By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK The protected Hoodia plant is falling prey to people selling it illegally abroad for its high commercial value. The first case of illegal harvesting of the Hoodia plant was registered last week at the Keetmanshoop police, where two men are currently in custody after they failed to pay bail of N$700 each. The case that was recorded at the Keetmanshoop Magistrate’s Court was postponed to June 19 this year for further investigation. The two accused, 35-year-old Andreas Thomas and Daniel Thomas, also of the same age, were caught with 8,4 kg of the protected plant, valued at N$7 812. According to Karas Region Chief Inspector Jo-sephat Abel, the two men were caught in the act of selling this protected plant at Farm Constancia in the Keetmanshoop district on Sunday, April 30, 2006. Ongoing monitoring of the district by officials of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism reaped fruits when they detected the two suspects busy selling this product on the farm. The two men were then handed over to the police and have been charged with illegal possession and selling of protected plants under Ordinance Number 4 of 1975 Act Nr 10 (1). The latest incident comes in light of concerns that the illegal collection of the Hoodia plant has been going on for some time. government recently also 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 and is therefore prevalent in the southern and western parts of the country. Speaking to New Era yesterday, Inspector Abel said that Hoodia is a protected plant in the country, which many people seem not to be knowledgeable about. According to him, considering its medicinal qualities, many people see it as a source of good income if they get the chance to sell it illegally out of the country. “People used to sell it to foreigners especially to those in South Africa because they know the medicinal value of this plant,” said the Inspector, who warned the public that selling the plant is a criminal offence. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is busy conducting awareness campaigns to inform the public that harvesting the Hoodia plant is illegal. As of late the Hoodia Working Group, which falls under this ministry has received reports from producers and community members that illegal harvesting of Hoodia is still going on in the country. Furthermore, 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 eventually comes to exist. 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. The arrest of the two Thomas suspects is the first such case in the Karas Region. The Hoodia plant is known to be the intellectual property of the San people. From time immemorial they used the succulent plant to suppress hunger and thirst, while hunting.
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