Minister Awards Bioprospecting Permits

The minister of water and environmental affairs, Edna Molewa, awarded seven bioprospecting permits to organisations to legally engage in bioprospecting activities and afford certain benefits to the owners of the traditional knowledge and/or providers of indigenous biological resources. The minister has also launched South Africa's Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing Regulatory Framework: Guidelines for providers, users and regulators.

Speaking at the permit handover ceremony, the minister said that, "Historically, a lack of bioprospecting policy framework and legislation both at national and international level, permitted an almost unconstrained access to South African indigenous biological resources and indigenous knowledge, with biological and genetic resources being harvested, sometimes in destructively excessive quantities, and being exported for research and development at institutions abroad for innovative value addition, and off-shore financial benefit. Consequently, traditional knowledge holders and providers of indigenous biological resources were not benefiting from the use of our indigenous biological resources and the associated indigenous knowledge."

She said according to one of the Chapters of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, Act 10 of 2004 (NEMBA) no person may without a permit conduct commercial bioprospecting on any indigenous biological resource, or export any indigenous biological resources from South Africa for bioprospecting or any other kind of research.

The first permit was awarded to the Regents University of California jointly with the University of Free State to describe the extent to which the genetic polymorphism of vervet monkeys, Chlorocebus aethiops can assist in the international collaborative effort to establish Chlorocebus as the leading non-human primate model system for genomics-driven research.

The second permit was awarded to Dennis Noel de Villiers for the trade in Aloe ferox sap, extracts and crystals on national and international markets for bioprospecting.

The third permit was awarded for the sale of Pelargonium sidiodes and Aloe ferox raw materials in various formats for the purposes of bioprospecting on national and international markets. This permit was issued to Grahamstown-based Gower Enterprises that manufactures and prepares natural herbal remedies such as cough mixture and concentrate juice for local consumption.

The fourth permit was issued to Essential Amathole (Pty) Ltd. for the cultivation, primary procession, selling and exporting of Aloe ferox, helichrysum odoratissimum, Pelargonium reniforme and pelargonium sidiodes in different formats for national and international markets for biorpospecting. Essential Amathole (Pty) Ltd. producing a range of organic oils and medicinal plant extracts for local and international markets.

The Muthi Futhi Trust project is the recipient of the fifth bioprospecting permit. The permit was awarded for the cultivation, processing and marketing of herbal products containing active ingredients from 40 indigenous biological resources. Some of the commercial products produced treats congestion, asthma and boosts the immune system.

The sixth permit was awarded to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in collaboration with an international client based in Johannesburg, Cragill RSA (Pty) Ltd.; for the development of Sclerechilton illicifolius (monatin, molomo monate) as a natural sweetener scientifically proven to be 1200 -1400 times sweet than that of sucrose when tested as 5% and 10% solution.

The seventh and final bioprospecting permit was awarded to Rapitrade 670 (Pty) Ltd. and is expected to bring many benefits to the community of Komaggas where there is an estimated 10 percent employment rate. Some of the benefits arising from the benefit sharing-and material transfer agreements include the employment of some Komaggas community members as project coordinators and harvesters; the collection of a pre-determined, specified percentage of all distributable cash reserves after costs at the end of each financial year to beneficiaries and the purchase of harvested Kraalbos from Komaggas farmers.

Furthermore, as per the regulation five percent of all distributable cash reserves after costs at the end of each financial year, or at such a time as deemed appropriate by the directors of Rapitrade 670 (Pty) Ltd. The Khoi Heritage Foundation which is representing the holders of traditional knowledge about the Kraalbos will also receive one percent of all distributable cash reserves after costs at the end of each financial year, or at such a time as deemed appropriate by the directors of Rapitrade 670 (Pty) Ltd.

Regulations for Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing came into effect in April 2008. The first permit was officially awarded in 2010 to HGH Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd. for international research on cultivated plant material and extracts from Sceletium tortosium, commonly referred to as Kanna, Channa or Kougoedand. HGH Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd. was working with Gehrlicker GmbH, a German-based company to commercialise the product as a stress reducing, concentration enhancing and mood elevation substance. This proudly South African commercial product with endorsement by the Medicines Control Council will be marketed in South Africa by Brunel Laboratoria under name Elev8. In addition, the permit holder has completed the Phase 1 clinical safety study with the US Food and Drug Administration-Good Clinical Practice (FDA-GCP) on this product.

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