access to any Zimbabwean biological resources.
  • The benefit sharing mechanisms and frameworks of the agreement are not consistent with common practice. For example, there are no provisions for a future benefit-sharing agreement if a product is commercialized.
  • Under the current agreement only the University of Zimbabwe is a beneficiary, thus marginalizing other stakeholders such as traditional healers and the government.
  • The current agreement has no mechanism to acknowledge and compensate the use of traditional knowledge systems.
  • It seems that access to medicinal plants was granted to the University of Lausanne at less than a fair value.

We call upon the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Zimbabwe to take the initiative and a leading role in defining a model agreement for access and benefit sharing. Such an agreement involving all relevant stakeholders should contain provisions for prior informed consent, mutually agreed terms and benefit sharing mechanisms. To avoid shortcomings and loopholes, the new agreement should be accessible for comments by civil society.
As the terms of access to the genetic resources of Zimbabwe are renegotiated, the University of Lausanne is given an opportunity to prove its good will by supporting a fair contract. Hopefully, they will not miss it.