South Africa is a megadiverse country, home to approximately 24 000 plants species. Its rich and unique biodiversity brought the country into the focus of international and local trade in biological resources. With its relatively wealthy market, a strong manufacturing base and vibrant export sector, South Africa is well placed to derive significant economic benefits from successful ABS implementation.
As one of the first countries in Africa, South Africa ratified the Nagoya Protocol in January 2013 and was a key player in the negotiations of the Protocol. Being both a provider and user of genetic resources (of domestic origin and coming from other countries), South Africa also delivered a key input to the development and elaboration of the African Union Guidelines on ABS.
Supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), South Africa developed a legislative and regulatory framework on ABS prior to the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol in 2010. Related support activities were executed by GIZ with the support of the ABS Initiative and parallel funds of a regional UNEP/GEF project.
South Africa was the host of several workshops organized by the ABS Initiative, including the 1st and 7th Pan-African ABS workshops and a Workshop on Traditional Knowledge Documentation in Africa in Cape Town, 2013. Further, a Dialogue on Practical Ways Forward for the Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol focusing on national Nagoya Protocol implementation approaches was hosted by the Government of South Africa in collaboration with the Governments of Brazil and India in January 2014, in Cape Town.
The South African government Department of Environmental Affairs, the competent national authority under the Nagoya Protocol, is a longstanding partner of the ABS Initiative.
In 2015, the ABS Initiative conducted a country diagnostic in South Africa to assess the status quo of national ABS and Nagoya Protocol implementation. The results of this assessment are presented in five clusters below:
Participation of indigenous peoples and local communities
The results - to be found below - are the basis for a roadmap for the ABS Initiative’s national ABS implementation support.
South Africa’s rich and unique biodiversity brought the country into the focus of international and local trade in biological resources. The country is engaged in many bioprospecting activities which involve the exploration of biodiversity for commercially valuable genetic resources and biochemicals. This is largely due to a well-developed national research and institutional capacity, which provides an extremely favorable environment for bioprospecting, as well as other approaches based on trading and using biodiversity for commercial gain.
At the same time the availability of valuable resources is limited and concerns have grown that holders of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources do not benefit from the commercial utilization of these resources.
As a result South Africa has introduced a number of international and national policies and regulations to redress inequality in the commercial utilization of biological resources.
For instance, South Africa has started reviewing its ABS laws and regulations to ensure they are compatible with the Nagoya Protocol and supportive of its new national Biodiversity Economy Strategy (BES), under final approval and sent for stakeholder consultation. To kick-start implementation of the Bio-economy Strategy, South Africa has created a Bio prospecting Industry Forum (BIF) in which PhytoTrade Africa has assumed a leading role and the ABS Initiative is invited to contribute at a later stage.
Despite this significant progress on the policy and regulatory level, the country faces challenges with the application and implementation of the developed instruments.
So far, only a few ABS agreements have been concluded resulting in challenging situations for research to proceed with the commercialization. Some researchers – public and private - claim that the ABS permitting timeline is too long.
South Africa is to be considered as a provider and user of genetic resources – of domestic origin and coming from other countries. As often these resources and the associated traditional knowledge of their useful properties are shared, transboundary considerations are key for the ABS valorization landscape in South Africa.
With its relatively wealthy market, a strong manufacturing base and vibrant export sector, South Africa is probably better placed than most countries to derive significant economic benefits from successful ABS implementation.
While South Africa has ratified the Nagoya Protocol in 2013, already in 2004 it promulgated the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) as a framework legislation to regulate ABS issues. As the legislation built largely on the CBD and the Bonn Guidelines, it combines four objectives: management and conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of indigenous biological resources, sharing of benefits arising from bioprospecting therof and international biodiversity agreements binding on the Republic.
ABS issues in the NEMBA are being implemented through the Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing (BABS) Amendment Regulations. These regulations cover the notification process during the discovery phase, a permitting system for bioprospecting and biotrade activities, the elaboration of benefit sharing and material transfer agreements and the administration of the Bioprospecting Trust Fund.
The NEMBA and BABS regulations provide for both, the discovery and commercialization phase of bioprospecting of which each has different permitting requirements. A set of guidelines were subsequently developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs to guide implementation of the NEMBA and the BABS Regulations.
South Africa issued the second internationally recognized certificate of compliance (IRCC) under the Nagoya Protocol on 23 March 2016, following a permit made available to the Access and Benefit-sharing Clearing-House which grants access to Sceletium tortuosum (Kanna plant) and associated traditional knowledge for commercial use.
Over 2016/2017, South Africa plans to revisit and possibly amend the ABS provisions in the NEMBA further to experiences gained on the current system, international benchmarking and extensive stakeholder consultations.
One task of future cooperation is to support the further development of the South African permitting system.
South Africa is engaged in many bioprospecting activities which involve the exploration of biodiversity for commercially valuable genetic resources and biochemicals. This is largely due to a well-developed national research and institutional capacity, which provides an extremely favorable environment for bioprospecting, as well as other approaches based on trading and using biodiversity for commercial gain.
A number of ABS agreements as defined by the government (17 permits, 72 Material Transfer Agreements, and 32 Benefit-sharing Agreements) have been signed in South Africa.
The ABS Initiative is working closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs in analyzing and reinforcing existing value chains to make them Nagoya Protocol – compliant. In this context, it has been actively involved in supporting the implementation of South Africa’s Biodiversity Economy Strategy (BES).
The Biodiversity Economy Strategy was approved by Cabinet in July 2015 and covers the period ending 2030. It seeks to increase the biodiversity contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while conserving the country's ecosystem. Among others, it focuses on enhancing growth in both the wildlife and tourism sectors.
The Strategy is required to guide the sustainable growth of the wildlife and bioprospecting industries and to provide a basis for addressing constraints to growth, ensuring sustainability, identifying clear stakeholder responsibilities and monitoring progress of the Enabling Actions. The Vision of BES is to optimize the total economic benefits of the wildlife and bioprospecting industries through its sustainable use, in line with the vision of the Department of Environmental Affairs.
To kick-start implementation of the Bio-economy Strategy, South Africa has created a Bio prospecting Industry Forum (BIF) in which PhytoTrade Africa has assumed a leading role and the ABS Initiative is invited to contribute at a later stage.
The ABS Initiative further provided input to the 2015 Biodiversity Economy Indaba in Durban regarding the valorization of genetic resources. South Africa hosted a consultation meeting of the PhytoTrade Africa study on ABS best practices with respect to ABS compliant value chains. This study has also been presented at the Indaba in 2015.
Participation of indigenous peoples and local communities
In South Africa, IPLCs are recognized through the system of customary law. The Constitution gives recognition of customary communities’ traditional leaders and their institutions through certain rights to self governance. The Biodiversity Act and BABS regulations also have relevant provisions on IPLCs and associated traditional knowledge.
South Africa is a frontrunner in empowering IPLCs through Biocultural Community Protocols (BCPs) and legal provisions. The Kukula Traditional Health Practitioners, for example, have developed a BCP for engaging with external actors as regards their traditional knowledge of medicinal plants. Currently the Kukula Traditional Health Practitioners have formulated a strategy of negotiating access agreements with private game and national parks in the region they occupy. The ABS Initiative supported the BCP process through its partner Natural Justice.
Natural Justice also continued its work in South Africa with the National Khoisan Council (NKC) regarding the use of TK associated with Rooibos, Honeybush and Buchu. This included support for negotiations with users and for dialogue with, for example, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Rooibos Council. An ABS permit was issued for Nestle’s use of Rooibos based on the benefit sharing agreement with the NKC and the San Council. First meetings were also held with historical Rooibos farming communities to explore their inclusion in negotiations for benefit sharing with the South African Rooibos Industry.
The South African ABS example of the plant Hoodia gordonii, traditionally used by the San people as an appetite suppressant, is also reflected in the ABS Initiative’s film “People, Plants and Profits”. The movie illustrates the basic principles of ABS in the context of the Nagoya Protocol. Many lessons were drawn from this South African case study for the national ABS strategy and regulations.
Further support to Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) on ABS at local level by the ABS Initiative is being envisaged.
An analysis of the ABS environment in South Africa – assessing the status of the regulatory framework, the potential for ABS compliant value chains as well as the involvement of local communities – revealed promising strengths and opportunities, but also challenges that need to be addressed to implement the Nagoya Protocol and create a functioning ABS system.
Based on the results, a group of about 50 stakeholders, among them the ABS Focal Point and members of the national ABS Committee, identified potential interventions to advance the implementation of ABS in South Africa.
Despite the numerous ABS related activities in the country, there are several options of support on the political and technical level in three areas: implementing the Biodiversity Economy, creating enabling environment for promoting functional value chain development and the conclusion of ABS agreements.
The Department of Environmental Affairs expressed the desire to get the BES off to a good start. It was therefore agreed that the Initiative would support the country to identify two to five value chains at various stages of ABS compliance with a view to make them fully compliant and functional. Lessons drawn from this exercise would be fed into the process of amending NEMBA and related regulations. Upgrading these value chains would also make a concrete contribution towards delivering in the context of the BES objectives and milestones. The pilot value chains will be chosen on the basis of gaps and opportunities – where a relatively short intervention could generate useful lessons and have a reasonable chance of also leaving behind a lasting legacy.
Here is a list of concrete priority activities where the ABS Initiative’s support was considered useful:
- Backstopping: revision of NEMBA Act and BABS Regulations to be in line with Nagoya Protocol requirements
- Provide strategic advice on how to enhance coordination among the relevant institutions (Department of Environmental Affairs, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries).
- Feasibility study and business plan: implementing an electronic permitting system
- Development and amendment of CEPA tools: financial support and alignment with new regulations:
- Development of guidelines on how to deal with transboundary genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge
- Resource assessments of some of the key resources targeted by bioprospecting
- Establishment of forums for top-priority resources (e.g., transbounday resources (Baobab, Marula, Hoodia, etc.)
- Development of bio-economy catalogues
- Training of IPLCs in the negotiation of Mutually Agreed Terms (MATs)
The activities related to review of the legislative and regulatory framework will be carried out with the financial support of UNDP under the UNDP-GEF Global ABS project. It was determined that the Initiative provides technical support and backstopping in the implementation of the various activities listed above.