Honeybush sustainability questioned

Sustainable harvesting of honeybush is essential, if the cost to biodiversity is to be limited. honeybushAccording to Richard Cowling of the Department of Botany at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, unsustainable veld harvesting of honeybush is currently the norm, with fynbos habitat likely to be lost as a result.

Honeybush is a part of the fynbos biome. It is known for its health benefits, in particular for countering diabetes and obesity. As such, the demand for honeybush “is growing substantially”, according to Cowling at the Fynbos Forum, held at Kirstenbosch in October. Some 200 tons are produced every year, with three quarters of that veld harvested.

Cowling said that steps should be taken now to prevent those mistakes made in the rooibos tea industry. Between 2000 and 2010, demand for rooibos tea trebled. He said this resulted in a 300 percent increase in fynbos species facing extinction, with habitat lost due to rooibos cultivation.

He said: “What is required is the mainstreaming of biodiversity and sustainability into the policies and practices of the honeybush industry at this early stage of its development.” This could be done through certification championed by the local industry. Certification could ensure that sustainable veld harvesting guidelines are followed, that cultivation only takes place on old lands and that fair labour practices are met.

The honeybush industry could also look to add value before the honeybush is exported. Around three quarters of the crop is exported, 90 percent of that in bulk form. As such, most of the value added is done overseas. “While the crop is only worth R3.8-million at present, the potential for growing the industry is massive.”

The certification model is similar to the model promoted by Flower Valley Conservation Trust, through its Sustainable Harvesting Programme. A Code of Best Practice ensures that members of the Programme harvest fynbos according to strict guidelines, and that labour best practice is also met. The fynbos is used in bouquets sold in various retailers in South Africa and abroad.

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