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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 March, 2003, 23:56 GMT
S African bushmen hail drug deal
San (bushmen) family
The San people said the agreement was a "joyous moment"
South Africa's indigenous San peoples have signed a deal ensuring they will profit from a diet drug being developed from a plant they have used for generations.

Under the terms of the agreement, the San people will receive regular fees as the drug - developed from a plant used to suppress the appetite - passes various stages on the way to market.

They will also receive a proportion of the royalties if and when it becomes commercially available, which could be in as little as five years.

The San people hailed the agreement as a "joyous moment".

"In the past, it used to be the norm to exploit their knowledge and culture but today is an example of how things have changed," said Kxao Moses, chairman of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa.

Harnessing knowledge

The San people, who number about 100,000 and who originate in the region of the Kalahari desert in south-west Africa, have used a plant called hoodia to suppress hunger pangs on long hunting trips for generations.

But although Western scientists became aware of the plant's potential 100 years ago, it was only recently that its active ingredient - P57 - was patented by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Subsequently, a British biotechnology company, Phytopharm, and the pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer acquired the rights to its development and commercialisation as an anti-obesity drug for use in the West.

Now the San people, in the first deal of its kind, will be rewarded for the development of a drug which makes use of their traditional knowledge.

At the signing of the agreement in Andriesvale, a small town in the Kalahari desert in South Africa's Northern Cape province, South African Minister of Arts and Culture Ben Ngubane said the deal symbolised "the restoration of the dignity of indigenous societies".

"The responsibility that comes from playing in the field of biodiversity, arguable Africa's richest asset, is not slight," he said.

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