Protecting the Traditional Medicinal Knowledge of the Kenyan Maasai

Indigenous communities have used local plant life as a primary healthcare source for centuries, although these practices have been continually fading. The Olosho Ethnobotany Project, headed by Kristin Hedges, Ph.D., has been striving to document this important cultural resource among the Maasai in Kenya. It is important to establish measures of protection over this traditional knowledge, as this stage’s literature review has focused on. This working paper summarizes the issues around protection, legal ramifications of bioprospecting, and recommended steps local communities can take when protecting their cultural resources and heritage. The Maasai should consider forming an inter-community representative board in the case that they are approached by bioprospectors in order to fairly negotiate a deal that benefits all knowledge users. It is also recommended that they record their knowledge in a public database in order to establish proof of prior art in the case of a patent battle. This will help defend against misappropriation and promote their intellectual property rights over relevant plantlife. Future projects could include partnering the community with an NGO, pursuing better enforcement of Kenyan legislation, and exploring ways to promote community involvement in preservation.