Michelle Nott recently completed her Masters degree titled “Benefit sharing and environmental sustainability in policy and practice: The commercialisation of the resurrection bush (Myrothamnus flabellifolius) in southern Africa.” This study aimed to uncover and understand the way in which benefit sharing and environmental sustainability are interpreted and implemented in different resurrection bush commercialisation approaches in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Increasing commercial interest in the resurrection bush for its cosmetic, medicinal and horticultural potential has led to the growth of a variety of enterprises across southern Africa. Several products are based on the traditional use of the plant by a range of indigenous and local communities in the region, while others are linked to intensive research and development programmes to investigate novel biochemical compounds with little history of traditional use. Growing consumer interest in natural products has been paralleled by laws to regulate so-called access and benefit-sharing (ABS). International agreements such as the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol, as well as national laws, aim to set in place policy frameworks that ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources, as well as the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. They also aim to ensure that holders of traditional knowledge are fairly compensated for use of this knowledge in commercial applications.

Interviews with a range of key informants and harvesters were carried out to determine: the diversity of commercialisation approaches associated with the resurrection bush; the actors involved; the ways in which commercial entities gain access to resources; how benefits are shared; what measures are put in place for environmental sustainability; as well as to understand the historical and traditional uses of the plant. Key informants across the three countries included representatives from private companies, members of NGOs, and government officials.

Three commercialisation approaches were identified and analysed:
(1) Informal trade, where harvesters sell raw material directly to consumers based on informal, verbal agreements;
(2) Biotrade, where the value chain is longer, based on direct use of the plant, and consists of agreements which are more formal in nature; and
(3) Bioprospecting, where research and development of active components of the resurrection bush is paramount, involving negotiations with harvesters and formal written agreements.

Analysis of these approaches reveal a number of salient key findings. First, ABS regulations are either absent or are too restrictive, with negative impacts on harvesters and entrepreneurs alike. Where in place, ABS regulations are poorly understood and implemented, stifling economic opportunities. Although local benefits are potentially significant, these have not been optimised, with most value-adding taking place outside of harvesting areas. Second, many commercial entities do not fully acknowledge traditional knowledge holders for their innovations and creativity, despite such knowledge informing their commercialisation of the resource and guiding the development of their product. Finally, despite efforts to ensure the sustainable use and harvesting of the resurrection bush, long-term conservation efforts are seemingly absent in all commercialisation approaches, raising concerns for the continuity of the resource should market demands increase and harvesting activities intensify.

Photo: Mrs Matukeni, a resurrection bush farmer from Chivi District in Zimbabwe. Photographer: David Brazier (©Bio Innovation Zimbabwe).