History was made this past week when the Rooibos industry disbursed the first round of benefit-sharing funds to the National Khoi and San Council and the South African San Council as part of an Access and Benefit-sharing (ABS) agreement that was signed between the parties in 2019. This has seen the Khoi and San peoples receive the first cycle of benefit sharing funds from the rooibos industry.
As a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol, South Africa requires all who trade in indigenous biological resources to share benefits with traditional knowledge holders in a fair and equitable way.
Negotiations between the parties began as far back as 2014, when the Khoi and San were recognised by the South African government as the rightful traditional knowledge holders of Rooibos.
The Rooibos ABS agreement is one of SA’s success stories with respect to the implementation of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA), the Access and Benefit-Sharing Regulations (BABS Regulations), as well as the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of the Benefits arising from their utilisation.
The agreement is a first-of-its-kind in the world. Other agreements involved specific companies and traditional knowledge holders, whereas this agreement encompasses the entire industry, ensuring all volumes of Rooibos sold are levied through one process.
Going forward, a benefit-sharing levy of 1.5% of the farm gate price will be paid into a trust annually.
To ensure financial propriety, a lengthy, but necessary administrative process preceded the R12,2 million payout that was generated in the first year of farmgate purchases.
The amount was paid into the Bioprospecting Trust Fund/Suspense account before being transferred into the two Community Trust accounts established by the South African San Council and the National Khoisan Council. The money received by the Department has been shared equally between the two respective communities with the Khoi-Khoi Peoples Biodiversity and Rooibos Trust and the Andries Steenkamp ABS Trust each receiving R6 138 961.25. These monies only relate to the Rooibos Benefit-Sharing Agreement.
The two Councils are presently finalising processes and procedures on how the money received will be distributed across the Khoi-Khoi and San Communities.
The funds received will also be used to protect their cultural heritage, to advance education and development within the community and to improve their livelihoods with respect, honesty, fairness and care. Community structures are to be assisted to develop governance structures before the benefit is shared.
The Khoi-Khoi Biodiversity Trust is developing a comprehensive plan to distribute the funds in a way that will secure equity and fairness to all. It will be guided by a set of principles and policies, and communities will only be able to access funds by submitting a formal business plan to the CEO of the Trust. This process will be communicated to the different community structures and be followed up by workshops.
Martin Bergh, Chairperson of the SA Rooibos Council (SARC) says the industry is delighted that the first funds have now been paid to the representatives of the Khoi and San people and remain committed to the terms of the Access and Benefit-sharing agreement.