South Africa sustainable herb cultivation project now underway
Based on the remarkable first-year success of Herb Research Foundation's
Malian hibiscus-growing project, a similar venture has been initiated
in South Africa. The project combines the resources and expertise of
HRF, the Agricultural Research Council of the South African Ministry
of Agriculture (ARC), and the US Agency for International Development
(USAID), who have teamed up to develop agribusiness opportunities in
South Africa for crops for which an established market already exists.
The explosive growth in the worldwide botanicals market, coupled with
the changing political atmosphere and favorable growing conditions in
South Africa, lay the groundwork for a cultivation project that promises
to mutually benefit the people and economies of both South Africa and
the United States. As with the Malian hibiscus project and other work
HRF has carried out in collaboration with USAID, the ultimate goal is
to help develop sustainable businesses throught the environmentally
and socially conscious production of herbs.
On a recent trip to South Africa, HRF President Rob McCaleb and representatives
from ARC and USAID visited the Northern, Eastern and Western Cape Provinces
and the KwaZuluNatal Province to identify appropriate regions for growing
specific crops. "This is a vast country with an astonishing range
of climates, from hot and arid to humid and rainy," said McCaleb.
Test crops will be planted in September, at the start of the growing
season in South Africa.
At present, there is little or no cultivation of medicinal herbs in
South Africa. Sustainable herb cultivation offers small farmers in South
Africa the opportunity to create a profitable niche for themselves in
a highly competitive market. Small farmers are currently at a disadvantage,
as they lack the resources to compete in the well-established fruit,
flower, and vegetable markets now dominated by large producers. Sustainable
herb cultivation can bolster local rural economies and improve quality
of life for thousands of disadvantaged families. Because of its location
in the southern hemisphere, South Africa also has a rare opportunity
to become one of the only producers of off-season herbal raw materials,
which would be available at a time when world market prices are at their
An additional project goal is to protect and preserve native South African
plants and the traditional healing system of South Africa by identifying
and cultivating regional medical plants now endangered by overcollection.
Currently, at least 60% of the South African population relies exclusively
on traditional plant-based medicine for primary health care. Most, if
not all, of these plant medicines are gathered from the wild. Now, displaced
rural people who are emigrating to urban areas such as Cape Town and
Johannesburg no longer have access to the traditional folk medicines
which have formed much of the basis of their self-care.
At the same time, the increasing demand for wild South African medicinal
plants for export and domestic use has created great environmental pressure
on local plant populations. This situation has forced the closing of
some areas to collection, further increasing the pressure on other areas.
Exhaustion of botanical resources presents a threat not only to the
environmental well-being and biodiversity of South Africa, but would
result in the elimination of the traditional medicinal system on which
such a large proportion of the population depends. Identification and
cultivation of threatened plants will reduce demand on wild populations
and help preserve the South African traditional healing system by ensuring
a continued supply of native medicinal botanicals.-- Evelyn Leigh,