Friday 29 November 2019


Khoi and San communities to benefit from rooibos products

On the 1st of November 2019 and as reported by a broad spectrum of publications listed below, the Honeybush Rooibos and Honeybush Traditional Knowledge Benefit Sharing Agreement was signed. It accords Khoi and San communities with a one-year pilot providing them with a 1.5% benefit of the farm gate price from those who process Rooibos. This comes in the form of an annual levy. It is estimated that the levy will amass a total of approximately R12 million per annum. This will be paid into trust accounts. The agreement will facilitate the creation of jobs and will serve as a driving force for upliftment of small-scale farmers. The benefit agreement was signed after a period of 9 years of negotiation. Rooibos is a R300 million industry but has been monopolised by approximately 300 white farmers up until this point. Coloured farmers produce a mere 2% of the profits.

Rooibos is used in a host of fashions including as a toiletry and a herbal medicine but most commonly as a tea. It occurs in the Cape Floral Region- a place from which the Khoi and San communities originate. That the Khoi and San communities were the traditional knowledge holders for both Rooibos and Honeybush was determined by the Department of Environmental Affairs- research dating back to 2010- and the resultant agreement ensued allowing these groups to benefit from the proceeds of commercial use of the product.
At the launch of the agreement, Barbara Creecy- Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries- stated that:
“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.”
Despite the undeniably positive step that has been taken, there are also questions about how positive change will pan out for the Khoi and San people. How profits will be distribute and how exactly they will trickle down to small-scale farmers has yet to be determined. It is also problematic that many of the people living in the communities to whom this agreement bears relevance are mixed race. Such people do not readily identify with being part of the Khoi or the San communities, which may affect how they benefit from the agreement. The question as to who bears responsibility for ensuring that people like those who are landless and otherwise disenfranchised will benefit is also at issue.

While the agreement will not wholly provide restitution to the Khoi and San people who have been prevented from benefitting from the industry since its inception, and while this hardly makes up for the historically atrocious treatment meted out to these individuals over the centuries, it is undeniably a start. The advent of democracy has purported to build a nation where there are opportunities for all and while government hasn’t always gotten it right, one cannot deny that considerable strides have been made. This is one of those strides.

This story was also published in:
·         Mail and Guardian
·         News24
·         BBC News
·         Times Live

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Image credit: Joanna Kosinska



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