Rooibos industry signs benefit-sharing agreement with Khoi and San

After nine years of negotiations, the South African Rooibos Council (SARC), the National Khoi-San Council and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries signed an access and benefit-sharing agreement that will see the Khoi-Khoi and San communities benefit from the commercialisation of Rooibos. The agreement is regarded as a milestone in the history of global governance for the preservation of genetic biodiversity, associated traditional knowledge and poverty relief.

Based on the agreement, launched at !Khwa ttu near Cape Town on 1 November this year, the benefit-sharing levy of 1.5% of the farm gate price of Rooibos, effective from 1 January 2019, will translate into an estimated R10 million a year for the Khoi-Khoi and San communities.

SARC chairperson Martin Bergh said the protection and preservation of the Rooibos industry and its people remain critical to the SA Rooibos Council. “The industry recognises that the Khoi-Khoi and San people had knowledge of the Rooibos plant and that including them as beneficiaries in this agreement is the right thing to do.”

South Africa, as a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol, requires industries that trade in indigenous biological resources, such as Rooibos, to share benefits with traditional knowledge holders in a fair and equitable way.

When the Department of Environmental Affairs first recognised the Khoi-Khoi and San people as the rightful traditional knowledge holders of Rooibos, a Working Group, which included the SARC, NKC and SASC, was formed to negotiate on benefit sharing in accordance with the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (No 10 of 2004) (NEMBA). South Africa has provided for access and benefit-sharing agreements through NEMBA and the Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing Regulation of 2008.

How the benefit-sharing levy will be used, will be independently decided by the National Khoi-San Council and South African San Council, but it is primarily intended for the upliftment of the Khoi-Khoi and San communities. An annual report, detailing the distribution of funds, will be submitted to the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) to ensure transparency.

Bergh has hailed the landmark agreement as a best practice example, which provides a robust framework for other bioprospecting, access and benefit-sharing agreements in South Africa and abroad.

“It’s the first agreement of its kind in the world – both in terms of the interpretation and application of the Nagoya Protocol. Previous access and benefit-sharing agreements involved specific companies and traditional knowledge holders, whereas the Rooibos agreement encompasses the entire industry, ensuring all volumes of Rooibos sold will be levied through one process.”

The agreement holds the promise of a true partnership between the original traditional knowledge holders of Rooibos and the entire Rooibos industry.

The beneficiaries of the agreement include the Rooibos indigenous farming communities of Wupperthal, Nieuwoudtville and Suid Bokkeveld as these communities have been categorised as previously disadvantaged and of Khoikhoi descent.

The South African Rooibos Council negotiated the agreement on behalf of the Rooibos industry after securing a mandate from the processors of Rooibos.