DSI update on Indigenous Knowledge regulations and registration system, and update on BioPANZA and African Medicines Platform

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

11 November 2022
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Committee convened virtually for an update by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) on Indigenous Knowledge (IK) Regulations and the Bio-Products Innovation Cluster Advancement Network South Africa (BioPANZA) including the African Medicines Platform and the IK Registration System.

The Committee found the work of the beneficiaries of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) Programme impressive. Through DSI funding and with the assistance of the Agricultural Research Council and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the beneficiaries are able to manufacture IK products that are available in local pharmacies and grocery stores. However, the Committee was concerned that the programme was easily accessible to young, educated people and that older rural women and persons living with disabilities would be left behind. The Committee was informed that biocultural community protocols (BCPs) were in place to ensure that entire communities benefit from the IKS Programme. For example, BCPs for the Khoi and San communities have been concluded in respect of Rooibos IK. The communities are benefiting from any use of Rooibos IK in terms of benefit-sharing agreements with third parties who use the resources to manufacture Rooibos products.

Although funding has been highlighted as a concern, the Department was optimistic about future funding prospects. The IKS Project is proving to be a good product to sell. As a result, co-investing opportunities and partnerships with industry players would be explored in the new year. In addition, the Department was able to secure co-funding through engagements with partner departments.

Meeting report

The Chairperson invited the Acting DDG to make her opening remarks on behalf of the Department.

Dr Rebecca Maserumule, Acting DDG: Technology Innovation, DSI, noted the DG on the platform and passed the opportunity for opening remarks to him.

Dr Phil Mjwara, DG, DSI, was pleased with the opportunity to share the work that the Department had been busy with for some time with the Committee. The presentation would reflect an excellent update on four specific areas, i.e. regulations, registration, commercialisation, and an update on the Special Services Delivery Unit (SSDU) through which the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) Programme would be managed. The work is divided into two programmes, i.e. Programme 4 dealing with regulation, registration and recognition of prior learning and Programme 2 dealing with the commercialisation of the work.

Dr Maserumule said some of the beneficiaries who had been assisted with funding to take their innovations to market, were on the platform to share their stories.

Mr Imraan Patel, DDG, Socio-economic Innovation Partnerships, DSI, called on his colleague to lead the presentation after the DSI and CSIR delegations had introduced themselves.

DSI Presentation
Ms Shumi Pango, Deputy Director: Advocacy and Policy Development, DSI, focused on the update of the IK Regulations. The IK Act was signed into law by the President in August 2019. Section 31 of the Act sets out the process for the Minister to develop regulations. The draft regulations were only available in English but would ultimately be translated into all official languages. The regulations had been gazetted for public comment. The 60-day comment period will lapse in January 2023. A parallel process was under way to engage communities who would not be able to access the gazette. This process will also conclude in January 2023. She envisaged that the regulations would be presented to EXCO, Parliament and the Minister at the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter of 2023.

Ms Kedibone Aphane, Deputy Director: IKS, DSI, said the technology for recording IK was developed by the DSI and CSIR. The identification of IK holders, who would be representing the communities, was done through the Steering Committee. Laptops were used to record the metadata related to indigenous food and medicine. It is reported that most South Africans depend on traditional medicine. Once an agreement is reached with IK holders, the information about the process of preparing the medicine and food as well as the benefits thereof is documented. The information is packaged and uploaded onto the system from where it can be accessed via the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (NIKSO) Portal.

Dr Maserumule said the Department was working with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) towards commercialisation and to ensure inclusivity and market readiness of the products. She stated that the DSI Innovation Programme is considered world class. A WHO delegation assessed our traditional medicine and concluded that South Africa had a key role to play in the development of IKS on the continent.

Dr Aunkh Chabalala, Director, IK-Based Technology Innovation Unit, DSI, said the BioPANZA initiative is a product of the bio-diversity economy. The work covers the entire value chain at the national, provincial and district level. Six projects, focusing on agri-business involving the processing of indigenous products and plants, had been piloted through the National Indigenous Product Programme (NIPP) fund. IK holders receive training through a six-month programme at the Innovation Hub. To date, 59 graduates had been awarded certificates including 37 SMMEs. The list of graduates will be shared with the Committee in the next meeting. The DTI is providing a platform for the marketing of IK products. The list of high-end retailers in the country, who have agreements with the DSI, will be made available to the Committee.

Beneficiaries Presentation
Mr Cebisa Mabena, African Medicines and Cosmeceutical Platform, is an elder beneficiary from the Mothong village in Mamelodi. He thanked the government for the monetary and skills benefits that he gained from the programme. The community benefitted from an educational perspective through courses which taught them about cultivation, horticulture, pest control, soil testing and landscaping. The establishment of six farms in the area created jobs which enable the community to put food on the table. In 2011, he was part of a delegation that went to India on an exchange programme. He was grateful for the opportunity to learn what other countries were doing with traditional medicines. He thanked the DSI for helping the Mothong community to access land because most IK holders are struggling with the land issue. The community was looking forward to learning how to process and sell their products. In the past, traditional medicine practitioners were practising under the Witchcraft Act. IK holders are now able to work alongside the Department. He is very proud of the South African government for the positive development because other countries are still struggling to acknowledge the role of IK in their communities. He is grateful that the government was taking IK holders seriously.

Ms Retang Phaahla, Health Infusions Platform, is one of the young beneficiaries of the programme. She is the co-founder of Setsong Tea Crafters (STC), an indigenous tea manufacturing company based in Limpopo. She has been working with two communities in the Marble Hall region to create tea blends using indigenous plants, i.e. Diya root for the root tea range and Tepane leaves for the black bush tea range. Her first contact with the DSI was in 2017 when she was afforded the opportunity to have her products tested and analysed by the ARC and CSIR through DSI funding. This was done to validate the claims of the communities about the medicinal value of the plants. She was provided with training to draft a viable business plan and to adopt standard operating procedures in developing a teabag range including the design and packaging thereof. The work with the CSIR has been continuing for further development of an ice-tea range to be launched early in 2023. Some of the funds had been allocated for sensory evaluation which is being conducted by a team at Stellenbosch University, the same team involved in the testing of Honey Bush Rooibos tea. The most exciting part of the project was the construction of the tea manufacturing plant. Building is scheduled to start in 2023. Funding from the DSI enabled the acquisition of equipment to expand the capacity of the business while the factory is being built. The DSI facilitated access to the NIPP fund, hosted by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and co-funded by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to assist with further commercialisation, and market penetration and to finish the construction of the factory. The company was able to create 30 jobs for women and young people. Two cooperatives had been consolidated to form the holding STC company, trading as Summer Trading, which is the vehicle for further development and market penetration. The shareholding is split between the cooperatives (49%) and STC (51%). The company is working with the ARC through DSI funding on further cultivation of indigenous plants. The products are available at 23 outlets of the local pharmacy and at Spar grocery stores. Negotiations with Food Lover’s Market are ongoing for the nationwide supply of the products by early 2023. She thanked the DSI, CSIR, ARC, TIA and all other stakeholders for their assistance.

Mr Thusego Mathabatha, Nutraceuticals Platform, another of the young beneficiaries from Limpopo had been assisted by the DSI to make products from moringa leaves. The ARC and CSIR were roped in to assist with training on how to plant, cultivate harvest and dry moringa. More than 5 000 hectares of moringa had been planted. A processing facility had been built with teabag and capsule-making machines, and air-drying equipment. Moringa is blended with other tea blends to create rooibos, ginger, lemon and grapefruit moringa blends. The Chemistry Department at WITS was developing a moringa health shake. He was working with three cooperatives that are being assisted by the ARC to plant moringas. The communities associated with the cooperatives would be the feeders once the market is established. The products are available at the local Spar grocery store. Negotiations were at an early stage to expand the supply products to more stores. He thanked the Committee for the opportunity and the DSI, TIA, ARC and other stakeholders for their assistance.

Mr Otsile Maditsi is a community engagement coordinator and lecturer at the IKS Centre at North-West University (NWU). The NWU is offering a four-year IKS Bachelors Programme which emanated from the need for an African-based knowledge system to find its place in the higher education sector. IKS covers a wide a variety of areas, hence the need was identified to develop skills and train students, with a passion for IKS, to become foot soldiers. The idea is to ensure that IKS is regularised in an acceptable manner to the benefit of communities. The four-year programme consists of four streams, i.e. Arts and Culture, Science and Innovation, Health, and Agriculture. To date, the university had been able to accommodate only 200 of the 500 students who applied due to a lack of capacity. More than 2 000 applications had been received from students across the country for the 2023 academic year. The focus was on the Science and Innovation stream because it had been neglected in the past. It was important to create an avenue for students to assist in identifying IKS and to make it acceptable for communities. The Innovation Hub was considering enrolling some of the students for a short course. The plan is to create more streams, focusing on indigenous mining with the goal to incorporate it into mainstream mining. He had a big role to play, together with the DSI colleagues, to supervise and promote the programme at Masters and PhD level. The programme aims to ensure recognition of the IKS within the knowledge economy. The programme awakened the interest of a number of communities who had been contacting the university for assistance to develop their own protocols. There is a need for more funding to train people who would be helping communities to develop the protocols and to promote the IKS.

Dr Maserumule observed that the beneficiaries often referred to the role of the CSIR and ARC in their work. She suggested that the CSIR might want to comment on their work in support of the commercialisation and regulatory aspects of the IKS Programme.

Dr Sechaba Bareetseng, IKS Programme Manager, CSIR, is responsible for community engagement in the identification of medicinal plants. The CSIR is intentionally supporting IKS legislation and conducts research and development (R&D) to investigate the uses of traditional medicine and undertakes product and process development. The CSIR is supporting beneficiaries at community level through DSI funding to create and commercialise high-quality products through partnerships with institutions such as the Innovation Hub. His role was mainly to support IKS legislation to ensure that the requisite legal framework is followed. Communities are being trained to become entrepreneurial and to create income and jobs, not only in South Africa but on a global level. The CSIR Industrialisation Strategy was recently adopted and was formulated within the framework of IKS legislation and other IK-related legislation in support of the government’s efforts to create jobs, alleviate poverty and end inequality.

The Chairperson thanked the participants for their contributions and found it exciting to hear from the beneficiaries. She was pleased with the generation mix and the representation across the spectrum in the pool of beneficiaries. She wanted to know if there had been an increase in interest by younger citizens in the type of work that the IKS was offering. She was interested to see the contribution to the registry in terms of age groups. She was pleased that indigenous language had been incorporated into the NIKSO Portal as a mechanism to engage the industry. She wanted to know what informed the statement that most South Africans were using traditional medicine and if statistics could be made available to substantiate the claim.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) valued the contributions of the beneficiaries. She asked what the focus areas were of the IK Human Capital Development Programme and if TVET institutions were included in the programme. She wanted to know what the current need and future requirements of the National IKS were and requested the timeframes for the establishment of the NIKSO which serves as the SSDU.

Ms Mahlatsi (ANC) appreciated the presentations and was particularly interested in the agricultural aspect with a focus on the cannabis element. She felt that SMMEs should be the primary beneficiaries of the programme because cannabis had historically been of the indigenous culture. She said the market would not have been opened up had it not been for the Covid-19 pandemic. She noted that collaboration between the DSI and other entities had been cemented but timeframes in terms of the delivery of end products were lacking and there were no fixed commitments to resources. A reference was made to a plant being built in the Free State. She asked for the location of the plant so that she would be able to pay a visit during the constituency period. She wanted to know how beneficiaries had been identified and found the note about limitations to identifying beneficiaries in the Northern Cape concerning. The Griquas and the Khoi and San communities were known for being culturally rooted in the Northern Cape and as a people, were the most concerned about IKS. She asked how the Department was going to ensure that communities in the Northern Cape is accommodated. The main focus concerning cannabis is at the research level. But in terms of the Master Plan, well-established companies stand to benefit. By the time SMMEs get involved, the market would be highly regulated and SMMEs would be disadvantaged. She asked what the Department would be doing to ensure that SMMEs are not left behind. She was pleased that young people are being accommodated but was concerned about uneducated rural women who might not benefit from the IKS Programme. She asked for a breakdown of the number of existing and potential future beneficiaries, including the number of people living with disabilities that have been identified to participate in the programme. The resources to expand the programme seemed to be insufficient. The Department should also mobilise resources from the private sector to assist with funding this initiative. She asked about the plans to extend the commercialisation of products beyond the borders of South Africa.

The Chairperson asked officials from the Department to unpack the concepts of indigenous astronomy and indigenous mining, bearing in mind that through these meetings, the Committee aims to raise awareness and encourage young people of new disciplines that they might want to study. She found that the pricing of the same product would differ depending on whether it is labelled as traditional versus indigenous or whether it is sold by, for example, Dischem or by someone at a hostel. She asked if conversations about pricing were taking place. She wanted to know how broad the spectrum was of the term indigenous innovations. She was troubled that treatment for natural hair had become more expensive than hair relaxer. She questioned why it had become so expensive to maintain hair in its natural state if the intention were to reach the majority of the market who are not able to afford the products. In her view, representation is important and science must also be able to respond to the needs of the majority of South Africans. The affordability of chemicals that are suitable for natural hair must be determined as part of the skills development process. She wanted to know if innovations of this nature would be added to the registry. She echoed the sentiments about timeframes in terms of the establishment of BCPs across the nine provinces. She sought clarity about the correlation between skills training offered in the TVET Programme and research on innovation in the IKS Programme.

DSI response
Mr Patel extended his thanks to the Committee. The deep questions and comments of a philosophical nature were an indication of how the Committee had grown. It helps the Department to advance the cause of the portfolio. He assigned a number of questions to his colleagues to address and indicated that he would come in later.

Ms Pango addressed the question about the timeframes. The Department was advised to focus on the establishment of the NIKSO to ensure that it was operational when the regulations take effect. An Inter-departmental Committee meeting is scheduled for 28 November 2022 to determine if the documents developed were aligned with the SSDU and to make any changes necessary. The regulations had been gazetted for public comment. The 60-day comment period will lapse in January 2023. A parallel process was taking place to engage communities who would not be able to access the gazette. This process will also conclude in January 2023. She envisaged that the regulations would be presented to EXCO, Parliament and the Minister at the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second quarter of 2023.

In response to the question about Human Capital Development, she explained that the IKS Bachelor Programme is being hosted by the NWU and the University of Limpopo. The DSI was working closely with colleagues responsible for the development of Human Capital strategies. She doubted that NIKSO had the capacity to manage the volume of students that were showing an interest in the discipline. The Department had doubled the transfers to the NWU to accommodate more students.

Ms Pango said a political decision was taken that IK holders must benefit from the programme because IK by its nature is owned by communities. BCPs are meant to identify resources in provinces and communities. Any third party who intends to use the resources must enter into non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), benefits-sharing and license agreements with IK holders. The license agreement is activated when the product is ready for commercialisation. The benefit-sharing agreement must be concluded at the beginning of the process between the third party and the community that holds the knowledge. The IKS provides for the establishment of a Board of Trustees, who represent communities at the negotiations.

Ms Pango reported that the Act takes transboundary agreements into consideration. The Nagoya Protocol provides for the establishment of a competent authority to facilitate communication with third parties outside the borders. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had been identified as the competent authority in South Africa and will be working closely with the SSDU. NIKSO will be keeping benefits in custody if communities cannot be identified. BCPs would be the mechanism through which community leadership will be identified.

Responding to the request to explain indigenous mining and indigenous astronomy, Ms Pango said indigenous mining falls under the Science and Technology stream. Students at NWU have registered for the programme. She was pleased to report that interaction between indigenous miners and conventional miners was facilitated at a recently held conference. Although the approaches were different, the geologists were attaching great value to the knowledge of indigenous miners. In 2021, the NWU was commissioned to do some research on indigenous astronomy in the Mpumalanga area. The report contained interesting statements about footprints of Hindu and Saudi Arabian gods that could be traced to the area. Communities in the area attested to the myth. Information from communities in the area points to September as the start of the new year according to the African calendar. After the report was issued, role players were gathered to share their experiences of the research that was conducted. The report gained a lot of traction worldwide from people working on indigenous astronomy. She suggested that the outcomes of the conference must lead to the establishment of a council to develop norms and standards to manage the new discipline.

Ms Pango reported that workshops had been conducted with 140 out of 560 communities. BCPs are established in two ways, i.e. by following an overarching approach to gather information form communities and develop specific BCPs based on a particular resource. BCPs for the Khoi and San communities have been concluded, only in respect of Rooibos IK. In terms of benefit-sharing agreements, Rooibos IK holders stand to benefit from any use of Rooibos IK in whichever form and platform.

Dr Chabalala said the statement that most people use African medicines had been confirmed by studies conducted in South Africa. Some of the studies were commissioned by the SAMRC and some by the WHO. It was found that over 70% of Africans visit a traditional medical practitioner before going to a clinic for primary health care. The studies are documented and sources will be shared with the Committee. He explained that the agricultural aspect of IKS would be the focus of future Human Capital Development in relation to food and medicines, and health and natural cosmetic products. Another focus area was entrepreneurial skills development. The work also involved changing legislation of African medicine which must be factored into the training programmes of medical practitioners. The Human Capital Development focus areas also include manufacturing and commercialisation. The Department was working with TVET colleges across the country on all of the focus areas.

Dr Chabalala was unable to say when the Cannabis Master Plan would be approved. The timeframe for the approval of the Cannabis Master Plan was a complicated matter because it overlapped with other pieces of legislation. In terms of its mandate, the DSI was conducting high-end research in terms of cancer and diabetes treatment. The next step involves engaging SMMEs and IK holders at community level in villages. He undertook to provide a breakdown in terms of the involvement of rural women and young people, including persons living with disabilities. He said the Department does have projects in the Northern Cape and was working with the CSIR on one of the projects that involved an anti-hair loss product. He said licensing was a big concern because licenses are mainly granted to white-owned businesses. Therefore, the Department was directed to work with people within the African IKS. A consortium of scientists is fighting to seek restoration for women who had been cultivating the cannabis land for years but who have either been killed or ended up in jail. The Presidency had declared the matter a priority and together with the IDC, the Department will ensure that the issue receives attention.
Dr Chabalala agreed that funding was a concern, hence the DSI has a number of fundraising initiatives to support the work at community level. The Department sometimes has to go beyond its mandate and as a result, was having difficulty giving timeframes when the work involves other departments. The DSI had allocated R26 billion for the BioPANZA platform based on commitments from partner departments but at the time of this meeting, the funds had not yet reached the TIA account. Responding to the pricing issue, he said SMMEs are taken through a six-month entrepreneurship training programme. One of the modules involves pricing and logistics and deals with input costs in terms of labelling and marketing. The beneficiaries on the platform were all trained in these areas. He acknowledged that the prices of IK products have been disrupting the status quo which had resulted in the products becoming extremely expensive. Attempts are being made to make the products more affordable, but still competitive in the market. Beneficiaries are given opportunities through EXPOS to commercialise their products outside the country with the support of the IDC and DTIC.

In response to the issue of the IK-based spectrum, Dr Chabalala said from an academic perspective, the choice was made to refer to the work as IK-based Bio-innovation. This meant that studies are based on IK is the primary ingredient. He said all the definitions are part of the decolonial agenda. The IKS Programme is being hosted in several facilities. The Industrial Lab is located on the campus of the University of the Free State and a factory had been completed in Qwaqwa region. Funding had been received for the development of a facility in 2023 outside Zeerust in the North West province.

Mr Patel said in terms of decolonising the knowledge system, there are areas that the Department needed to be more deliberate about. The DSI would continuously identify areas that have been neglected as part of the effort to make progress and be more inclusive. More could be done to strengthen capabilities in terms of issues that had been raised. He was optimistic about funding prospects. The Department was able to secure co-funding through interactions with other departments that were able to assess the value of the work that had been done. The Department was co-managing projects with other departments through efforts in the Decadal Plan. Positive signals were forthcoming from Ministers about co-investing opportunities. The Department would be using the opportunities strategically in the plenary in March 2023 to initiate partnerships with industry players. The IKS project is at the stage of being a good product to sell. He thanked the Committee, his colleagues and the beneficiaries for their contributions.

Chairperson’s closing remarks
The Chairperson found the engagement stimulating and was looking forward to further engagements with the beneficiaries and to play a collaborative role in elevating the IKS Programme. She thanked colleagues from all the entities as well as the beneficiaries who participated in the discussion.

Consideration of minutes
The adoption of minutes was postponed until Wednesday, 16 November 2022, because the meeting did not quorate.

The meeting was adjourned.


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