Rooibos, which is exclusively farmed in the Cederberg and Sandveld areas of the Western Cape of South Africa is fast becoming one of the most attractive agricultural products to invest in.

Nicie Vorster, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council (SARC) says increasingly, the world is counting on agriculture to produce more nutritious food, and Rooibos fits the mould.

“Major Rooibos markets view the tea as a premium healthy lifestyle product and promote it in its pure and unblended form, which health-conscious consumers want more of. The increased emphasis on health and well-being globally is fuelling a revival and preference for experiences and products that promote wellness. These days, consumers are placing far more value on health, such as using devices and apps to encourage exercise, consuming organic and natural foods, taking health supplements, etc more than ever before, and it’s a trend that will continue well into the future.

“It’s not only Rooibos’ health benefits that makes it highly sought-after, but also its versatility. Apart from enjoying it as a hot or cold beverage – whether plain or flavoured, Rooibos is used in multiple other applications, ranging from beauty products and nutraceuticals to alcoholic drinks, confectionary and everyday foodstuffs, such as yoghurt and cereal. Every year, we are seeing new and exciting innovations in the Rooibos category as entrepreneurs and branders experiment with the product,” he says.

The current area planted under Rooibos is at a record high of 57 000ha – almost double that of a decade ago as more farmers, especially those in the Swartland region, have cleared existing farmland to make way for Rooibos. The increasing agricultural footprint of Rooibos demonstrates the growing demand – both locally and internationally – for our homegrown brew.

The sector is also attracting more growers, especially grain farmers who are looking to diversify, since Rooibos is a hardy, dry land crop which is generally less affected by drought when compared to other rain dependent crops.

Vorster says Rooibos farmers took various steps to proactively manage supply in the face of the severe drought that plagued the Western Cape over the past few years, by implementing more sustainable farming practices, removing water-thirsty alien invasive plants in the vicinity of fields and limiting pest and disease outbreaks.

“Even though Rooibos farmers are accustomed to periods of drought, since the region is considered a semi-desert, harvests are not immune to the effects of climate change. Yet, based purely on the average rainfall for the past year, we should see an improvement in crop size in 2019,” says Vorster.

Some more good news includes government’s recent approval to raise the Clanwilliam Dam wall by 13 meters. The move will treble the dam’s storage capacity and provide farmers in the area with a more secure water supply. Construction on the project commenced last month and should take about five years to complete.

The Rooibos industry currently employs an estimated 8 000 farmworkers and additional employment is created in upstream activities, such as processing, packaging and retailing.

According to the SARC, South Africa holds a competitive advantage in a number of fruit and beverage sectors, including Rooibos, which if fully exploited, could place the country amid the top export producers of high-value agricultural products.

About half (between 6 000 and 7 000 tonnes) of Rooibos is consumed locally, while the balance is exported to more than 30 countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, the UK and US.