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8.1 Institutions involved and their respective roles
8.2 Policy support
8.3 Regulatory and control mechanisms
8.4 Peoples participation
8.5 Research
8.6 Product development
8.7 Market information systems
8.8 Education and training (capacity building)
8.9 Extension services

Support for indigenous medicine marketing is limited in KwaZulu-Natal and in South Africa as a whole. There has been little recognition of the potential benefits of indigenous medicine practice and trade by both government and formal business. Most of the actions focused towards indigenous medicine have generally attempted to limit the perceived negative aspects of the trade. Consequently, the industry has remained largely informal and undeveloped, despite being an industry of considerable size, economic value and cultural importance.

8.1 Institutions involved and their respective roles

In KwaZulu-Natal there is only one organization which focuses exclusively on supporting the marketing of indigenous medicine. The KwaZulu-Natal Herb and Traditional African Medicines Traders Association was established in 1976 by traders of Asian descent, to support their activities in marketing indigenous plants for medicine and to deal as a unified group with the conservation authorities which regularly tried to limit their medicinal plant trading activities [Govender pers. comm. 1996]. The association played a prominent role in the industry for over a decade while the shop traders dominated the trade in medicinal plants. This organization has however declined in market power as the street traders have captured an increasing share of the market.

There are a range of other organizations which indirectly support the marketing of medicinal plants in KwaZulu-Natal, and include indigenous healers organizations, a union, research institutes, and local and provincial government departments.

There are at least ten healers organizations in KwaZulu-Natal which serve the interests of their members. However, these organizations focus on providing accreditation for the practising healers, and seldom concern themselves with the business of trade and marketing. Accreditation does, however, lend respectability to the healers and this helps in their practice. There is, however, aggressive competition between healers organizations, limiting their potential role to serve the industry.

The provincial health authorities are currently developing a Traditional Healers Council, which they hope will promote a more professional healing practice [Baloyi pers. comm. 1997]. This council could help in reducing poor practice and could reverse negative perceptions of the indigenous medicine industry, and in turn support medicinal plant marketing.

At the local government level, Durban City has been active in trying to develop a more hygienic traditional medicine marketing system in the city street markets [Robinson pers. comm. 1997]. The City Health Department has been trying to improve the standard of health in trading and healing practice. Traders have been encouraged to clean their packaging and healers are trained to reduce the threat of epidemiological infections through the sterilization of various instruments, especially blades [Mkhize pers. comm. 1997]. Furthermore, the Health Department has successfully established the Traditional Healers Umbrella Body, an organization that draws together the various healers organizations and other interested parties in the industry. The Informal Trade and Small Business Department of Durban City has been working towards the establishment of a traditional medicines market, thereby reducing the need to trade on the street pavements [Botha pers. comm. 1997]. Construction of a market, specifically for indigenous medicine, commenced in 1997.

Durban City has also been at the forefront of promoting the cultivation of indigenous medicinal plants. In 1980 the City Parks Department recognized the problem of dwindling plant supplies and established Silverglen Medicinal Nursery [Symmonds pers. comm. 1997]. They have pioneered the propagation of numerous high value medicinal species and provide an important resource for propagation stock for the province, thereby promoting the availability of plants for trade.

The Self-Employed Women's Union (SEWU) has also developed in recent years to support women in informal trade. This organization does not concern itself with marketing development, but rather focuses on issues facing gatherers in the market [Xaba pers. comm. 1997]. This organization is currently involved in trying to resolve the issue of accommodation and retail outlets for women trading in the Durban streets.

The Warwick Avenue Street Committee has developed in the last year to address concerns facing the various healers and gatherers trading in the largest street market (Russel Street market) in Durban and the province [Dube pers. comm. 1997].

The Natal Parks Board has recently initiated a number of projects to promote the cultivation of medicinal plants by healers. However, the Board also undertakes a law enforcement role which limits the trade in wild plants in the short term, but promotes the plant trade in the long term.

The Institute of Natural Resources is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that has, amongst other activities, been promoting the cultivation of medicinal plants (since the 1980s) by small-scale farmers, healers, commercial farmers, government departments, other NGOs and conservation agencies. Information developed as a result of research into the markets and production of medicinal plants have been used in various forms to advocate cultivation programmes with stakeholders in the province and further afield.

8.2 Policy support

There is little formal policy at present specifically supporting the marketing of indigenous medicinal plants at a national and provincial level. In KwaZulu-Natal there is policy support at the local government level, with Durban City promoting the production of medicinal plants and the construction of a market for the street traders, while the Pietermaritzburg City Council is promoting the production of medicinal plants. At the provincial government level, the Natal Parks Board is promoting the cultivation of medicinal plants.

There are several indirect policy initiatives which may support the marketing of indigenous medicinal plants by attempting to improve the standard of indigenous medicine practice.

There are also initiatives at a national level to control bioprospecting and to ensure that the benefits of prospecting are somehow directed back to indigenous healers [Wynberg pers. comm. 1997]. Some of these benefits may be translated into supporting the marketing of medicinal plants.

8.3 Regulatory and control mechanisms

There are several local, provincial, national and international regulatory and control mechanisms which influence the marketing of indigenous medicinal plants. However, most of these mechanisms limit rather than support the marketing of plants.

At a local level, there are restrictions governing general trading activities in urban and rural areas. Municipal by-laws (1995), the Businesses Act (1991) and tribal regulations determine when and where products may be traded. These regulations and the degree to which they are applied vary between different areas. In South Africa, the change in government from a Eurocentric to an Afrocentric approach has promoted informal trading and along with it, the trade in indigenous plants.

At the provincial level there is the Nature Conservation Ordinance which places strict limitations on the trade in indigenous plant species. The control system functions by placing a blanket restriction on the trade of most important trade species, with the opportunity for exemptions to be negotiated with the authorities [Snyman pers. comm. 1997]. The legislation is generally directed at limiting trade rather than supporting the marketing of plants.

Plant species are either classified as controlled, protected and specially protected species [McKean and Scott-Shaw pers. comm. 1997] (see Appendix 2). Protected and specially protected species may not be traded, imported and exported without permits. However, most of the current traders do not have permits. Eight of the top ten species traded are illegal to harvest and purchase without authorization permits, and 23 of the top 70 trade products contain either protected or specially protected species. These restrictions also apply to protected plants imported into the province from neighbouring countries such as Mozambique and Swaziland. The importing agency would require an export permit from the country of origin before the plants' importation would be allowed by the provincial conservation authorities.

Any trade in protected species requires that the conservation authority be satisfied that the plants are obtained from legitimate sources, such as nurseries. As all previous legislation has largely focused on stopping trade, it is likely that there will be a period of extensive negotiations and evaluations before a procedure is developed to manage the use of species from legal sources.

Also at the provincial level the proposed Healers Council and its accreditation procedures are likely to promote a more responsible practice and promote the sustainability of the indigenous medicine industry in the long term. However, in the short term, controls may restrict the number of accredited practitioners.

At a national level, the Medicines Control Council (MCC) is a major role player in the regulation of any medicines produced and traded [Folb pers. comm. 1997]. Any product which is sold with either a stated or implicit medical purpose, has to satisfy the MCC standards regarding safety, efficacy and quality [Gericke pers. comm. 1997]. The establishment of standards is likely to promote long-term sustainability in industry, however the costs of testing products and meeting the MCC's required standards, may prohibit all but the largest drug companies from marketing products legally. The MCC could therefore be a major limitation in the low-cost production and marketing of these medicinal plants.

In practice, the MCC has not focused on indigenous medicine, however, it is legally bound to do so should it receive any complaints from the public [Gericke pers. comm. 1997]. There is currently a dualism in the application of regulations between western (and other medicines) and indigenous medicine. This would probably change if large-scale production of indigenous medicines took place in more formal (and easier to control) establishments. The legislation could be used by large manufacturers with resources to limit the activities of potential competitors which do not have the resources to do extensive testing and 'high tech' production.

The MCC is, however, in the process of reviewing the sphere of 'folk' medicine, with a view to taking a more lenient approach. This review is expected to be completed in the next two to three years [Gericke pers. comm. 1997].

Internationally, there are also controlling mechanisms which promote and limit trade. South Africa's affiliation to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) will limit restrictions on trade in plants, while on the other hand the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will limit the trade of scarce species [Newton pers. comm. 1997]. There are also phytosanitary controls which theoretically limit the movement of plant products into South Africa from neighbouring states.

In summary, there are few mechanisms which in reality support the marketing of indigenous plants in South Africa. There are, however, numerous controls which are designed to reduce the trade in indigenous plants but these are not implemented effectively at present due the informal nature of the medicine trade. These controls are likely to present significant stumbling blocks for any emergent commercial enterprises which may develop in a more formal way.

8.4 Peoples participation

The indigenous medicine industry has been largely dominated by the participation of individuals or micro-enterprises and only recently have large commercial enterprises entered the market. The industry can therefore be considered as a peoples' industry where the 'small man' or woman, have been the key role players. There are approximately 16 000 gatherers in KwaZulu-Natal, most of them being women (Section, with another 8 000 to 16 000 people practising as healers in the province (Section

There has been little collaboration by this group to address their common interests in the market. One group, the Self-Employed Women's Union, has emerged and does go some way to promote the interests of women in the industry. The support for this group is however not unanimous, with many women preferring to operate as individuals.

8.5 Research

8.5.1 Research in marketing

A survey of work being undertaken in the sphere of indigenous plant use in southern Africa [Hale et al. 1995] indicated that there were some 179 projects focusing on various aspects indigenous medicine in South Africa. The major foci of workers was chemical/pharmacological analysis (35% of projects) and the identification of uses (20% of projects) (see Table 8.1). Interestingly, the important aspects of trade, such as trade patterns, economics, legal issues and communication, together only constitute 6% of all the projects. The preponderance of chemical screening and identification projects indicates the strong bias of workers towards micro-components of the trade, while the low percentage focusing on trade issues indicates that understanding the system of medicinal plant trade is not a priority for most workers.

The implications of this bias is that most efforts and investments (private and state funds) are being directed at identifying potential opportunities for either individuals or a limited number of beneficiaries. On the other hand, there is little effort and investment in promoting the development of the current market players (who are generally the least well off in the community) and in improving the quality of medicinal plant products currently consumed by many millions of people.

Since 1995, there have been several initiatives which have gone some way to address the imbalance discussed above. Important research in marketing and product development is discussed in the following sub-sections.

Table 8.1: Project activities and their relative numbers [Hale, Bunker and De Beer 1995]

Project activities

Number of projects

Chemical and pharmacological analysis/screening


Identification and recording of uses


Horticulture and cultivation




Conservation and harvesting




Trade analysis




Communication facilitation


Legal concerns


Economic analysis




8.5.1 Research in marketing

In terms of support for marketing of medicinal plants, there has been limited but significant research in the last few years.

The Institute of Natural Resources (INR) initiated market research in the late 1980s, with a report produced by Tony Cunningham [1988] focusing on the medicinal plant trade in KwaZulu-Natal, the implication of the trade, and management options for addressing issues in the trade. Following on from this work, the INR undertook small-scale cultivation trials for selected species and initiated a suite of projects looking at the economics of cultivating indigenous medicinal plants for markets, including the potential yields of cultivated plants, the costs of producing such plants, and a market survey (being this study). The INR has also investigated the trade in medicinal plants (and animals) at a national level, compiling a data base of the species used, including relevant market and conservation information.

The Botany Department at the University of the Witwatersrand has been investigating the trade in medicinal plants in the Gauteng province and the production potential of selected species, with a view of assessing the sustainability of harvesting wild populations [Williams pers. comm. 1997].

8.6 Product development

There are numerous initiatives throughout South Africa which are focusing on the identification and understanding of phytochemicals, an important first step in product development. However, most of the real product development is happening within a small number of pharmaceutical companies. The leading company, South African Druggists, is focusing on developing products for the indigenous medicine trade, while most other research initiatives are focusing on products for more sophisticated medicine markets [Gericke pers. comm. 1997].

The Pharmacology Department at the University of Cape Town has initiated a project called TRAMED, which has focused on the development of a large database containing phytochemical information [Folb pers. comm. 1997] and will assist in reducing repetitive research.

The Department of Pharmacy at the University of the Western Cape is in the process of documenting the formulae of indigenous medicines to create a pharmacopoeia of traditional medicine [Eagles pers. comm. 1997]. This will help standardize the application of medicines, promote the retail of more self-medication and increase the safety of indigenous medicines dispensed.

The National Botanical Institute is currently developing a national medicinal plants data base which will include a range of data useful for the medicinal plant industry in the future [Crouch pers. comm. 1997].

A large number of university botany departments throughout South Africa has been researching the propagation of important medicinal species which provide valuable information for future cultivation initiatives.

At present there is no product development taking place which supports the current market players and promotes the welfare of current users. This leads to a situation where the knowledge of the current market players is being used to promote the interests of new and sophisticated entrants to the market, with little returns to the current market players.

8.7 Market information systems

The market information systems are undeveloped in the indigenous medicine trade. Most of the information sharing that takes place is via direct communication in the market place. The shop traders and wholesale/mail-order company will however communicate their needs to each other via the telephone or by post. There is little public access to market information, and most information is passed between individuals making a deal. Over- and under-supply occur frequently within the market.

8.8 Education and training (capacity building)

There are few opportunities for training and capacity building for small-scale producers in KwaZulu-Natal. Silverglen Medicinal Nursery offers short courses to healers, gatherers, and interested public to train in the propagation of medicinal species. This training is currently being expanded to incorporate low input farming techniques, which can be utilized by the majority of people active in the industry. The Institute of Natural Resources has produced a handbook on the cultivation of 31 of the most popular medicinal species in eastern South Africa, and this is being distributed by a number institutions for education and training purposes.

There are currently no opportunities in KwaZulu-Natal for small-scale growers/producers to be trained in the marketing of either medicinal or conventional agricultural crops [Erskine pers. comm. 1997].

8.9 Extension services

There are few formally constituted extension programmes regarding the production of medicinal products for the indigenous medicine industry. The Institute of Natural Resources undertook a small project to encourage the cultivation of medicinal plants within a limited geographical area, and continues this on a small scale at present. The Natal Parks Board has expanded this extension programme by introducing the concept of cultivating indigenous medicinal plants into their nature conservation extension programme. As a result there are several small initiatives throughout the province, especially in communities associated with protected areas.

The Department of Agriculture has a large number of extension officers in the province, who with appropriate training and support, could promote the development of the medicinal plant industry in the region.

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