By Jessie Taylor

A 2019 agreement has seen more than R12-million paid to South Africa’s indigenous communities in return for the commercial success gained from the traditional knowledge.

The rooibos tea industry paid the funding as part of the Rooibos Traditional Knowledge Benefit-Sharing Agreement signed in November 2019, which ensures that the San and Khoi-Khoi people benefit from the commercialisation of their indigenous medicinal knowledge. The funds go towards programmes to protect their cultural heritage, advance education and development and improve livelihoods.


Keeping cultural heritage alive

The funds will be transferred into two community trust accounts established by the South African San Council and the National Khoisan Council. 

The Andries Steenkamp Benefit-Sharing Trust will share the benefits with the San communities to assist with their endeavours to protect their traditional knowledge and related biodiversity. 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. 

Rooibos is indigenous to South Africa’s Cape region, which has been home to the Khoisan people for millennia. These communities have long known the restorative and healing properties of this plant, but this knowledge was misappropriated by commercial farmers for commercial gain more than 150 years ago.

In the Cederberg region, the only place Rooibos grows naturally, the Khoisan people have used it as a tea and herbal remedy for more than 300 years.

Today, the rooibos industry is worth more than $20 million, and nearly 16,000 tons of rooibos are harvested annually for export to more than 30 countries. The plant is used to make beverages and beauty products.

The agreement followed a nine-year negotiation process spearheaded by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, which resulted in an agreement widely regarded as one of SA’s success stories in implementing the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (Nemba).

The Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy, said because rooibos has a long history of commercialisation in South Africa, it was deemed important for the rooibos industry to comply with NEMBA and the associated regulations. 


Working towards equitable solutions

The industry wide agreement includes the one-year pilot through which the San and the Khoi people will receive 1.5% of the farmgate price from the 10 rooibos industry processors. This payment is done in the form of an annual levy. 

The pilot phase has also allowed the government to gather accurate data on the dynamics of the rooibos industry. This includes information on opportunities for transformation, the composition of the farmers and other role-players across the value chain, as well as market and trade information related to the sale of rooibos locally and internationally.

Martin Bergh, Chairperson of the SA Rooibos Council, says 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,” he 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.”

Minister Creecy said that fair and equitable benefit-sharing interventions to work, the commitment of all people involved in the sector in South Africa and abroad is needed.

“We recognise that innovative solutions are required to address the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the utilisation of genetic resources and the traditional knowledge associated with its use. Amongst these is partnerships between industry and communities to ensure that our national and international biodiversity commitments are met,” she said.

“With a suitably negotiated and concluded benefit-sharing agreement in place, the issuing of the associated bioprospecting and biotrade permits is more efficient.  Without it there would be no contribution to the socio-economic growth of the two communities.”


Rooibos: South Africa’s champagne

Rooibos enjoys Geographical Indicator (GI) status, which links a product to a specific geographical area, which indicates the origin of where the product is produced, processed or prepared. 

This means that the word ‘Rooibos’ or ‘Red Bush’ can only be used for Rooibos tea imported from the winter rainfall areas of the Western and Northern Cape, much like “Champagne” can only be used for sparkling wines from the Champagne region in France.

The status was granted in 2014 by the European Union, and this gave the Rooibos tea manufacturers of South Africa full ownership of the Rooibos name.



Business Insider | BBC | Quartz | GoLegal | AgriOrbit | SA Rooibos Council

Get your business featured in the next edition of Public Sector Leaders

New call-to-action