Historic tea payment made to South African tribes

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Two tribes in South Africa, the Khoi and the San, have received their first payment for the sale of the native rooibos plant, grown mainly for tea. The Rooibos Tea Council, representing the companies, paid the tribes more than $700,000 under a profit-sharing agreement.

San Council Director Leana Snyders said it took nine years of negotiations before the Rooibos Traditional Knowledge Benefit Sharing Agreement was signed in November 2019.

She said native tribes still use rooibos when babies have teething problems. It is also used for skin conditions like eczema and to relieve stomach cramps.

Snyders said payment for traditional knowledge should be applied globally.

“If, for example, I am a business based on the knowledge of people who lived in the area, then I have made a product or I have used the plant and I sell it and make a profit as a business , so I would definitely recommend those kinds of industry collaborations,” she said.

FILE – Workers hoist sacks of rooibos tea onto a tractor in the remote mountains of the Cedarberg region, about 300 km (186 miles) north of Cape Town, March 30, 2006.

She also said that indigenous peoples must be informed of the legal process.

“You have to stand up for your rights because, in our case, if we didn’t stand up nine years ago, going to the government and saying, ‘But we want our knowledge recognized’, if we don’t didn’t take the first step as San people, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Snyders said.

This first annual payment of $700,000 comes from a 1.5% levy on the sale of all cut and dried rooibos. The money was paid into two trust accounts for the San and the Khoi.

Snyders said the money would be reinvested in the people.

“We’re going to make sure it’s for the upliftment of the San people. And upliftment is through improving livelihoods, and the main thing is education. For us, it’s education, education, education,” she said.

A director of the South African Rooibos Council, Dawie de Villiers, said he could not give an accurate estimate of the value of the industry. However, he said, the caffeine-free product is exported to more than 50 countries, and that number is growing every year.

“In fact, there are good medical studies that identify it as a good product to use for stress relief, and we’re seeing it increasingly used in a wide range of applications,” de Villiers said. “Not only in herbal teas but also in nutritional supplement formulations, so it’s definitely a product of today.”

Officials say this period is considered the pilot phase of the agreement and that further negotiations will take place to develop a non-monetary benefit-sharing model.

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