By Wezi Tjaronda
The San people stand to be robbed of their knowledge of traditional medicine because of ignorance about what value their medicines carry, a study has said.
The study into the traditional medical usage of the San at Farm Six in Tsumeb found that San traditional medicine, which is referred to as the ‘open air pharmacy’ is in high demand.
“There is a real danger that San medicine will be hijacked by profiteers,” said Vicky Dan, a fourth-year student of Information and Communication Studies at the University of Namibia this week.
Her study looked into the San’s indigenous medicine knowledge and how it is shared. Dan told New Era yesterday that she found that the level of awareness of what they have is very low, which would be a loophole for profiteers.
She said the danger ari-sing from a situation like this, if it occurs, is that the San themselves would reap a few or no benefits at all from the commercial exploitation of the natural remedies.
The study, specifically done at Farm Six in the Mangetti West, north of Tsumeb, found that the San used traditional medicine to treat all diseases except TB. They use a variety of plants to treat colds and flu, aches and pains, malaria and high blood pressure and not modern medicine because of the long distances they would have to travel to the nearest health facility.
It was found that men, women and children hold considerable knowledge about traditional medicine.
The study recommended that the San be educated about the potential value of their traditional medicine and in particular their intellectual property rights and their right to benefit from any marketing thereof.
“Working mechanisms should be put in place to ensure the San benefit from any commercial exploitation of their traditional knowledge of their medicinal use of local plants,” she recommended.
Dan said the Government in collaboration with international research institutions should undertake research into the traditional remedies.
“This will ensure that benefits stemming from any future commercialisation of such treatments is shared equitably among stakeholders – principally indigenous communities,” she added.
In the absence of legislation, the Government last year established an interim bio-prospecting committee to coordinate its approach on biotrade and bio-prospecting.
The committee comprises ministries of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Education, Environment and Tourism, Trade and Industry, Fisheries and Marine Resources, Safety and Security and the Office of the Attorney General.
Director of Environmental Affairs in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Teofilus Nghitila, yesterday said the ministry is awaiting the finalisation of the legislation as a priority.
The draft Access to Genetic Resources and Associated Knowledge Bill of 2004 will control and protect plant and animal species and access to indigenous knowledge. The draft legislation states that the ownership of all genetic resources vests with the State, while that of the traditional knowledge and technologies and associated genetic resources vests with the local community which holds such knowledge.
The draft legislation provides for a genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge unit that will identify types of community intellectual rights relating to traditional knowledge and technologies associated with genetic resources.
The unit will identify and define the requirements and procedures necessary for the recognition of community intellectual rights relating to traditional knowledge and technologies associated with genetic resources. It says any access to any genetic resource and associated traditional knowledge or technologies of local communities in any part of the country shall be subject to an application for the necessary prior informed consent from the State and the local communities concerned.
Biotrade and bio-prospecting have the potential to generate significant economic benefits to Namibia, yet given the absence of appropriate and watertight legislation, the country would lose in potential revenue sources if they are exploited without proper benefit sharing agreements, said Ministry of Environment and Tourism Deputy Minister, Leon Jooste, at an access and benefit sharing workshop of several countries last year.