By Wezi Tjaronda
Concerns are rife in the Hoodia industry that illegal harvesting of the plant’s wild populations and smuggling of the resource are depriving the poor from sharing in the benefits.
Due to smuggling, many Hoodia plants that once occurred naturally are said to have disappeared. Namibia, which has 10 species of Hoodia, is one of five African countries – the others, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe and Botswana – where Hoodia is endemic. Due to its high economic value, as well as the active ingredient for making dietary and hunger suppressing pills, stakeholders in the industry say a lot of illegal harvesting is going on especially in rural areas with wild populations.
These concerns were raised at a Hoodia Information Day on Farm Jena in Uhlenhorst, Hoachanas on Wednesday, which was attended by hundreds of people including the Minister of Environment and Tourism Willem Konjore, the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Dr Nickey Iyambo, British High Commissioner Alasdair McDermott, Hardap Regional Governor Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, and representatives of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an EU delegation, WIMSA Botswana, Millennium Health of Canada and Grassroots of South Africa, among many others.
One participant accused the authorities of not doing enough to stop the illegal activities especially in the Hardap and Karas regions, where commercial and small-scale operations on communal area conservancies have already started.
“The plant is being smuggled from Hardap and authorities are not doing enough. We know the people, they are stealing the resource from the poor who are entitled to benefit sharing,” the participant charged.
Konjore concurred with the concerns, saying that the problem was rife in rural areas where the plant is exposed and unprotected. He said reports he has received indicate there are some unscrupulous business people from neigbouring countries that are offering local people money to harvest the resource for them.
He said the ministry wanted an organised way of marketing and called for local leaders to warn their subjects about the dangers of illegally harvesting the protected plant and many other endangered and protected species.
“As a nation, we have to stop smuggling. Let us join hands in protecting the plant especially wild populations,’ he added.
Indications from authorities charged with protecting the resource are that smugglers buy the plant from locals, who earn as little as N$10 per bag. In some instances, according to Obed Rukoro of MET in Mariental, communal area dwellers harvest and sell the plant to commercial farmers. Of the cases that the ministry has dealt with, the majority of the culprits, according to Rukoro, are commercial farmers.
The latest case of theft of Hoodia happened in February and involves a quantity of 300 kg.
Opening the information day, Konjore said illegal harvesting, over-utilisation of the resource, sustainable harvesting and lack of coordination in the industry were some of the ministry’s concerns.
“We all share the responsibility for the conservation of these natural resources and protection against over-utilisation. This is especially true in the case of Hoodia, because of its vulnerable wild populations,” said the minister.
Hoodia Gordonii, one of the species with the P57 active ingredient is not as widely distributed as was initially thought and the chairperson of the Hoodia Working Group, Louisa Mupetami, said it was important to protect the plant to avoid its extinction.
Hoodia is a protected species under the 1975 Nature Conservation Ordinance, which means that the collection of seeds, cultivation, movement and sale of plants are subject to permit control.
Hoodia is also listed on the Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) after Namibia and its regional partners lobbied for the plant to receive a CITES II listing as a further safeguard.
Konjore stressed at the meeting that Hoodia presented an opportunity to contribute to economic growth, national development objectives and poverty reduction.