Fair and equitable sharing of Rooibos benefits with local communities

In 2010, the Khoisan communities embarked on what was to be a nine-year battle, in the fight for “fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation”[1] of the Rooibos plant. In November 2019, an agreement was signed between the National Khoisan Council and the South African Rooibos Council, where the South African government advised that the tea industry must pay 1.5% of the farm gate price to communities[2].

In celebration, a special ceremony was held at !Khwa ttu, to mark this historic occasion with representatives from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), the Rooibos industry and the Khoi and San councils in attendance. Barbara Creecy, the Minister of Environmental Affairs said “this is the first time in world history that two indigenous communities are being compensated for their indigenous knowledge that has led to the exploitation of a commercial product”. The battle not only brought compensation to the communities but also a moral feat in which long-mistreated groups took a stand against industry[3].

This agreement has been dubbed a historical achievement and provides a model for which other countries and industries can follow suit[4]. Martin Bergh, South African Rooibos Council’s chairperson, hailed the agreement as a best practice example, which provides a robust framework for other bioprospecting, access and benefit-sharing agreements in South Africa and abroad. In addition, the agreement helps to restore and bring back heritage to a community as well as invoke feelings of indigenous worth that has long been forgotten[5].

Oom Cecil Le Fleur, chairperson of the National Khoisan council, said “by recognising our knowledge, they are actually recognising our identity. Nine years may be a long time but perhaps a good agreement takes nine years to negotiate. What is nine years after 500 years?” 500 years to build a multi-million-dollar industry, which could not have been achieved without the traditional oral history that informed Dutch settlers how Rooibos seeds were unearthed by ants[6] and how the traditional harvesting methods could maximise the flavours of the plant. This knowledge connected the plant to indigenous culture and heritage, but by commercialising traditional practice, deprivation and dispossession ensued. As others profited from the selling of Rooibos, the Khoi and San communities were largely excluded[7] but no more.


[1] Ibid

[2] Nordling, L. 2019. Rooibos tea profits will be shared with Indigenous communities in landmark agreement. Nature. 575(7781).

[3] Ibid

[4] Bloom, K. 2019. Plant matter: How rooibos brought justice to SA’s indigenous. Available: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-11-01-plant-matter-how-rooibos-brought-justice-to-sas-indigenous/

[5] Ives, S. 2014. Farming the South African “Bush”: Ecologies of belonging and exclusion in rooibos tea. American Ethnologist. 41(4):698-713.

[6] Ives, S. 2014. Farming the South African “Bush”: Ecologies of belonging and exclusion in rooibos tea. American Ethnologist. 41(4):698-713.

[7] World Justice Project. 2019. The Value of Traditional Knowledge: A Milestone for Indigenous Rights in South Africa’s Rooibos Industry. Available: https://worldjusticeproject.org/news/value-traditional-knowledge-milestone-indigenous-rights-south-africas-rooibos-industry

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published