29 C
Lagos
Saturday, February 22, 2020
Advertisement

South Africa: The Story of the Pharma Giant and the African Yam

Featured

The Impacts of Stress on Your Fertility

A color change in the pregnancy kit's strip is something most women hope for at some point in their lives. However, time and again...

Some Creative ways to Fight Migraine

Migraine can be really painful and it tends to limit your activities during attacks. It is important that you all the important facts about...

12 Types of Female Orgasm That You Should Know

We tend to think that that having an organism is not such a good idea. Then when the thought of how great one feels...

What to Do if You Fall Victim to Hospital Negligence?

Being admitted to hospital can often be a scary and daunting experience, for both the patient and their families, especially when you are waiting...

How to Reclaim Calm in a Stressed-out World

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by life in our loud, busy world? It’s not surprising. The 24-hour news cycle is full of negativity and...

How to Get Your Toddler to School Early?

Being a parent is one of the most difficult parts of life. No one seems to know it all when it comes to dealing...

3 Simple yet Effective Weight Loss Tips

You just have to stay focused and committed if you have the desire to lose weight. No one else can make you lose you...

15 Reasons to Get Off the Couch and Get Riding

Riding a bicycle is a fun way to spend time with your friends or family. It is a great way to take a trip...

5 Things You Need to Know About Life

A wise person once said that we only get to live once and this is why we should make the most of it. Life...

Dry Skin: Risk Factors and Treatments

The lacking of the natural oils on the surface of the skin results dry skin problems. You need to do conscious efforts to deal...
Avatar
Reporterhttp://healthtian.com
Reporting news worthy and other types content from media outlets from across the web. all rights belong to their respective owners. If you want your content removed email us at legal@kraftysprouts.com with the URL.

It was a drug produced in Nottingham in the United Kingdom that led us on a journey to South Africa to visit muthi markets, archives, herbariums and nature reserves.

Advertisement

We spoke with traders, healers, scholars and conservationists to learn more about Dioscorea sylvatica.

Dioscorea is a wild yam. Its name in different languages connects to its appearance – its rough skin resembles a tortoise shell. It’s known as ‘Elephant’s Foot’ in English, in isiZulu ‘ingwevu’, meaning grey/old or ‘ifudu’, meaning tortoise; in Sepedi the name is ‘Kgato’ – ‘to stamp’.

In the 1950s, the yam was heavily exploited by the British pharmaceutical firm Boots for the production of cortisone. But provincial conservation officials in South Africa fought back against the plundering of a wild plant that they recognised was in danger of being exploited to extinction.

A factory in Johannesburg

In 1949 scientists in the US announced the dramatic effects of a new drug, cortisone. It could be used to treat a variety of ailments, from arthritis to allergies to lupus and skin conditions.

They found that cortisone could be made cheaply from diosgenin, extracted from Mexican wild yam species, and began a global search for supplementary plants.

By the early 1950s, South African botanists had identified Dioscorea sylvatica as promising. Boots, a major British pharmaceutical company, was keen to develop a source of diosgenin to manufacture corticosteroid medicines and started a factory in Johannesburg in 1955 for the initial stages of processing the plant.

Systematic extraction began in the eastern and north eastern part of the country, plundering a plant used by traditional healers for muthi (traditional medicine).

These actions weren’t a direct case of ‘biopiracy’ – in the sense of an obvious and deliberate theft of indigenous knowledge for profit. Nevertheless the exploitation of this plant took place against the backdrop of the history of plant collection and export from South Africa.

Advertisement

Bioprospecting was facilitated by a longer process that involved drawing on a range of local knowledge in collection and scientific classification.

Indigenous knowledge

The conversations we had with South African traditional healers in muthi markets in Johannesburg and in Acornhoek, a rural area of Mpumalanga, brought up important questions on knowledge, ownership, plant exploitation, systems of thinking about disease and healing, and conservation.

The concept of medicine (muthi) is very different to the dominant pharmaceutical paradigm. Rather than a single drug to ‘cure’ a single disease, ill-health and treatment are understood in a more holistic way.

When we went to meet healers, we took along a piece of the yam bought from a muthi market in Johannesburg, as well as the 1950s Boots advert that had started us off on this research.

Most of the healers we met were familiar with the plant. Those who knew it described it as powerful with both topical and ritualistic uses for cleansing and protection.

The local knowledge that led to an interest in the plant from botanists and scientists is rarely recorded in any detail in archives. We were interested in how Boots in Nottingham came across a wild South African yam as a starting point for the manufacture of cortisone.

The UK connection

From our limited conversations with traditional healers and looking at botanical records, it is clear that medicinal yams were known and used across many different South African communities well before the steroid industry took an interest.

However, interest in Dioscorea in the 1950s was triggered by US research on Mexican wild yams and a global search for similar plants.

Advertisement

A South African botanist recorded in the 1910s that the plant was used by African people for its saponins with medical properties. A wider range of uses were mentioned in The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern Africa, first published in 1932.

In a 1950s report on their collection for Boots’ South African collaborators Biochemico, there is a brief reference to local knowledge:

The actual digging was done by locals who need no more training than to be shown an “ingwevu” plant (which the vast majority in that area know in any case) and the size of the tuber required.

The digging referred to here is the extraction of about 6,000 tonnes of wild yams. This was only curtailed when the plant population became endangered and South African government conservationists stopped exploitation.

Natal Parks Boards officers were uneasy about mass exploitation of a wild plant and attempted to enforce strict conditions.

By 1960, they succeeded in terminating permits and Boots ceased production of South African diosgenin. This was a significant case for a fledgling provincial conservation authority.

The protection of plants such as D. sylvatica attracted little public attention and it is not a well-known story, but this episode was important in developing institutions and strategies for plant protection and state conservation more generally.

Future protection

Healers in South Africa seem to be well aware of their position – carriers of traditional knowledge that could be lost, but also protectors of knowledge they fear will be exploited for profit with no benefit for them or their communities.

Some have worked with campaigners and legal teams to test and record the efficacy of traditional plant medicines, and to prove existing knowledge, to gain recognition that could lead to greater government protection.

Advertisement

A landmark case in 2003 saw the South African San Council sign a benefit sharing agreement with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for the use of Hoodia as an appetite suppressant and diet drug.

The legal struggle led by the San Council was eventually successful and influenced subsequent legislation on indigenous knowledge and benefit sharing.

For the Elephant’s Foot yam it’s 70 years too late. But it has a lot of stories to tell.

Rebecca Beinart, an artist and researcher, accompanied the author – her father – and contributed to the research for this article.

This is the fifth article in a series on drug regimes in southern Africa. They are based on research done for a special edition for the South African Historical Journal. Read the full paper over here.

William Beinart, Professor, University of Oxford

Source: AllAfrica.com

More articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Trending now

Eating Vaginal Discharge and It’s Health Benefits

For many people, vaginal discharge is a sign that a woman is ready and willing to have sex. Vaginal fluid is a whitish fluid...

Genital Warts: Do They Go Away Naturally? What to Expect?

Human Papilloma Virus is the causative organism for genital warts. The virus is available in various strains, and it can be contacted by many...

Cold Water Vs Warm Water: One of Them is Damaging to Your Health

Most people reach for a cup of coffee or a cold cup of water right upon waking up. But, it turns out that in...

9 Diseases That Lemon Can Destroy!

Lemon is one of nature’s many wonders. The citrus fruit has numerous health and beauty benefits – it can reinforce the immune system, improve...

Anklet Charms and Hot Wives What Do They Mean?

Women all over the world love to accessorise. From putting on necklaces to wearing makeup and buying the latest trending clothes, women are ready...

10 Male Celebs Who Love to Give Oral Sex

Eating the vagina, giving head, or doing it the southern style. However, you choose to call "eating the cake" as some rappers tag it,...

Kinky Sex Punishment Ideas You Should Try

Is your submissive being a spoilt little brat? Are you noticing some unwanted behaviour? Do not be dismayed. Sometimes subs can be naughty, and...

Fun Foods for Camping

Cooking can be the biggest part of the fun you have while out camping. Your appetite will absolutely open up once you are in...

7 Standing Sex Positions

Sex is more appealing when you do it in various ways and in many different places altogether. The best way to achieve his is...

Is Zobo Drink Healthy for Pregnant Women?

Zobo drink is a popular drink in Nigeria and it is loved by many; this common drink is made with hibiscus flower and it...

Friends