Traditional knowledge can contribute to poverty alleviation

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Albertina Nakale

Windhoek-Windhoek East Constituency Councillor Joyce Nangula Namuhuja has hailed the Access to Biological and Genetic Resources Associated Traditional Knowledge Bill, saying once passed into law it can contribute to crucial areas, such poverty alleviation, women empowerment, employment and skills development particularly in rural areas.

The Access and Benefit Sharing and Associated Traditional Knowledge Bill, which was recently passed in the National Assembly (NA), seeks to regulate the use of genetic resources and related traditional knowledge in Namibia. The Bill was passed in the NA last month and is currently at the committee stage for debate in the National Council.

Namuhuja made the remarks in the National Council last week, saying there are so many natural plants and resources that offer Namibians so much potential, including Moringa Oleifera and ‘dhingila’ plants. The Moringa Oleifera is classified as a super food. The tree grows naturally in some parts of Namibia and parts are said to be safe for human consumption. The plant is viewed as an energising product said to help with healing and is used to treat skin disorders, reportedly also diabetes, sleep disorders, anxiety and depression.

Another indigenous plant, known locally as ‘dhingila’ for the manner it grows by twisting its sprouts around trees, is believed to contain properties that fight off certain types of cancer, including of the lungs, intestines, liver, brain and others.

Namuhuja says Namibia is blessed with impressive wealth of unique diverse genetic resources, species and ecosystems that play a significant role in sustaining the livelihoods of many Namibians. She said genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge are some of the country’s greatest assets for development.

“Remember, we have used traditional toothbrushes to natural bubble-gum trees, to crushed ostrich egg remedies for children’s diseases, such as colic. The resources and knowledge we have within our communities are truly remarkable,” she maintained. She praised the Bill, saying Namibia needs a sound institutional and legal framework to protect indigenous resources.

Once promulgated into law, the Bill would require the setting up of a unit in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to deal with the implementation of the provisions of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, to which Namibia is party.

The Nagoya Protocol stipulates that access to genetic resources should be ensured through the systems of Prior Informed Consent (PIC) with the owners and the benefits arising from the commercial use of these resources should be arrived at through mutually agreed terms.

It is hoped that the Nagoya Protocol will help put an end to situations whereby rich and powerful pharmaceutical companies have been plundering organic resources with medicinal value in developing countries, without giving back anything to the communities where these resources were taken from.

Further, Namuhuja said colonialism not only pillaged the resources of the country, but also undermined Namibia’s traditional systems of governance and practices, which allowed people to live in harmony with nature for thousands of years.

“While we cannot turn the clock back, access and benefit-sharing offers a good opportunity for us to strengthen the role of traditional authorities in environmental management and for us to build on the amazing traditional knowledge and diversity of resources that our communities possess,” she explained. She also singled out a number of rare natural resources that are commercially well known, such as the Hoodia plant, a leafless spiny succulent plant with medicinal properties, which is known as “Bushman’s hat.”

It grows naturally in South Africa and Namibia. The species became internationally known and was threatened by collectors after a marketing campaign falsely claimed it was an appetite suppressant for weight loss.

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