South Africa’s San People Find a Respectful Partner for Marketing a Sacred Herb

San people of South AfricaThe name of the article is an assertion: “Firmsand Indigenous Peoples Can Be Partners.” This begins the remarkable tale ofa relationship between the San people of SouthAfrica (mother and child pictured), the region’s first people, and asupplement company regarding a plant they call “buchu” (boo-koo). The San areknown to many in the West as “Bushmen.” The talk in an 18-minute video on thesite of the article is of integration, specifically of industry, in the form ofa natural-products interest, CapeKingdom, and the interests of the San people—put differently, between the“knowledge holders” and the scientific and business communities. Throughelaborate dialogue with multiple parties including the San Council and the SanInstitute, a plan was created that is backed by the South African governmentand follows the Convention on BiologicalDiversity.

Petrus VaalbooiThe video beginsand ends with comments from a weathered San leader, Petrus Vaalbooi (pictured).He speaks of the plant’s “sacred” value. Vaalbooi and fellow members of hispeople note its use in ceremonies and for such purposes as stomach pain, backache,and bringing down fever. Modern science has found antibacterial,anti-inflammation and antifungal properties associated with the plant. The CapeKingdom products are developed from farmed rather than threatened wild-craftedsources and sold internationally as buchulife. The products, which include a topicalgel, are marketed via the faces and endorsements of world-class athletes andsupermodels. San people, and another tribal group with a claim on theknowledge, receive steady residuals on the sale. The video, entitled “Responsible,Inclusive, Innovative: The Buchu Plant,” ends with Vaalbooi echoing an buchulifeearlierspeaker: “If we work together we can have a better future for our descendants.”The article and video are on the SciDevNetsite that is dedicated to “bringing science and development togetherthrough original news and analysis.”

Comment: Thestory brought to mind the news 2 months ago of a community-based natural-productscompany written up on this Global Integrator Blog site as “The Inspiring Tale of a Nigerian Monk,Sustainable Herbalism, and the African Research Institute.” The two storieshave in common overarching commitments to responsible behavior. Each hasbenefitted its respective Institute. Notably, the respect extends not only to scienceand product quality, but also relationship to peoples and place. Each story hasthe wonderful reek of right livelihood. Good to see such models emerging—evenif, in the case of Cape Kingdom, the conscientiousness becomes a piece of theirmarketing. They would appear to have earned the right to make it so.


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