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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 - April 2020

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.

4-342 Market survey
The team carrying out survey of market samples. Photo courtesy of Dr. Khayota
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 this reporting period, Metabarcoding of selected mixture samples was done. Data analysis was started using the Galaxy pipeline for Metarbacoding data (Naturalis Biodiversity Centre) with assistance from Sarina. the project made contact with Bungoma County ministry of Natural Resources and advised on inclusion of some shortlisted priority species during the coming long rains. The proprietor of Buteyo Miti Park (a 32 acre natural forest reserve open to the public), will liaise with project for information on important indigenous tree species. Members of the Indigenous and Scientific Research Association (ISCRA), an NGO, registered in Kenya are interested in collaborating with the project to conserve indigenous knowledge associated with local tree species. The project aims to cascade results from markets, specifically tree species on high demand and the message on domestication through the networks of ISCRA.

In the next 3-6 months, the team will work on finalizing the extraction of DNA, writing the end of project report, publication of peer reviewed journals in Tanzania and lastly finalizing DNA extraction of remaining samples, Amplification, Sanger sequencing and analysis Supply
of seedlings to selected traditional healers in Coastal region and continued monitoring of planted saplings