Tea industry urged to share benefits with Khoi, San

Cape Town – The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has urged the rooibos and honeybush tea industries to engage with the Khoi and San communities to negotiate benefit sharing agreements, following the findings of a commissioned report.

Chief director of communications for the DEA Albi Modise told Fin24 that the findings of the report indicate no evidence to dispute the assertions of the communities that traditional knowledge rests with the communities where the species are endemic and/or with the Khoi and San people of South Africa.

“The findings of the report imply that users (businesses and corporates) of Rooibos and Honeybush in the commercialisation phase of bioprospecting for the ... drugs, industrial enzymes, food flavours, fragrances, cosmetics, emulsifiers, oleoresins, colours and extracts must complete a benefit sharing agreement with the local Khoi and San communities,” Modise said.

On Tuesday, the DEA commented on a study which it commissioned on the traditional knowledge associated with two endemic species extensively utilised by bioprospecting and biotrade sectors in South Africa and abroad, namely: rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopia spp.).

There is a rich, traditional knowledge of the rooibos and honeybush species, which is being utilised commercially in the development of products such as medicines, food flavouring, cosmetics and extracts.


According to the DEA, these commercial activities are regulated through the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Nemba) and the Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing Regulations (BABS Regulations).

In response to a question on the present state of benefit sharing, Modise said “currently there is only one benefit sharing agreement with the said community and it is hoped that this would increase in the future”.

“Depending on the nature of the bioprospecting project, benefit sharing negotiated between the provider and user of the traditional knowledge can range from short-, medium- to long-term benefits, and can be either monetary and/or non-monetary benefits.

“Monetary benefits comprise of upfront payments, milestone payments, royalty payments and research funding. Non-monetary benefits comprise of jobs, science and technology transfer, skills development and the empowerment of local livelihoods,” he said.

Traditional knowledge

In 2011, the department was approached by the South African San Council on behalf of the San people of South Africa, who expressed concerns about inadequate acknowledgement, recognition and protection of their interest in relation to the ownership of traditional knowledge associated with the rooibos and honeybush species.

As a result the department undertook a stakeholder consultative study to validate the rightful holders of traditional knowledge of the two species to ensure that they derive benefits from the utilisation of these species in the development of commercial products in terms of Nemba and the BABS Regulations.

The report has documented the origin of traditional knowledge associated with the rooibos and honeybush species; the original distribution of the species in South Africa and linked it with the existing traditional use by indigenous and local communities.

The report also details the land history where these species naturally grow, including how the land was occupied and how the traditional knowledge has been developed and passed on from one generation to the next, as well as how it was transferred from the original source to other tribes.

In addition, the report spells out how the traditional knowledge associated with these species as an information source has provided valuable leads into the scientific and commercial environment.

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