2002 Hoodia Gordonii reversed a worldwide history of
exploitation of indigenous peoples. The San tribe could easily have been
victims of biopiracy. The particularly
disconcerting aspect of this case is that it was a governmental organization, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The
CSIR is an institution that was shaped by the apartheid regime it had
served well for 40 years. In 1996 scientists from the CSIR isolated the
hunger-suppressing chemical component in Hoodia, now known as P57, and patented it.
In 1997, CSIR licensed the UK-based firm Phytopharm to further develop
and commercialize P57.
following year, Phytopharm licensed drug giant Pfizer (of Viagra fame)
to develop and market P57, with none of the projected royalties being
earmarked for the San. A British spokesperson for Pfizer that described
P57, said that the San people was "extinct".
San people felt that their heritage had been plundered and a few
years later a claim was launched against the CSIR stating that it had
failed to comply with the rules of the Convention on Biological
Diversity 1992 (CBD), requiring prior informed consent. Consequently, a
"memorandum of understanding" was reached between the parties
in March 2002.
a moving ceremony in Andriesvale, a remote area of the Kalahari, the
South African San Council and the Council for Scientific and Industrial
Research (CSIR) of South Africa signed an agreement that recognizes and
rewards the San as holders of traditional knowledge. The San would
receive a mutually agreed percentage of the profit from the CSIR along
with offers of education programmes, computer training and employment
cultivating the Hoodia cactus plant in the Kalahari.
above example is a great victory for holders of traditional knowledge,
however it represents a rare case where a bilateral agreement on access
and benefit sharing has obviated the need for expensive and
CSIR and the San had to produce an agreement able to withstand
international scrutiny. For three years, the South Africa San Council
negotiated with the CSIR on behalf of the San in Angola,
Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In a unique arrangement, the San will
share profits across borders.
South African government is considering a draft bill that requires proof
of prior informed consent of communities before granting patents for
products or elements derived from their traditional knowledge.