Govt Moves to Protect Hoodia Plant

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Concerned with reports that illegal collection of the Hoodia plant may be persisting, the government has made an impassioned plea to people involved in legal cultivation of the plant to work together. Hoodia is a succulent plant that grows in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. One of its species, Hoodia Gorgonii has appetite suppressant qualities. In Namibia, no export of Hoodia material is authorised but there are fears that seeds and the live plant may be leaving Namibia to be used for cultivation purposes elsewhere. The Hoodia Working Group (HWG), which falls under the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, has received reports from producers and community members that illegal harvesting of Hoodia is going on. The ministry, according to HWG, has been conducting awareness campaigns to inform people that harvesting the plant is illegal. In Namibia, the succulent plant occurs in the south and the western escarpment in the areas of Kaokoland. The government is also negotiating with patent holders of Hoodia, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), with which an agreement is yet to be reached. CSIR has leased the patent to pharmaceutical companies overseas. While no commercial production of Hoodia is taking place yet in Namibia, there are some trial projects on individual commercial farms. These farmers feel that Hoodia is a big commercial resource and want to get a foothold when the market exists. The Hoodia Working Group said recently that the government needs the assistance of all those involved in legitimate activities to work together in monitoring and protecting resources to the country’s advantage. While the HWG and some producers are investigating marketing options, the group said producers should also investigate their own market links while exercising caution with regard to patents. “The government cannot endorse marketing activities and the use of Hoodia from Namibia that blatantly contravene the patents on Hoodia. The nursery licences and CITES certificates issued by the government do not in any way authorise or validate activities that may encroach on the patents, nor can the government shield producers from legal action should it occur,” the working group said in its Hoodia Update. The survey by the working group will be initiated in permitted conservancies and is to expand to other permitted producers, during which all producers will have their populations surveyed as part of the country’s responsibility to CITES. It is also important for export, as well as Namibia’s reputation as a legitimate source of Hoodia material. Meanwhile, the ministry of Environment and Tourism is reviewing applications to choose suitable candidates for a multi-national foods company, which is investigating the potential for setting up a new sustainable and long-term raw material supply chain for Hoodia Gorgonii. The company, which ministry officials could not name, is looking for partners with a solid track record in crop production, whose area under active production would be 75 hectares with an additional area of no less than 25 hectares, which can be irrigated and has water rights.