The wild Fynbos industry: Understanding the good and the not so good

The demand for Fynbos has rocketed in recent years, with exports doubling since 2012. Fynbos is also now seen as an elite product – especially in the overseas markets.

A recent study into the wild fynbos sector looked at the scale, structure and sustainability of the wild fynbos harvesting supply chain. The results of the study, funded by the Table Mountain Fund (an associated Trust of WWF South Africa) and undertaken by Coventry University and Flower Valley Conservation Trust, were released at a launch event held outside Botriver in November.

According to Dr David Bek, lead researcher, “This used to be a cottage industry. But if you look at the improvements in terms of employment and upgrading, that’s not the case anymore. The entrepreneurs of the industry have done well. And through bouquet-making, we’re capturing the value in South Africa.”

However, the growth of the industry has put some pressure on the resource.

The study found that the range of species being harvested has declined from 300, to around 150. Most harvesting takes place in the Overberg.

“Silver Brunia, in particular, is critical to the financial survival of many harvesting businesses,” Dr Bek said. The prices of Silver Brunia have increased more than 600% in a decade. “This has led to pressure on stocks and has also led to poaching.”

 

Understanding the nature of employment

Kathy O’Grady, Flower Valley’s Ethical Trade Coordinator, said the harvesting industry employs around 2000 people. An additional 1400 people receive direct employment through packsheds, where bouquets are made.

She said, “Increased formalisation and upskilling in the industry has led to better paid permanent jobs.” However, the study found examples in which harvesters earn about 4.5 percent of the final value of the product. And prices paid to harvesters for greens (excluding Silver Brunia) have increased very little in the last decade.

Despite this, there have been marked increases in expenses for contractors, such as fuel, maintenance and wages.

Wages vary – with some harvesting earning “a good living”, well in excess of the minimum wage, the report found. But some people “have more precarious work and may often earn below the minimum wage”.

 

The study highlighted some of the key concerns:

  • Invasive alien plants: Dr Bek said, “Some people we interviewed said that in 20 to 30 years’ time, all the land will be covered in aliens.”
  • Unsustainable harvesting – and in particular, different views on what is sustainable.
  • Poaching and fire.
  • Assurance does not cover the entire industry – but key segments of the market are increasingly expecting it.

 

The report has recommended three areas of focus for the industry:

  1. To promote greater industry cohesion, so that Fynbos can have a voice on bigger platforms.
  2. To improve data availability and accuracy.
  3. To ensure steps are taken for the industry to be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

 

The research project grew from the need to better understand the industry, in terms of its economic impact, as well as social and environmental impacts.

The Table Mountain Fund provided the funding for the study, which was overseen by Cape Flora SA, the Fynbos industry body.

 

To read the abbreviated report – click here.

To read the full report – click here.