Biopirates in the Kalahari?

How indigenous people are standing up for their rights - the experience of the San in Southern Africa

The peoples of the San in Southern Africa have been using a plant called Hoodia for centuries. On hunting expeditions and when food is scarce, it staves off the sensation of hunger. Now industry wants to capitalise on this appetite-suppressing effect: churning out a mass-market hungercurbing drug, in the form of diet pills or slimming bars, promises to generate sizeable profits.

What about the San? Are they victims of biopiracy? The active ingredient of Hoodia was used and patented without their knowledge. But they stood up for their right to a piece of the pie. The agreement they have managed to conclude assures them of a share in the profits. This is quite a success. But if all the provisions written into binding international treaties had been complied with, the San would be even better off today.

Author: Uwe Hoering

Publisher: EED and WIMSA, 2004