Minister Barbara Creecy: Launch of Rooibos Traditional Knowledge Industry-Wide Benefit Sharing Agreement

1 Nov 2019

Speech by Minister of Environment, Forestry And Fisheries, Honourable Ms Barbara Creecy, MP, at the signing ceremony and launch of the Rooibos Traditional Knowledge Industry-Wide Benefit Sharing Agreement

Programme Director;
Chairperson of the National Khoi-san Council: Mr Cecil Le Fleur;
Chairperson of the San Council of South Africa: Mr Collin Louw;
Chairperson of the South African Rooibos Council: Mr Martin Berg;
Representatives of the Cederberg Rooibos Farming Communities;
Representatives of communities, industry and other stakeholders in the biodiversity sector;
Officials from various government Departments;
Distinguished guests;
Members of the media;
Ladies and gentleman

Allow me to firstly to express my appreciation for the warm welcome I received from members of the local community.

It is an honour for me to be here at such a special place of culture and learning for the San community. This is the ideal venue for today’s historic event.  It is significant that the launch of such a significant settlement comes nine after the very first benefit sharing agreement was celebrated here.

At the outset, I would like to thank, and welcome, the many parties to the Rooibos and Honeybush Traditional Knowledge Benefit Sharing Agreement that you signed in March this year.  Without you this agreement, which took nine long years to negotiate, would not have been concluded.  I would also like to extend a word of welcome to the stakeholders who contributed to, and will implement, this benefit sharing agreement.

I hope that the partnership that has been forged between the South African Rooibos Council, the National Khoisan Council and the San Council of South Africa 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 agreements such as the one we are launching today.

This may be an opportune moment to pay tribute to the late Minister of this Department, Ms Edna Molewa, who had laid the political foundation for this negotiation process.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s celebration is a mark of South Africa’s commitment to local and international biodiversity and bioprospecting regulations. Internationally, these include 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.  Within South Africa, we have the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (NEMBA) and its Regulations on Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing, known as the BABS Regulations.    It is because these laws exist that the Khoi and San communities were able to approach my Ministry to ask for support in the negotiations that led to this agreement.

The negotiations for the Benefit Sharing Agreement were defined by an independent scientific study led by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries which revealed that the Khoi and San communities of South Africa are the rightful holders or owners of the traditional knowledge associated with the use of Rooibos species.  This entitled you, as the Khoi and San communities, to negotiate and receive a fair and equitable share of the benefits derived from the commercial use of the plant and the products made from it.

What the negotiations have produced is 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.  The farm gate price, which does not include VAT, is the price that is paid by the processors of a product to the farmers who grow, harvest or ferment and dry rooibos. This money is being paid for the use of the traditional knowledge associated with rooibos.   

At present, the overall value of  the 1.5% benefit is around R12 million per year.  To reach that amount we calculated that if 15 million kilograms of rooibos is harvested and sold at R60 per kilogram it would come to around R 12 million – all to be paid by the rooibos industry to the Khoi and San communities.

The monies received will be paid into Trust Accounts opened by the San and Khoi communities to ensure that it is properly managed.  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.

At present the rooibos industry works closely with commercial farmers who have established massive cultivation and primary processing plants in the Western and Northern Cape.  This ensures a sustainable supply of rooibos. These cultivation projects, which produce raw materials, are not only examples of sustainability efforts, but also contribute to the conservation of the species, and beneficiation through, for example, the creation of job opportunities in their districts.

Ladies and gentlemen (Dames en Here)

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.

As many of you may know, South Africa is one of the world's most biologically diverse countries. We are home to about 24 000 plant species.  Notably, the Cape floral kingdom, which is endemic to the country, is just one example of South Africa’s unrivalled natural wealth – a gift from nature that presents unique opportunities for conservation and sustainable use to the many rural and urban people that are directly dependent on the biodiversity economy for employment, food, shelter, medicine and spiritual wellbeing.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Rooibos is one of the more recognisable plants found within the Cape Floral Kingdom. This species is endemic to South Africa and has a limited geographical range.  It is found in an area stretching from the western and south-eastern parts of the Western Cape Province to the south-western part of the Northern Cape. It is a plant has been used by our country’s earliest inhabitants, including the Khoi and the San, for millennia.

Rooibos is most commonly known as a tea – a drink millions of people enjoy every day.  Over the years, rooibos has also come to be used in, for example, beauty products such as face creams, bath products and soaps, in fruit and vegetable juices, slimming products, as a flavouring agent in baking, cooking and cocktails and even 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.  Because it is unique to our country, rooibos become known throughout the world as a proudly South African product and brand. 

But, 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As part of the government’s efforts to improve its legislative environment, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has initiated a process of amending the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, to ensure that the Act remains relevant.   This process was initiated in 2016, as part of what is known as the Biodiversity Phakisa.  It involves the public and private sectors, industry, indigenous peoples and local communities, and experts in the biodiversity field.   This amendment is expected to be published for public comment once approved by Cabinet. 

Some of the lessons learnt from the implementation of the Rooibos Benefit Sharing Agreement will be considered in the forthcoming revision of the Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing Regulations.

I hope this agreement will be seen by the international community as the achievement of an innovative partnership between industry and communities towards realising the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing.

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.  

For fair and equitable benefit sharing interventions to work would need the commitment of all people living in our country. 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. 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As mentioned at the start -- today is an auspicious day in the history of our country as we witness the signing and approval ceremony for a unique agreement – one that benefits the Khoi and San communities of South Africa. I am convinced that this agreement will serve as a base and example for many similar settlements to be reached with local communities in future.

I must, however, state very clearly that the use of our natural resources must be sustainable.  As we harvest and exploit our natural resources, we need to always consider the environment, our rich biodiversity, and ensure that the plants we use today are protected and available for the benefit of present and future generations.

As I conclude, I would like to invite the Chairperson of the National Khoisan Council, Chairperson of the San Council of South Africa and the Chairperson of the South African Rooibos Council to join me for the signing and launch of the Rooibos Traditional Knowledge Industry-Wide Benefit Sharing Agreement.

Thank You!

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