In July 2022, history was made when the Rooibos industry disbursed the first round of benefit-sharing funds to the National Khoisan Council and the South African San Council as part of an access and benefit sharing (ABS) agreement that was signed between the parties in 2019.

As a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity (the Nagoya Protocol), South Africa requires all who trade in indigenous biological resources to share benefits with traditional knowledge holders in a fair and equitable way.

Negotiations between the parties began as far back as 2014, when the Khoisan and San were recognised by the South African government as the rightful traditional knowledge holders of Rooibos.

The Rooibos ABS agreement is one of South Africa's success stories with respect to the implementation of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, the Access and Benefit-Sharing Regulations and the Nagoya Protocol.

The agreement is the first of its kind in the world. Other agreements have involved specific companies and traditional knowledge holders; this agreement encompasses the entire industry, ensuring all volumes of Rooibos sold are levied through one process. Going forward, a benefit-sharing levy of 1.5% of the farm gate price will be paid into a trust annually.

The funds stemming from the BSA were paid into the Bioprospecting Trust Fund, which is administered by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), before being transferred into the two community trust accounts established by the National Khoisan Council and the South African San Council. The money received by DAFF has been shared equally between the two respective councils. The councils are finalising processes and procedures regarding how the money received will be distributed across the Khoisan and San communities.

The funds will be used to protect cultural heritage, advance education and development, and improve the livelihoods of the respective communities. Martin Bergh, chairperson of the South African Rooibos Council, says the industry is delighted that the first funds have now been paid to the representatives of the Khoisan and San people and he confirmed that the industry remains committed to the terms of the ABS agreement.

For further information on this topic please contact Tyron Grant at Spoor & Fisher by telephone (+27 12 676 1111) or email ([email protected]). The Spoor & Fisher website can be accessed at