Navigating the Research Landscape in Kenya: Insights from Mpala Research Centre’s Webinar 

To celebrate Mpala Research Centre’s 30th anniversary and kick off our Science Week, we brought together researchers, stakeholders, and government officials  for an insightful webinar held on June 20, 2024. The webinar featured a keynote address from Dr. Patrick Omondi, Director of the Wildlife Research and Training Institute (WRTI) and focused on the challenges of obtaining research permits, how these challenges are being addressed, and the impactful research projects at Mpala.

The webinar highlighted several challenges faced by researchers including:

  1. Delays due to involvement of multiple agencies.
  2. Legislative issues including the lack of regulations guiding implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, an international agreement that promotes fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from the use of genetic resources. (See Convention on Biological Diversity).
  3. Low stakeholder sensitization around Prior Informed Consent (PIC) and Mutually Agreed Terms (MAT) developed out Kenya’s implementation of the Nagoya Protocol.
  4.  Lack of permit application templates resulting in incomplete submissions.
  5. Complex procedures for large projects that cover multiple disciplines and geographical scales. 

Attendee Dr. Vicki Fislock raised practical concerns about the availability of templates for PIC/MAT documents and guidelines for researchers. Dr. Vincent Obanda from WRTI reassured attendees that permitting guidelines are accessible on the WRTI website, aiming to improve transparency and ease the application process.

Darcy Ogada also shared her concerns, stating, “The challenges are numerous, especially for those applying for a program rather than a single project…. Working across counties and managing many users presents significant challenges. Additionally, the Intellectual property rights in the PIC/MAT are very broad, causing issues for many university legal departments. It would be much faster if we could sign all the documents at once, rather than obtaining signatures individually.” Priscilla Mutungi, Senior Researcher at WRTI, responded to her concerns, “Regarding document signing, you can have each institution on a single signing page and circulate the documents to all signatories simultaneously. This approach simplifies the process except for WRTI and KWS, as they need to review all other signatures before signing.”

During the webinar, Dr. Omondi addressed the challenges associated with the permitting process. He acknowledged common delays due to multifaceted legislation, incomplete documentation, and ethical approval requirements from institutions. “The solution lies in prioritizing the development of regulations and sensitizing stakeholders,” Dr. Omondi emphasized. He also highlighted ongoing initiatives such as developing an online permitting portal and setting up research offices in field centers to facilitate easier access for researchers.

Participant Dr. Havi Murungi commented, “Last year, while working on the Future Pastoralism research project with the Royal College of Art, using Mpala as our research base, we found the NACOSTI licensing and Laikipia University ethics approval process to be smooth and timely. Mpala was also a great help throughout the project.”

At Mpala, John Gitonga is the Research Liaison at Mpala. He plays a key role in reviewing proposals from scientists and researchers, supporting the research advisory committee on the licensing permit process, and establishing connections with stakeholders. He outlined how Mpala works with researchers, and went through the permitting process from Mpala’s perspective, which can be found on our website. Dr. Vincent Obanda, the Head of Research Permitting and Compliance at WRTI, outlined the steps involved in the research permitting process, starting with registration at WRTI offices

  1. Registration with WRTI
  2. NACOSTI License 
  3. KWS Permit
  4. NEMA Access Permit 

The webinar also featured insights from panelists, including Dr. Suzanne Schultz, a Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation from the University of Manchester, and Dedan Ngatia, project manager for the Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog project. Dr. Schultz shared her experiences navigating the research landscape in Kenya and highlighted the importance of collaboration with government institutions, local communities, and conservation organizations to advance wildlife research in the region. She also provided a summary of her own research on shared landscapes-eco-immunology at the human, livestock, wildlife interface. Dedan Ngatia shared insights on his project, which focuses on increasing the population of African wild dogs and promoting coexistence. Collaboration with KWS and the local community has been vital to the project’s success. They also started the Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign in 2017 to reduce wild dog mortality rates in Africa.

For more details, you can watch the full video of the webinar here or visit the WRTI website and stay tuned for future developments in wildlife conservation and management.

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