San to benefit from medicinal plant deal

5 October 2010

About 10 000 members of three San communities in the Western Cape are set to benefit from a royalty sharing agreement, following the granting of South Africa’s first bio-prospecting licence to a local company that aims to export Zembrin, an indigenous anti-stress product derived from the plant Sceletium tortuosum.

For centuries, the San have used the succulent Sceletium tortuosum, also known as kama, channa, or kougoed, for its medicinal properties.

Contracted growers, royalties

HGH Pharmaceuticals, which is working together with German firm Gehrlicker GmbH, has already concluded a US distribution deal with American company PL Thomas, and is presently in talks with South African distributors.

The plant will be grown by contracted growers to avoid depleting local wild plant stocks.

Royalties from the sale of Zembrin will be paid to the South African San Council via a Bio-prospecting Trust Fund, and the local company will also acknowledge the San by including their endorsement logo on the product.

In all, 50% of the royalties received by the San will be distributed to the Paulshoek and Nourivier communities. HGH Pharmaceuticals did not disclose the royalty percentage, saying this was confidential.

Biodiversity Act

Handing over the licence to HGH Pharmaceuticals during a ceremony at the Khwa Ttu San Cultural and Education Centre near Yzerfontein last week, Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said the granting of bio-prospecting licences would help local communities benefit from indigenous knowledge.

Sonjica said that although South Africa was ranked third in the world in terms of biodiversity (after Brazil and Indonesia), a lack of bio-prospecting regulations had resulted in indigenous biological resources being stolen and exported overseas for commercial or research purposes.

The licence to produce and export Zembrin was issued to HGH Pharmaceuticals in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (2004).

The Act and its regulations outlaws any commercial bio-prospecting or export of any indigenous biological resource without a permit. The regulations also require that any benefits from indigenous biological knowledge be shared with community members.

Sonjica said her department had received 52 applications for bio-prospecting, but only two had so far been granted – with HGH Pharmaceuticals being the first.

HGH Pharmaceutical research director Nigel Gericke said it was an honour to receive the bio-prospecting licence. “It is the culmination of eight years of hard work and a testament to our commitment to working in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable way,” he said.

He commended researcher Fiona Archer, who introduced him to the plant in 1990 and, five years later, to the Nourivier community.

South African San Council chairman Andries Steenkamp thanked the government for granting the licence.

He noted that the benefit-sharing agreement was fully compliant with the Convention for Biological Diversity of 1992 and the subsequent 2002 Bonn Guidelines, which encourage the equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of traditional knowledge.

South Africa is a signatory to both these binding conventions.

Source: BuaNews