Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

SOUTH Africa is the 12th country worldwide — and the first this year — to ratify a legally binding international protocol aimed at safeguarding its sovereignty over its biodiversity, the Department of Environmental Affairs said on Monday.

In terms of the number of endemic species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, South Africa is ranked by the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Convention on Biodiversity as the fifth-richest country in Africa and the 24th richest in the world.

"I am pleased to congratulate South Africa, the first mega-diverse country in Africa to ratify the Nagoya Protocol," said the convention’s executive secretary, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias.

In ratifying the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits from Their Utilisation, South Africa joins Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, India, Jordan, Laos, Mauritius, Mexico, Panama, Rwanda and the Seychelles, according to the Department of Environmental Affairs. Ratification was completed on January 10.

South Africa occupies only 2% of the Earth’s surface area but is home to nearly 10% of the world’s plants (about 24,000 species), roughly 7% of the world’s vertebrate species and about 5,5% of the world’s known insect species (only about half of the latter have been described).

It is one of the first countries to regulate the protection and use of indigenous biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. In April 2008, regulations for bioprospecting, access and benefit sharing came into effect.

The National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act 2004 makes it illegal for "bioprospectors" to obtain any extracts from indigenous fauna or flora for commercial use without a permit. The Department of Environmental Affairs has issued nine bioprospecting permits.

"South Africa will be greatly assisted by the provisions of the protocol as it strongly encourages user countries to respect and ensure compliance with the national legislation, policies and procedures of the provider countries," Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said.