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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Use of DNA technology in combating illegal trade and promoting conservation and sustainable use of plants in Kenya and Tanzania  

PI: Beatrice Khayota (, National Museums of Kenya
U.S. Partner: David Schindel, Smithsonian Institution
Project Dates: October 2015 - September 2018

Project Overview
This project will create and utilize two different knowledge sources on which policies, programs and activities can be based. The first will be a new knowledge base of the legal and illegal markets for plants in Kenya and Tanzania. Official records, new market surveys, and genetic analyses of plants being sold in domestic markets and trafficked across national borders will be compiled to provide a more accurate picture of the uses and over-uses of plant species. This knowledge base will be used to help enforcement agencies improve their efforts to stop poaching and illegal trafficking of endangered species; identify areas where wild plants are being illegally harvested for sale; identify potential markets for valuable cultivated plants for legal sale; and create new community-based sustainable strategies to restore and protect ecosystem services that are threatened by illegal harvesting of wild plants. The second knowledge source produced by the project will be a public reference library of DNA barcodes—short standardized DNA sequences that enable enforcement officials to identify plants that are difficult to assign to their correct species using traditional morphological features such as flowers. This component of the project builds on the success of the Barcode of Wildlife Project, led by the Smithsonian and funded by Google, in which Kenya has been a partner country. Kenya will use its demonstrated ability to generate high-quality DNA barcode records to expand the reference library to include more plant species that are endangered and protected by CITES and national law, as well as non-protected species with potential economic importance to Kenya and Tanzania.

Kenya and Tanzania have great natural wealth in the form of exotic animals and plants in and outside protected areas that attract ecotourists, but these resources can generate significant additional wealth if used in new ways. Bushmeat hunting and the illegal gathering of plants from the wild are being conducted as extractive industries, not sustainable enterprises. Yet thousands of plant species are valued as herbal medicines and ingredients in skin care products, ornamentals for landscapes, and as cut flowers, sacramental elements in traditional and religious ceremonies, and for other uses. Illegal harvesting and over-exploitation is reducing the economic benefits and development opportunities that Kenya and Tanzania can obtain from their rich biodiversity. This project seeks to change the balance with new knowledge-based policies and activities. The proposed knowledgebase of legal and illegal plant trade will be used to help identify species, populations, and ecosystems at risk from over-harvesting and suggest plant species that could be domesticated and marketed to improve livelihoods. Project results could also support new policies for community-based ecosystem development projects leading to increased ecotourism and farming, promote biodiversity conservation, and raise awareness among the public and government officials regarding plant poaching and its cost to national economies.

Summary of Recent Activities

In the quarter ending March 2018, over 278 field collected samples for Reference Library creation are being sub-sampled to tissue FluidX tubes to generate tissue barcodes.

In Tanzania, visits to the Forestry check points in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam were carried out at Gongo la Mboto and Kisarawe. These are among the entry points of forest products into Dar es Salaam City. A visit was also carried out to the Phytosanitary section at the Julius Nyerere International Airport: The list of plant species exported through the JNIA was generated at the Phytosanitary section Lastly, A visit was made to the Dar es Salaam harbour for the plant species in trade recorded by the port authority. Some plants exported in masses include medicinal plants.
4-342 Market survey
The team carrying out survey of market samples. Photo courtesy of Dr. Khayota
The DNA Barcoding analysts participated in exhibit sampling at Mombasa port for containers confiscated on suspicion of carrying illegal sandalwood. Subsequently, the samples will be analyzed to verify if the consignment is African sandalwood (Osyris lanceolata) Exhibits have been received for 3 other court cases and identification is ongoing.

In the PEER plants market survey in Bungoma, the team met Dr. Misiko, the chairman of (Indigenous Scientific Collaboration Research Association) ISCRA. The ideas exchanged beyond administering the questionnaire included the possibility of training herbalists in herbal medicine to improve the practice and also re-planting the plant species commonly used in homesteads/farms and a public education and awareness of recognized herbal medicines. ICRA is registered under the Ministry of Culture but collaborates more with medical practitioners.

In Tanzania, collaboration was established with Plant Protection Section of the Ministry of Agriculture that is responsible for issueing phytosanitary certificates. In this collaboration, the Institute of Traditional Medicine of the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences will be provided with the list of medicinal plants presented for Phytosanitary permit at no cost

The project is already providing identification services for impounded or confiscated materials for use as trial exhibits and preparing reports to be used in court for prosecution of wildlife crime offenders. The team has also initiated collaboration with customs and KEPHIS officials to identify and verify undeclared, confiscated, and suspect plant products in their custody. In the next few months, the team plans to discuss with the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism Tanzania about the enactment of the new legislation on the use of non-human DNA evidence in Tanzania legal proceedings on 30th April 2018. 300 DNA samples will also be extracted for Reference library by trainees after completing the proficiency test.

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