South Africa has become the 12th country globally, and the first in 2013, to ratify the international Nagoya Protocol to protect the country's biological diversity and associated traditional knowledge.
The protocol is a legally binding agreement which sets out how countries can access each other's resources and how the benefits should be shared.
It also "provides for measures to regulate and facilitate access to and the utilisation of the indigenous fauna and flora of a country, as well as their associated traditional knowledge," the Department of Environmental Affairs said in a statement on Sunday.
When South Africa ratified the protocol on 10 January, it joined countries like Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, India, Mauritius, Mexico, Panama, Rwanda and the Seychelles in regulating the use of its resources and associated knowledge.
"It is indeed a pleasure for South Africa to be counted among the first 50 countries that will contribute to the early entry into force of the protocol," said Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.
According to Molewa, South Africa ranks among the world's most biologically diverse countries with over 24 000 plant species.
The protocol forms part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which South Africa became party to in 1995. "I am pleased to congratulate South Africa, the first mega-diverse country in Africa to ratify the Nagoya Protocol," said executive secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias.
The country's signing of the protocol follows its implementation of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act of 2004, which made it illegal to use indigenous flora or fauna commercially without a permit. Only nine bioprospecting permits have been handed out.
"South Africa will be greatly assisted by the provisions of the protocol as it strongly encourages user countries to respect and also ensure compliance with national legislation, policies and procedures of the provider countries," Molewa said.
"As both a user and provider country, South Africa considers the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing to be an important milestone in global efforts towards the balanced and effective implementation of the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity."