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Benefits slow to bud from SA’s indigenous knowledge

A senior South African science official has bemoaned the funding shortfalls that he says are stopping the country from reaping rewards from its indigenous knowledge.

Ankh Chabalala, the head of the indigenous knowledge division of the Department of Science and Technology, made the remarks during a multi-department briefing at Parliament in Cape Town on 17 August.

Chabalala told national MPs that the DST had identified eight pharmaceutical candidate products derived from traditional medicine, half of which target HIV/Aids.

But, he added, the three that are ready for clinical trials have stagnated due to a lack of funding. “If there is no uptake of the technology in terms of funding, all these initiatives are actually starting to collapse,” he said.

Chabalala said the DST needed R50 million (US$3.5m) for a single clinical trial, and his division has only R4m available.

Frustratingly, funding constraints have also prevented the DST from setting up infrastructure for processing indigenous knowledge, he added.

“The communities become despondent, they become angry. They feel that you come in drip by drip and then you pull out,” he said.

Chabalala said that 10 neutroceuticals–nutritionally enhanced foodstuffs–were under development, including an instant noodle product fortified with the morogo plant.

Morogo is also known as African spinach and is said to be high in protein and other nutrients. The project is carried out in cooperation with food giant Nestle.

However, Chabalala admitted that the DST is struggling to leverage funding from companies for IKS research.

In the same sitting, DST officials said they were working on plans for degrees and qualifications for traditional medicine practitioners in collaboration with universities and the South African Qualifications Authority.

The government’s Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems bill was tabled in the National Assembly on 12 April and is pending approval. It will then need to be approved by the National Council of Provinces before it can be signed into law by president Jacob Zuma.