Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Botswana: Bushmen and their land ... and knowledge

For the second year in a row, thousands of people have signed a petition calling on the government of Botswana to give the Gana and Gwi bushmen back their land. This week, the petition will be delivered to Botswana's consulates and embassies located in the major capitals of the world.

The petition was organized by the human rights group Survival International and was signed by 100,000 people.
"The hand-in marks the second anniversary of the forced relocation of hundreds of Gana and Gwi Bushmen from their ancestral land. One year ago Survival presented the first 100 000 signatures to the Botswana government." [Miriam Ross, Survival International's spokesperson.]
Survival International asserts that the the Gana and Gwi were pushed off their land to allow for diamond exploration.
Maps from the Botswana Government's own Department of Geological Survey show a massive increase in diamonds exploration concessions on the ancestral land of the Gana and Gwi Bushmen and Bakgalagadi, just months after the government evicted them from the region.

Full colour maps of the concessions boom from the government's Department of Geological Survey can be viewed here
The government rejects this accusation.
It says exploration for minerals in the park began in the 1960s, but the only kimberlite (volcanic pipes often bearing diamonds) discovered was found to be not commercially viable.

Botswana President Festus Mogae has said: "There is neither any actual mining nor any plan for future mining inside the reserve."
The government says that it has relocated the Gana and Gwi for their own good. Here is a story that explores that idea and efforts to get the relocation order repealed.

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In a related story ... a Canadian company today announced that it has introduced a 100% Pure Hoodia Gordonii into the North American market.

Hoodia is a cactus that has been used by the San (bushmen) for thousands of years to suppress hunger and thirst. (Here is a good article on plant and its properties.) Hoodia keeps you from feeling hungry and it has no side effects. Now consider the obesity rate in the west and how much the diet industry is worth ...

... and this is where the story gets realy interetsing.

Years ago, the San told researchers from a South African institute about the benefits of Hoodia. The researchers took the plant and isolated the key molecule. They then licensed "their" findings to a British company for more research ... and that company then licensed it to pharma giant Pfizer to market ... leaving the San out of something potentially worth billions.

But this story has a happy ending because the San fought back. They wanted their fair share of the royalties from the commercialization of Hoodia ... and in March 2003, they won. You can find more on the profit-sharing agreement here.

If you want more detail about the allegations of bio-piracy and the resulting fight, go here and here.