Some of the strides made by the Rooibos industry in transitioning towards a greener, more sustainable sector are as follows:
The industry and those who have been involved with it over many years, have a deep understanding and respect for the relationship between the Rooibos plant and its environment. To protect the Fynbos biome in the Cederberg – the only region in the world where Rooibos is farmed – the industry has worked alongside government and NGOs to establish the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor (GCBC) to preserve the area’s unique biodiversity. Approximately, 70 406 ha is now under conservation through stewardship agreements and a further 282 953 ha is under voluntary agreements with the biodiversity and business projects in the Rooibos and other agricultural industries.
Farmers have also adopted best practice farming methods through crop rotation, the use of Integrated Pest Management Techniques (IPM) and decreased use of chemicals. As Rooibos is connected to nature, it is also connected to the people of the Cederberg and improved, and stable working conditions remain a strong focus of the industry.
Farmers and processors realise the importance of holistically looking at the interaction between the environment, the Cederberg community and business sustainability within the industry, as well as participation in third-party sustainable certification, which incorporate all of these aspects. Fairtrade, UTZ- and Rainforest Alliance certification™, gives consumers the assurance that Rooibos has been sourced in a way that is better for producers and the environment. The certification means that farms have met the environmental, social and economic standards of both the Fairtrade International, UTZ and the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), which cover ecosystem conservation, worker rights and safety, wildlife protection, water and soil conservation, agrochemical reduction, decent housing, legal wages and contracts for farmworkers.
In addition to the many charities and community upliftment initiatives that the Rooibos industry has established and supports, it has also signed an Access and Benefit-sharing (ABS) agreement with the Khoi-Khoi and San, represented by the National Khoi and San Council (NKC) and the San Council of South Africa (SCSA), which allow the Khoi-Khoi and San communities (as the first people to live in the Rooibos growing area) to benefit from the sale of Rooibos.
It is the first agreement of its kind in the world – both in terms of the interpretation and application of the Nagoya Protocol and aims to share benefits with identified communities.
The accord is regarded as an important milestone in the history of global governance for the preservation of genetic biodiversity, associated knowledge and poverty relief.
The fact that Rooibos only grows in the world’s largest Fynbos biome, makes it a unique and sought-after product, as can be seen in the steady interest from and growth in the market, increasingly positioning Rooibos as a high-value agricultural product from South Africa.
It’s not only Rooibos’ health benefits that makes it highly desirable, but also its versatility. Apart from tea, it is used in multiple applications, ranging from beauty products and nutraceuticals to alcoholic drinks, confectionery and everyday foodstuffs, such as yoghurt and cereal.
By its inclusion in the Geographical Indication Protocol of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the European Union (EU), Rooibos is also protected as a GI in the EU. In addition, the European Commission also approved the registration of Rooibos in its register of protected designations of origin (PDO) this week. A GI and PDO links a product to a specific geographical area, which indicates the origin of where the product is produced, processed or prepared. This means that the word ‘Rooibos’ or ‘Red Bush’ can only be used for Rooibos tea imported from the Western Cape region.
The PDO logo is well-recognised by consumers in Europe and will allow local producers of Rooibos to market the tea better in the EU.
Vorster says the ability to produce unique products, with real and unique customer value propositions will give manufacturers and branders an edge. “Extensive research into Rooibos’ benefits is also likely to lead to new health applications, broadening the market and scope for the industry.”
An estimated 5 000 farmworkers are employed by the Rooibos sector and additional employment is created in upstream activities, such as processing, packaging and retailing.
On average, about 14 000 tons of Rooibos are produced every year, of which half is consumed locally, while the rest is exported to more than 30 countries across the globe. Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, UK and the US are currently the biggest importers of the tea.
Going forward, the Rooibos industry aims to:
- reduce its carbon footprint;
- maintain valuable partnerships for sustainability with Fairtrade International, UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, GCBC, C.A.P.E etc;
- protect Rooibos as a unique and valuable product for the people of South Africa;
- continue to contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of no poverty, health and well-being, responsible production, reduced inequality, economic growth etc.
“While enormous strides have been made to make the Rooibos tea chain more sustainable, we can always do more, and we will build on the foundation we have to continue working on all three dimensions of sustainability: environmental, economic and social, while also taking the Agenda 2030 Sustainability Development Goals into account.
“As our sustainability journey continues to gain momentum, we are encouraging other industries and the public to also play their part in preserving the environment and building a green economy in which all can thrive,” remarks Vorster.