The world’s natural resources are controlled by a treaty

At the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) the world recognised the growing concern for sustainable development as well as the global value of the world’s biodiversity to present and future generations for economic and social development. From this convention the most comprehensive Multilateral Environmental Agreement came into being. This agreement covers all plant and animal species, genetic variability and all ecosystems and is a legally binding international treaty that commits all signatories to its objectives. South Africa is a signatory to this treaty and must uphold the following objectives:

  • The conservation of biological diversity
  • The sustainable use of South Africa’s biodiversity
  • The fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of our natural genetic resources.

This implies that the State has sovereign rights over South Africa’s natural resources and must regulate access to these natural genetic resources. National legislation has been put in place to govern this:

  • The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), Act 107 of 1998 and its amendments.
  • National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA), Act 10 of 2004, its amendments and regulations including the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) regulations of 2007 with amendments; the Bioprospecting, Access and Benefit-sharing regulations (BABS) of 2008 with amendments; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of 2010, and the Alien and Invasive Species (AIS)Regulations.
  • The National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Act (NEMLA) of 2011 and 2013.
  • The provincial statutes applicable to each province.

How to obtain legal permits to collect South Africa’ natural genetic material

The South African biosystematics community is required to obtain legal permits from a variety of authorities (not from the South African National Biodiversity Institute – SANBI) to collect natural genetic resources/ biological material/ specimens for research and keep natural science collections. The current permitting system in South Africa is highly complex and fragmented, making the acquisition of the correct permits very challenging.

These web pages are an attempt to guide prospective collectors/ researchers to make contact with the relevant issuing authorities to ensure that they obtain all the necessary permission and permits before any collection of natural genetic resources/ biological material/ specimens takes place.

Who to contact for different types of research or activities that require permits:

Research/activities for bioprospecting

This is classified as the search for new chemical compounds and genes in living organisms that may have some pharmaceutical, cosmetic, nutritional or other commercial application obtained through the cultivation, propagation or cloning with a view to develop and produce:

  • medicine, enzymes, food flavours, fragrances, cosmetics, essential oils, colours and extracts; or for
  • the collection of traditional knowledge (TK) relating to the use of these resources from indigenous communities and/ or individuals; or for
  • the development of new plant varieties and products.

Who to contact for bioprospecting permits

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) – Please click here to obtain the contact list for the issuing authorities.

Research/activities other than bioprospecting (conducted in South Africa) and for activities involving Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS):

  • Taxonomy, conservation, phylogenetics, systematics, behaviour ecology and export of indigenous ex situ indigenous biological resources (must have an export agreement) and include collections outside their natural habitats (in herbaria, museums or in cultivations fields/gardens);
  • The keeping, breeding, cultivation, moving, trading and use of wildlife not directed at bioprospecting or the development of new plant varieties and products.

Who to contact for research/activities other than bioprospecting (conducted in South Africa):

Please click here to obtain the correct details of the issuing authorities.

The provincial or responsible issuing authorities as listed below:

  • Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA)
  • Eastern Cape Province: The Department of Finance and Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism
  • Free State Province: The Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs
  • Gauteng Province: The Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD)
  • KwaZulu-Natal Province: KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Board trading as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
  • Limpopo Province: Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET)
  • Mpumalanga Province: Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA)
  • Northern Cape Province: Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (DENC)
  • North West Province: Department of Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development (READ)
  • Western Cape Province: The Western Cape Nature Conservation Board trading as CapeNature

Note: If you are an employee of an organ of state the issuing authority for a TOPS or CITES permit would be the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) (See section 22 of NEMLA, 2013).

In addition, the following institutions must be contacted should you wish to collect genetic resources/biological material/specimens in any of the national parks or forestry areas under their jurisdiction:

  • Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)
  • Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS)
  • Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA)
  • North West Parks and Tourism Board
  • South African National Parks (SANParks)

Please note that you need to comply with another important condition before collecting genetic resources/biological material/specimens:

Written permission must be obtained from local authorities, private or corporate landowners or communities of any property in South Africa.

A landowner is seen as a person, any organ of state, corporation or community that owns land within the South African borders or a person authorised to give permission on behalf of a landowner to enter a property belonging to the landowner.

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