DWD: bioacquisition, South Africa, bio- and cultural piracy?, National Botyanical Institute and Ball Horticultural Company
Diverse Women for Diversity
There seems no end to the transnational appetite for bioappropriation. To the genes and cell lines of particular indigenous peoples, to the countless species of plants and animals, to the entire genetic heritage of the people of Iceland and Tonga, to the unnamed and named microorganisms everywhere, to the biota of national parks in many places, we must now add the floral heritage of South Africa.
Below are two articles about the bio-appropriation of South Africa's floral heritage. One comes from Mariam Mayet and the other comes courtesy of Chakravarti Raghavan. My thanks to both of them.
This article was originally published in the South-North development Monitor SUNS [Email Edition], #4874, Wednesday, 11 April 2001 and is reproduced here with the kind person of that publication's chief editor, Chakravarti Raghavan:
South Africa: Rights to develop new plants sold off
Johannesburg, 9 Apr (IPS/Anthony Stoppard)
South Africa has sold the rights to develop new strains of flowers from the country's many unique plants to a private international company - at a time when scientists have warned that global warming is threatening many of these species with extinction in their natural habitat.
South Africa's National Botanical Institute (NBI) sold to the United States-based Ball Horticultural Company the rights to develop the country's plants for sale on international markets, in return for royalties.
The NBI is a statutory body charged with promoting the sustainable use and conservation of South Africa's exceptionally rich plant life. The NBI is based in Kirstenbosch, one of the world's best-known botanical gardens and a premier research institute. Details of the sale were first reported in "The Cape Times", a publication based in South Africa's Western Cape Province, where some of South Africa's - and the world's - rarest plants occur.
The unnamed government official who blew the whistle on the deal said: "This effectively hands over South Africa's floral heritage to a company in exchange for a pittance in royalties."
The NBI will get royalties of between 2% and 10% on any products that Ball is able to develop and sell. In return, the company will receive a minimum of 90% of the profits and ownership of all gene pool plant material and marketable products. Ball also gets the right to develop any South African plants, with the exception of trees, woody shrubs and succulents, for the international market.
Although the deal was signed two years ago, the NBI reportedly has not received any payments except for a $125,000 grant to kick-start the project. A report commissioned by the South African Department of Trade and Industry estimated that the country's flower exports, which presently generate about $30 million a year, could be worth $260 million annually in 10 years' time.
NBI Central Executive Officer, Brian Huntley, has defended the deal, saying it was a limited and tightly controlled research and development programme, running on a five-year trial basis. He dismissed suggestions that the deal had been struck behind closed doors, pointing out that it was publicly discussed before being approved by all nine provincial and the national departments of conservation. He added that the agreement only allowed Ball access to 25 species a year for five years, or 125 of South Africa's 22,000 indigenous plants.
The deal comes at a time when South African scientists, including some based at Kirstenbosch, have warned that global warming is threatening many of South Africa's unique plant species with extinction.
In a report, "Impacts of Climate Change on Plant Diversity in South Africa", released this month, the scientists point out that climate change could substantially reduce the size of seven of the country's plant regions.
Water shortages resulting from climate change will end the spring flowering of plants in parts of the Namaqualand region - vital to the production of seeds and the local tourist industry. Succulents that occur in semi-desert Karoo and are dependent on the little rain that falls could disappear from parts of the region, the report warns.
The report says climate change could cause the Western Cape Province to lose as much as 25% of its rainfall in parts. The Cape Floral Kingdom, which falls in these areas, has 5,600 plant species that only occur in this region.
The report made a number of recommendations - contained in South Africa's Country Study on climate change - to limit the effect of climate change on the country's plant diversity. These include: setting up a network to monitor changes in plant diversity, planning conservation areas with climate change in mind, and rescuing and preserving highly threatened plants in seed banks or botanical gardens. The report also points out that "hard as it may be to accept, it will not be possible to save all species threatened by climate change".
Finally, it calls on South Africa to insist that the international community reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Developed nations produced most greenhouse gas emissions, yet the Southern Hemisphere may experience the most catastrophic effects of climate change," it says.
Subject: South Africa's floral heritage sold to US company
Date: Mon, 9 Apr 2001
By Melanie Gosling_
The National Botanical Institute has sold off the patent rights to huge sections of South Africa's floral kingdom - worth millions of dollars on the world horticultural market - to a private American company.
The deal, which was signed behind closed doors between the National Botanical Institute (NBI) and Ball Horticultural Company two years ago, hands over the rights to the giant multinational to develop South Africa's plants for the horticultural market in exchange for royalties for 20 years.
This includes plants like the Namaqualand and Barberton daisies.
A government official, who blew the whistle on the deal, said on Thursday: "This effectively hands over South Africa's floral heritage to a foreign company in exchange for a pittance in royalties."
Ball gets the right to develop and patent any South African plant._
"It makes the Dolphin deal where Mpumalanga sold off their game reserves to foreigners seem mild in comparison."
The NBI will get royalties varying from two percent to 10 percent. The deal gives the American company a minimum of 90 percent of the profits and ownership of all gene-pool plant material and marketable products.
Ball gets the right to develop and patent any South African plant except trees, woody shrubs and succulents "unless these are specifically requested by Ball".
"Ball can take just about any plant, say a Namaqualand daisy, develop a slightly different version by breeding a deeper colour, and then they own it."
"They're a massive company with a world market at their fingertips, and we've handed them a monopoly on South African flowers," said the source. _
NBI staff are reported to have been collecting plants from the Cape, Transkei and the Drakensberg to ship to America. The NBI-Ball deal effectively kills off the potential of local companies to develop the floriculture export industry.
The recent Kaiser Report, commissioned by the department of trade and industry, said our floriculture export industry, which generated about US$30-million (about R242-million) a year, was expected to generate a revenue of US$260m (about R1 955-million) a year in 10 years' time.
So far, no payments have been made to NBI apart from a one-off grant of US$125 000 to kick-start the venture.
Heather Sherwin of Gensec Bank, which launched a R40-million venture capital fund with Real Africa Holdings last month for the development of the local biotechnology industry, including floriculture, said on Thursday the NBI-Ball deal could have a major negative impact on the future of the country's biotechnology industry.
"Floriculture has huge potential for job creation. With the NBI-Ball agreement, South Africa won't get those jobs, only minor royalties," Sherwin said.
She said that for every R1-million of capital expenditure in the floriculture industry, between 39 and 59 jobs were created.
"It is a huge market. In 1998, the Netherlands earned R24-billion from the export of plants like freesias, which were originally South African.
"In the same year, South Africa earned R24-billion for gold exports.
"We won't get that if we've already sold off our genetic resources," Sherwin said.
Brian Huntley, CEO of the NBI, denied the deal had been struck behind closed doors, and said it had been workshopped with "stakeholders" in Durban and Johannesburg.
"Overseas companies are taking our plants illegally without the country getting anything back. The Ball agreement seeks to control the development of our plants so that profits come back to this country," Huntley said.
He was unable to say how much the royalties would generate. Asked where the money from royalties would go, he said it would go into a trust which was still "a concept" with no stipulated beneficiaries. He said the provinces would have a share in the profits.
Cape Nature Conservation head Kas Hamman said that initially they had opposed the deal. After discussions with NBI, however, all nine provinces and the department of environment affairs and tourism had agreed to the deal. All provinces had issued the NBI with permits to collect plants for Ball.
Hamman admitted none of the provinces had a legal contract stipulating that they would get a cut of the Ball royalties.
Critics say Ball may not even be legally bound to pay the royalties, as the United States has not ratified the international convention on biodiversity, which binds countries to pay for intellectual property rights over floral or faunal material from other countries.