San of southern Africa urge governments to act
6 March 2006
The San peoples of southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Angola) have known and used the appetite suppressant qualities of Hoodia (a succulent plant) for hundreds of years. A few years ago the plant’s active ingredient was patented by a South African research institute and licensed for further development to a British company which in turn sold additional licenses to Pfizer, the drug company, and later to food multinational Unilever. Initially, the San had no idea this was happening. After a public outcryand considerable media interest the San were contacted by the patent owners and the two sides eventually worked out an agreement that gave the San a small share of the revenue from the sale of Hoodia products.
A second benefit-sharing agreement was signed between the San and the South African Hoodia Growers (Pty) Ltd in early February 2006 to ensure the San receive some benefits from products being commercialised outside of the CSIR agreement. None of these products have yet been brought to market but , as the Berne Declaration and the Evangelical Development Service have discovered, there is in fact a booming market in Hoodia products in Switzerland and Germany. Since the San only have profit-sharing agreements with the CSIR and South African Hoodia Growers (Pty) Ltd, all the Hoodia products currently sold in Germany and Switzerland violate the spirit of the Biodiversity Convention and go against the so-called Bonn Guidelines. These Guidelines specifically require user countries to prevent the unauthorized use of genetic resources in contravention of the Biodiversity Convention.
Petrus Vaalbooi, Chairperson of the South African San Council stated “We are thankful that the traditional knowledge of our forefathers is acknowledged by national and international laws and policies. As San leaders we are determined to use these laws to protect all aspects of our Heritage”.
In their letter to the governments of Switzerland, Germany, and South Africa the San, represented by the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) and supported by the Berne Declaration (Switzerland), the Church Development Service (Germany) and by Biowatch (South Africa) are asking that the obligations of the Biodiversity Convention are honored and that countries take steps to stop the sale of unauthorized Hoodia products. Concrete measures of user countries to stop the sale of biopirated products should also be included in the International Regime on Access and Benefit-Sharing currently under negotiation. These negotiations will be an important part of the next Conference of Parties of the Biodiversity Convention taking place in Curitiba/Brazil March 20.-31..