The Kalahari is 100,000 square miles of African desert. The San people ,the bushmen who hunt there, come from a different age.
Now, drug companies are tapping into the San's knowledge, and betting
millions that these bushmen can help the most advanced societies on
All because of the hoodia plant, which the San people have long relied on to survive.
One San hunter says "I learned it from my forefathers. It is my food, my water, my medicine."
It's medicine because a little hoodia can kill severe hunger pains and
quench the most powerful thirst. For the desert hunter it is a godsend.
Now one man's cure for hunger is turning into another's diet drug.
Phizer, the pharmaceutical giant, has invested $21 million dollars to
turn hoodia into an appetite suppressant. With 100 million westerners
dangerously overweight or obese, the market for diet drugs is billions
of dollars a year. But the San, say the people who study them, were
when told the outside world had a weight problem.
Nigel Crawhall from the South African San Institute says "Why would
anyone want to lose weight by taking the hoodia plant, because it's
meant for travelling across the desert? So people thought it was a bit
weird in the first place."
The drug's developers call the active compound in the plant P57. They
say it works by mimicking the effect glucose has on the nerve cells in
brain, in effect telling us we're full, even when we are not... thus
curbing the appetite.
P57 is still a few years from reaching the market, and there has already
been a legal battle over it. The first company to patent P57 tried to
without paying the bushmen any money. One court challenge later, the San
had an agreement: they now help cultivate the plant, and should the
come to market, their impoverished community stands to prosper.
"At first we were angry," says one San leader. "Others would get rich
and we would stay poor. Now we pray the product will succeed, and we
will all benefit."
Some of the world's hungriest people who have always had too little benefiting by helping those who have too much.