Rooibos industry unsure on Khoi, San benefit sharing

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(Photo: Bettina Koelle)
(Photo: Bettina Koelle)

Cape Town – The rooibos and honeybush tea industries are unsure how a government report on benefit sharing with the Khoi and San communities will affect their business.

Managing director of Rooibos Limited, Martin Bergh, told Fin24 it is unclear at what level in the value chain the benefit sharing would take place.

“Is it at primary producer (farmer) level, processor level (Rooibos Ltd and other processors buy tea from farmers, do the blending, pasteurisation and bulk packaging and then sell these bulk packages to packers/branders) or packer/brander level?” he asked.

According to Bergh, the rooibos industry requires further details and cannot say how it will be influenced by the report. (view report)

South African Honeybush Tea Association spokesperson Marlise Joubert told Fin24 that currently no benefit sharing exists for the Khoi and San communities based on traditional knowledge.

Joubert said locals do currently receive training on honeybush production.

She said the report is likely to affect the R8m to R10m industry, but that stakeholders still have to discuss the implications of the government’s stance.

On May 19 the Department of Environmental Affairs (DET) urged the rooibos and honeybush tea industries to engage with the Khoi and San communities to negotiate benefit-sharing agreements, following the findings of the commissioned report.

READ: Tea industry urged to share benefits with Khoi, San

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

No legal obligation for land owners to grant access

Rhoda Malgas, a researcher on sustainable harvesting and production of commercially useful fynbos plant species at the University of Stellenbosch, told Fin24 that there can be no “sustainability” in agriculture unless the social components of farming systems are productive and stable.

“If potential producers cannot realise their desire to be more successful at (honeybush) production, the perceived injustices around the resource will affect the market negatively.

"It also does nothing to build positive relationships between different land users whose knowledge, experience and practices affect the resource base. The land users who participate in my research are usually already at the margins of production. Excluding them further is neither useful nor fair,” Malgas said.

She shared an anecdote from her own research and fieldwork over the years, during which she has met people who claim to have a long history with honeybush and rooibos.

“I recently talked to someone in his forties who said that his father and grandfather had been honeybush harvesters. That would mean generational knowledge across at least three generations.

“There are areas where land users report being denied access to private land that they had harvested from in the past. While they feel that this is unfair, there is no legal obligation for land owners to grant access to their wild resources.

"In this case people are actively denied a benefit, and feel strongly marginalised,” she said.

Established cooperatives

According to Malgas, descendants of Khoi/San communities only benefit from honeybush or rooibos inasmuch as they are directly involved in production or harvesting.

“In these cases harvesters or growers are remunerated for biomass that they either grow in cultivated plantations or harvest from the wild.

"In the case of rooibos, there are at least two or three established cooperatives that comprise mostly coloured land users,” she 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 concern about inadequate acknowledgement, recognition and protection of their interests 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 benefit from their use in the development of commercial products in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and the Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing Regulations.

The report documents the origin of traditional knowledge associated with the rooibos and honeybush species, whose original distribution in South Africa 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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