INSECURITY in the countryside and legal problems appear to have so far saved Cambodia's
indigenous plants from exploitation by foreign drug companies.
Director of the National Center for Research on Traditional Medicine, Cheng Sun Kaing,
said two French companies had approached the center to gain access to Khmer plants
for making medicine.
However he said no agreement was possible because of security dangers to researchers
in the field and the absence of appropriate legislation.
There has been widespread criticism of western drug companies' practices in developing
countries recently. In one case the United States government patented a gene from
a New Guinea highlander because he had a natural resistance to a specific disease.
The man was unaware of what had been done and had not given his permission.
The Third World Network, an international NGO based in Malaysia, is concerned that
countries such as Cambodia could have their indigenous plants, traditional medical
knowledge and even the genetic make-up of its people owned by other countries.
It said in a statement that this would in effect mean that developing countries would
have to buy their own knowledge from foreigners.
Of more immediate concern is the endangered plants and animals that are turning up
on the black market in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand.
Kaing said although export was forbidden, the trade thrived. "Live animals,
tigers, tiger bone, turtles, plant roots and plant bark" are all in demand,
said Kaing. "It is illegal to catch or cage the animals but we cannot stop all
The center is currently researching the types and uses of Cambodian traditional medicine.
Kaing said part of this would be how to trade with foreign drug companies in a controlled
fashion. "I hope when Cambodia is peaceful that we can attract American, Korean
or Chinese drug companies to work with us."