"We made it!' says San Council on historic rooibos agreement

Amy MacIver chats to the director of the San Council, Leana Snyders, and Rooibos Council spokesperson Mathane Swart about the historic Rooibos benefit-sharing agreement.

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South African communities should use the historic rooibos agreement as a lesson on the importance of preserving and acknowledging traditional knowledge. That's the view of the San Council, following a world-first industrywide agreement with the Khoi and the San. The indigenous groups received R12.2 million from the Rooibos Council. It's part of an agreement that ensures the groups benefit from the commercialisation of Rooibos.

The agreement was signed in 2019, following a decade of negotiations. The discussions began in 2010 when the San Council wrote to the then Department of Environmental Affairs to ask for negotiations with the rooibos industry. They sought recognition as shared traditional knowledge rights holders.

For more on this historic payout, Amy MacIver chatted to the director of the San Council, Leana Snyders, and Rooibos Council spokesperson Mathane Swart.

For the San and Khoi communities, it was about acknowledgment and recognition. The industry did not want to recognize that the Khoi and the San people are the rightful owners of knowledge on rooibos. The department of environmental affairs did a study and it emerged the Khoi and San are the rightful holders, but the industry did not accept it.

Leana Snyders, San Council director

The industry did their own study, which was the breakthrough. We've been saying this all along, we the San and Khoi people, have the traditional knowledge on this fabulous plant.

Leana Snyders, San Council director

In terms of the Nagoya Protocol and the National Environmental Management and Biodiversity Act, one business will share benefits with the traditional knowledge holders. The Nagoya Protocol is an international agreement which aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way.

But this case was extraordinary, as a model was created for the benefits to be shared on all the volumes of rooibos in the industry.

All of us are very proud of this world first. It also serves as an example for other industries to share benefits.

Mathane Swart, Rooibos Council spokesperson

South Africa has such a rich biodiversity economy. So this is great for other sectors in the biodiversity economy to also look at the agreement and work with traditional knowledge holders on benefit sharing.

Mathane Swart, Rooibos Council spokesperson

The profit payout was based on the monetary value of the rooibos supply chain.

All rooibos must be processed from the raw material. The processor buys it from the farmer and the amount was calculated at 1.5% of that buying price.

Mathane Swart, Rooibos Council spokesperson

The R12.2-million will be paid into two trust accounts of the San and Khoi communities. It is hoped the money would be invested in uplifting the communities in areas such as education, culture and the further protection of traditional knowledge.

It will be used for children in schools who have difficulty in accessing uniforms, transport and learning materials. We want to make sure the communities are better off than they are now.

Leana Snyders, San Council director

Rooibos sales internationally are dependent on the volumes available. Rooibos is considered a medium term shrub as the plant dies every 4-5 years, and is re-planted.

Sometimes a farmer will plant a lot or less rooibos. So we see a fluctuation in volume and the related price. 50% of rooibos is exported and the rest consumed locally. Sales remain relatively stable based on the volumes available.

Mathane Swart, Rooibos Council spokesperson

Both parties have hailed the outcome, despite the difficulty and fraught negotiations.

No one ever gave up. So when we went through a difficult time, everyone stuck it out as there was realization of the importance of what we were busy with. We are just happy that finally the benefits are being shared.

Mathane Swart, Rooibos Council spokesperson

We are going to take it one rooibos teacup at a time. The community is delighted at this achievement. I don't think people understand the joy that our community is feeling. People must remember, we share everything we have. So I would encourage communities outside to use this victory in the fight to be acknowledged.

Leana Snyders, San Council director

This is a stepping stone in the right direction. I believe there is a workable solution for every challenge we have. This agreement is proof of the fact that communities and industries can work together for the betterment of our communities. It was a tough road, but we made it!

Leana Snyders, San Council director

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