Climate change threatens rooibos

2012-02-27 07:26
Clanwilliam - Farm workers swing their sickles through red branches, bundling them up before laying them out in the sunshine to dry.

The annual harvest at Groenkol Rooibos tea estate, in the Western Cape helps quench the world's growing thirst for "red bush" tea, but farmers fear that climate change could destroy the delicate eco-system that their crop depends on.

Annual exports of rooibos have quadrupled in the last 13 years. The tea is popular for its perceived health benefits as well as its refreshing taste and has become a trendy drink in many countries. It contains no caffeine and just a tiny amount of tannin.

But rooibos tea only grows in this region - nowhere else in the world.

"Rooibos is endemic to this area, it grows wild here and only here," said Chris Du Plessis, who runs Elandsberg Eco Tourism.

"If you go up that hill and down the other side you'll find that 90% of the plants that grow there don't grow on the other side."

Weather extremes

Very few plants can survive in the dry, sandy terrain but rooibos bushes thrive in this area, living in symbiosis with micro-organisms in the soil. Farmers have tried to grow rooibos in Australia, the US, even China - each time they've failed.

Willem Engelbrecht inherited Groenkol Rooibos Tea Estate from his father. Since taking on the farm, he's noticed distinct changes in the weather.

"Over the last 10 years, there are more and more strange things happening," said Engelbrecht.

The area already endures extreme weather conditions. The temperature drops to freezing in the winter, and reaches 48°C in the summer.

Now, summers are hotter and winters, drier. As a result, Engelbrecht has had to adapt his farming techniques.

"In the past we used to plough the soil, these days we plough less and we keep material on the soil to act as isolation, basically to preserve the moisture."

But if temperatures continue to soar, farmers like Willem will find it difficult to cope, posing risks to the R600m rooibos industry.

Climate change experts warn that the Western Cape will be hit hard over the next 100 years.

Jobs

"A plausible scenario is a further three degree temperature increase over much of this region," said Francois Engelbrecht of South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

"At the same time, this region is projected to become generally drier. So the general picture that is painted for all of the Western interior and coastal regions of South Africa is indeed not a very positive one."

But those who depend on rooibos for their livelihood are trying to remain positive. The rooibos industry is booming, with the Cederberg area producing 12 000 tons of tea a year, half of which is sold for export. That's enough to make 4.8 billion cups of tea a year.

Tea production also provides an estimated 4 500 jobs to the area, with much of the harvesting and drying done by hand.

"Rooibos is now gaining ground in a lot of countries and is grown from a very small base, so I think business can grow exponentially," said Willem Engelbrecht.

The question for farmers like Engelbrecht, is how long this boom can last, before climate change kills off their crop.
- SAPA
Read more on:    cape town  |  climate change
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
10 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Africa
 

Hottie of the day: Charlotte

Meet our hottie of the day, Charlotte. She feels sexiest after a good workout at the gym!

 
 

Men24.com

This is why guys shouldn’t be in photos
BMW drift battle: M235i vs. speedway bike
Want to start talking dirty?
And this year's Miss Bumbum title goes to...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

20% off ALL TV Series

Choose from 1000’s of the hottest TV Series . While stocks last. Shop now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Enjoy the view because as from tomorrow you are going to need to come back down to earth and join the party. In the meantime use...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.