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NEMA Launches Access to Benefits Sharing-ABS project in Karamoja

The Herbalists during the Inception meeting at KALIP in Moroto

By Timothy Eodu

National Environment Management Authority has launched the Access to Benefits Sharing-ABS project in Karamoja, partnering with a local Community Based Organization- Karamoja Women Cultural Group as the implementer.

The launch that was held on Thursday 15th June 2023 at the KALIP hall in Moroto district was attended by officials from NFA, NEMA, Ministry of water and local herbalists from Rupa Sub County among others.

According to the NEMA project Officer Mr. James Osiru, the four year project targets indigenous herbalists of Karamoja to get their knowledge on herbs in the districts of Amudat, Moroto, Nakapiripirit, Kotido, Abim and Kaabong.

He said NEMA realised that so very many people were accessing knowledge from the indigenous communities on medicinal plants but leaving such communities with no benefit yet they will have contributed to such persons or institutions.

Mr. Osiru says the project aims to empower the local communities/ herbalists so that they can safe guard such knowledge by regulating access so that communities/ herbalists can benefit from their knowledge by being organised and as such avoiding abuse.

He says ABS will help sensitize communities/ herbalists so that they can identify their roles, create collaboration between herbalists and stakeholders and help document traditional knowledge for more research and decision making in areas of genetic resources.

Margaret Lomonyang the director Karamoja Women Cultural Group said indigenous knowledge plays a key role in modern society but unfortunately, researchers keep using the indigenous herbalists and abandon them without empowering them with modern skills but also financially.

She said the purpose of the project is for benefit sharing among the herbalists across Karamoja and Uganda as a whole. Lomonyang called upon the herbalists to embrace the project and use their indigenous knowledge for the benefit of the general public.

She said the project is working with government and other stakeholders to build capacity of traditional herbalists to appreciate preservation but also protecting the environment. Lomonyang said to ensure proper use and extraction of indigenous medicine; herbalists will be taken to Kisoro for an exchange visit so that they can learn better practices.

Mary Nachap, one of the participants inquired if it’s possible to fund local community organizations to do afforestation in Karamoja especially for fruit trees but also to carry out community awareness. She also urged that if NEMA could be in position to enhance provision of water facilities, this could help communities plant and water some of the trees that can help them survive.

However, Lomonyang said due to harsh climate, fruit trees may be difficult to grow in Karamoja but tasked the local medicine extractors to keep transplanting some of the same medicinal species so that they don’t die out.

Penina Zaninka the coordinator United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda said as a community Karamoja local herbalists need to unite because the knowledge they have is for the future and as such they need to pass it to the young generation.

Zaninka said the project is focusing on creating a community protocol (organise herbalists) so that they can benefit out of projects like this. She said over time indigenous herbalists have been taken advantage of and if they can organize, this will help preserve but also develop their community productivity.

Zaninka also advised that as a community, herbalists have to share the necessary information about the indigenous medicines but wisely because it’s their wealth. She added that the community can know what to share or not but can only be achieved if they work as an organised group.

Margaret Lomonyang (L) with other officials from NEMA

She said this will encourage more researchers to flock into the region for more learning experience and as such creating an avenue for making some money and development in their community.

National Forestry Authority coordinator Tugumisirize Obed says Karamoja has three forest reserves of kadam, Napak and Moroto which need to be restored with most indigenous trees that have been cut.

He said they want communities surrounding those forest reserves to organize themselves and sign cooperation agreement on how best they would like to sustainably use forests without posing a danger.

Mr. Obed said this will help preserve endangered species of trees but also give opportunity for people to plant such indigenous trees on their private land for easy access.

Mr. Mugabe Stephen David a commissioner at ministry of water and environment said the project has come to empower local medicine men and women so that they can be in position to protect information about indigenous plants but also make them aware that they can earn from the knowledge instead of greedy people taking advantage of their ignorance to make money.

“This project has come to wake you people up because many people have come looking for the same knowledge and plants and when they go away, they make money and leave you poor,” he said.

National Chemotherapeutic Research Institute (NCRI) representative Dr. Richard Komakech said there should be mechanism in place for building a system for which information can be shared to avoid exploitation of the indigenous herbalists. He said it is not bad to pass information about such knowledge because most modern medicine is being developed based on the same indigenous knowledge.

“You see medicines like covidex were because of such knowledge passed on to a researcher who went and developed a powerful product (Medicine), this benefits the whole community and not only one person,” he said.

Dr. Komakech pleaded with the indigenous herbalists to embrace researchers but urged them to commercialize it to benefit them and their community. He said most trees used for making medicines such as covidex are in Karamoja and as such they will support the herbalists though research so that they can develop medicinal products from the region.

Officials pose for a Photo with some of the Herbalists

Some indigenous knowledge in Karamoja

Christine Nakor, one of the herbalists from Rupa Sub County in Moroto district says she knows herbal medicines that can be used to treat headache, stomach and body pain but also controls premature abortion.

Mark Abura another herbalists says he knows of a herbal drug that treats general body pain but needs to be complemented by soup or meat for better results.

Another identified as Loduk Iyarakete said most of them have a lot of knowledge of indigenous medicines in the region but would like to acquire more through capacity building so that they can understand how to concoct and make better ones that can treat various diseases better.

Indigenous groups in Uganda utilize traditional knowledge in a variety of ways for production of foods and medicines. For instance, the Karimojong who are predominantly pastoralists treat animals using herbs such as extracts from sandalwood for treatment of wounds, preservation of milk, swelling in cattle sheep and goats. They rely on herbs to treat diseases in humans as well.

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