The South African government is moving to finalise the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Bill which seeks to give accreditation to indigenous medicines and traditional medical practitioners.

In a bid to change the food and health industries, at least 50 products have been researched and tested in laboratories and are ready for commercial production.

Even though South Africa is not a party to an international protocol or have a treaty in place, it is aiming for the international market and is guided by sustainability and equitable benefits.

Carol Van Wyk, the Director for Knowlege Management at the Department of Science and Technology, said: “I have to step back a little and talk about how knowledge has been taken out of the communities without them benefiting from the knowledge.

“So basically the Bill will make provisions for that through registering the knowledge and acknowledging that they are the original owners and that they can also participate as partners within the knowledge economy and with private industry.”

Opponents of the Bill say the private sector is poised to manipulate indigenous knowledge under the proposed law. The Chairman of the Traditional and Natural Health Alliance of South Africa, Anthony Rees, said: “We are talking about big pharmaceutical companies which are lining up in South Africa to exploit intellectual property of the traditional healers.

“We believe that a lot of the traditional knowledge is not going to be caught by this legislation and it is going to be exploited by foreign interests.”