Rooibos benefit sharing agreement rights a wrong for the Khoi and San communities of South Africa, says Creecy

01 November 2019

The signing of the Honeybush Rooibos and Honeybush Traditional Knowledge Benefit Sharing Agreement between industry and the Khoi and San communities sets the benchmark for future similar agreements, says Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Ms Barbara Creecy.

Speaking at the launch of the Benefit Sharing Agreement at the !Kwa Ttu San Culture and Education Centre in Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, Minister Creecy said this agreement would serve as a base and example for many similar settlements to be reached with local communities in future.

The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Department, had played a key role in the negotiation process started nine years ago, and concluded in March this year.

The agreement was signed by the Minister, and the chairperson of the National Khoi-san Council, Mr Cecil Le Fleur, the chairperson of the San Council of South Africa, Mr Collin Louw, and the chairperson of the South African Rooibos Council, Mr Martin Berg under the watchful eye of members of the Cederberg Rooibos Farming Communities.

The negotiations were boosted by a scientific enthno-biological study on the ownership of the traditional knowledge for rooibos and honeybush.  The research project, led by the Department, had concluded that the Khoi and San communities were the traditional knowledge holders for rooibos and honeybush.  This entitled them to benefit financially from the commercial use of the plants, most commonly used as tea. 

As one of the most recognised plants in the endemic Cape Floral Kingdom, rooibos has also come to be used in bath products and soaps, fruit and vegetable juices, slimming products, as a flavouring agent in baking, cooking and cocktails and as a treatment for small children who are prone to colic.  Rooibos is also used to treat allergic skin conditions, such as eczema, and nappy rash in babies. 

Rooibos has also become known worldwide as a proudly South African product and brand. 

“Such international recognition cannot exist without appreciating the contribution of indigenous knowledge to the use of rooibos and honeybush.    That is why it is important that the Parties to the Rooibos Traditional Knowledge Industry-Wide Benefit Sharing Agreement salute the role of San and Khoi traditional knowledge, without which the variety of medicines and other products made from this plant by the rooibos industry would not have happened,” said the Minister.

She expressed the hope that the partnership that has been forged will provide lessons needed to end the commercial and non-commercial exploitation of species associated with traditional knowledge held by other local communities who do not benefit from similar agreements.

The ABS agreement, she added, was a mark of South Africa’s commitment to local and international biodiversity and bioprospecting regulations, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of the Benefits Arising from their Utilisation, the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and its Regulations on Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing, known as the BABS Regulations.   

The agreement entails a one-year pilot through which the Khoi and San communities will receive 1.5 percent of the farm gate price from the processors of rooibos in the form of an annual levy, excluding VAT.  This is an estimated R12 million per year that will be paid into Trust Accounts opened by the San and Khoi communities.  Benefits include the creation of jobs, and the upliftment of some 160 small-scale farmers who belong to the Wupperthal cooperative in the Western Cape and the Heiveld co-op in the Northern Cape.

The pilot phase of the Benefit Sharing Agreement will allow government to gather accurate data on the dynamics of the rooibos industry. This includes information on opportunities for transformation, the composition of the farmers and other roleplayers across the value chain, and market and trade information related to the sale of rooibos at local and international levels. During this phase government will also monitor the management and distribution of financial benefits received by the Khoi and San communities, as well as any benefits for the conservation and sustainable use of rooibos species.

“Today’s celebration is also an observance of the correction of a past injustice – a wrong that is being righted.  The successful completion of this negotiation, and the implementation of this agreement is a very good story for all of us to tell considering that rooibos is an existing industry with prospects for transformation, where small players in the value chain have the potential to become big players in a global industry,” said the Minister.

She added that for fair and equitable benefit sharing interventions to work, the commitment of all people in South Africa was needed.

“This would ensure that our indigenous biological resources, and their associated traditional knowledge, are used sustainably and will contribute to the growth of a healthy and prosperous nation,” said Minister Creecy.

It is only through broad-based partnerships, commitment, cooperation, coordination, communication, and capacity-building initiatives that we can protect valuable indigenous assets like rooibos, whilst simultaneously benefitting from the plant’s products in a sustainable way.  But, she cautioned, the sustainable utilisation of natural resources, such as the rooibos, needed to happen in way that would include the conservation of such species so they are available for the benefit of present and future generations.

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Albi Modise
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