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Over the past two years, HRF has been working with the Africa Bureau of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop a test crop of hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) in Mali, West Africa, one of the world's poorest nations. During his five-week trip to Africa last fall, HRF president Rob McCaleb was able to see for himself the positive impact that HRF's hibiscus growing project has had on the lives of hundreds of Malian farmers, their families, and their communities. The project has provided a source of much needed training and income for more than 1,000 people, who were able to improve cultivation and processing methods to meet strict international standards for quality and cleanliness of the hibiscus crop.
Hibiscus, one of America's most popular tea ingredients, was chosen for the project because it is easy to cultivate, has excellent market potential, and can provide a good return without major capital investment. The success of the project has surpassed expectations on many levels. "Our primary goal was to help the farmer," said McCaleb. "The secondary goal was to improve the quality of the product, which also helps the farmer." HRF introduced an inexpensive, easy-to-make hand tool that greatly increased the efficiency of harvest and handling. Faster processing resulted in a better quality product, which in turn commanded a higher price on both the local and international markets.
This year, the project involved 280 farmers practicing subsistence farming in remote areas of the Niger River Valley. Next year, project participants hope to produce twice as much hibiscus, involving more farms and twice as many people as last year. Right now, HRF is inviting herb companies interested in socially and environmentally conscious herb development to support the project. Companies can participate by contracting with farmers to grow herbs, by agreeing to purchase crops, or by providing technical assistance, seeds, specifications, or funding.
In the future, herbs promise to be one of the most valuable cash crops for hundreds of farming families in the Niger River Valley, as well as a source of high quality, organically grown herbs for the worldwide botanicals market. Thanks to the Africa Bureau of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the agribusiness consulting firm Ronco, and Celestial Seasonings for their support of this important project.
Plans to undertake a similar growing project in South Africa are now underway. Three main challenges exist in South Africa: to help protect wild plant populations through cultivation of over-collected species used in traditional medicine, to foster regional production of traditional herbal remedies, and to develop cash crops for low-income farmers. HRF's goal is to work with disadvantaged farmers on growing projects that will generate income from herbal cash crops as well as provide improved access to low cost botanical medicine. Other participants in the South African growing project include USAID and The Rural Foundation, a South African nonprofit group. HRF News, Spring, 1997.
Your help makes a world of difference to impoverished Africans struggling to survive and prosper. Herb growing projects like this one improve lives -- by boosting the local economy through earth-friendly, sustainable agriculture, and by providing the community with better low-cost health care. You will also be promoting a major source of pesticide-free botanicals for your own herbal products.
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