From 29 June to 2 July, Rachel Wynberg, Jaci van Niekerk, Jessica-Jane Lavelle and Claudette Muller attended the joint conference of the Society for Economic Botany (SEB) and the Indigenous Plant Use Forum (IPUF) in Clanwilliam. With the theme “Global Vision on Indigenous Plants and Economic Botany”, the conference promised a week of learning and stimulating conversations with fellow researchers from around the globe.
Papers and posters by delegates covered a wide range of topics within the fields of ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, economic botany and agricultural sciences. Jaci presented a poster on the importance of traditional crops, knowledge and seed exchange amongst small-scale farmers in KwaZulu-Natal; Rachel presented a paper on the unintended consequences and policy blurring in biotrade and bioprospecting; and Jessica presented her ongoing PhD research on the influence of traditional and statutory governance systems on harvester access to and benefits from devil’s claw in Namibia.
The more engaged approach of workshop sessions on Tuesday afternoon allowed for active learning and discussion which provided a much welcome break from listening to presentations. Included in these sessions was a panel discussion on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) in South Africa with presentations by noted IPR and ABS scholars. Ethnobotanists Ben-Erik van Wyk and Daniel Moerman argued the need for traditional knowledge to be in the public domain for the benefit of society and warned against over-regulation which may stifle economic development. Tom Suchanadan and Carol van Wyk from the Department of Science and Technology, South Africa presented the new Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill and the progress made for the Indigenous Knowledge Management System with both stressing the importance of protecting the country’s indigenous knowledge against unauthorised exploitation. Tony Cunningham emphasised the need to interrogate the intended purpose of policy and Rachel Wynberg highlighted that poorly formulated laws, inappropriate models for benefit sharing and overlapping government mandates were failing to close the gap between policy and practice. After the panel presented their views, smaller working groups were given the chance to reflect on the issues raised and discuss IPRs and ABS in the South African context.