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[CAPE TOWN] Botswana is developing a policy to protect, preserve and promote its indigenous knowledge and mainstream it into the country's macro-economic framework.

Development of the policy will involve identifying, documenting and gathering local traditional knowledge practices from areas including agriculture, health, culture and religious beliefs, and then feeding them into a legislative framework.

The project, which started in February but was formally launched in June, has received nearly US$1 million from the government.

"The initiative is intended to bring economic empowerment through benefit-sharing and [providing] royalties to communities rich in indigenous knowledge," said Oabona Monngakgotla, the project's manager.

He said that Botswana has realised the importance of indigenous knowledge, such as using traditional herbal medicines to improve health and generate income.

Creating awareness through education about the importance of indigenous knowledge to research, particularly global medical research, will benefit both professionals and communities, he added.

Botswana has no specific laws on indigenous knowledge systems. Instead it has isolated policies on natural resources, such as the National Policy on Natural Resource Conservation and Development and the National Policy on Culture, which fit within international frameworks including the Nagoya Protocol, an international agreement to combat biopiracy and share benefits from national resources research fairly.

"Indigenous knowledge debates have become more complex and academic, particularly when viewed in the context of intellectual property and the expectation that regional collaborations should be encouraged and developed," Monngakgotla told SciDev.Net.

He said that Botswana is not working directly with any southern African countries on the initiative but is taking its cue from the Southern African Development Committee's science, technology and innovation framework, which encourages regional members to develop indigenous knowledge policies and work towards harmonising them.

The African Regional Intellectual Property Organization is also developing a protocol to protect holders of traditional knowledge from any infringement of their rights and the misappropriation, misuse or exploitation of their knowledge.

"After the development of policy, an implementation plan will be developed, detailing execution of the policy and making recommendations," said Monngakgotla.

Mogodisheng Sekhwela, the project's team leader, will lead the University of Botswana's Centre for Scientific Research, Indigenous Knowledge and Innovation in compiling the information, which is due to be completed in June 2012.