30 July 2012
The Komaggas community in South Africa’s Northern Cape province stands to benefit in both monetary and non-monetary terms from the bioprospecting permits that Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa awarded to seven community organisations last week.
The permits will allow these organisations, who work with plants, to legally engage in bioprospecting activities.
Bioprospecting involves searching for, collecting and deriving genetic material from samples of biodiversity that can be used in commercialised pharmaceutical, agricultural, industrial, or chemical processing end products.
South Africa’s competitive edge
Awarding the permits at a local community hall in Komaggas, Molewa said the South African benefits of biodiversity or ecosystems services were estimated at R73-billion, contributing 7% of the country’s gross domestic product per year.
“The biodiversity economy, which is part of our green economy, is therefore our competitive edge in growing our economy and addressing climate change adaption,” she said.
South Africa’s Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing Regulatory Framework: Guidelines for Providers, Users and Regulators was also launched at the ceremony.
The legal framework provides a huge opportunity for economic growth, sustainable development and poverty alleviation.
Rich in biological and cultural diversity
Molewa said South Africa had a rich natural and cultural resource base that ranked among the top three in the world.
“We are home to approximately 24 000 plants species and have an entire floral kingdom within our borders. South Africa is not just rich in biological diversity but also blessed with a rich cultural diversity.”
Molewa said many widely used cosmetics produced by industries were derived from medicinal plants, and many of these plants were indigenous and endemic to South Africa.
“We must build a shared appreciation of the importance of medicinal plants resources to human health and well-being and a shared concern about the conservation and sustainable use of these resources,” she said.
According to the department, researchers have successfully cultivated a selection of naturally occurring Sceletium as a new commercial crop on a large scale and developed a standardised extract known as Zembrin, which is manufactured to the European Union’s Good Manufacturing Practice (EU-GMP).
The plant is associated with the treatment of anxiety, stress, mood and cognition.