Tools to assess whether fynbos harvesting is damaging the biodiversity were launched at aworkshop special workshop held in Cape Town. The field assessment tools are an easy way to measure the impact of fynbos suppliers and harvesters on the veld, while still ensuring economic sustainability.

The tools were developed by the Knowledge Exchange project, run by Newcastle and Durham Universities in the United Kingdom. The project is funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, and is a partnership with Flower Valley Conservation Trust. They were launched at a special workshop held on 27 March in conjunction with WWF-SA, called ‘Delivering Sustainability for Ethical Markets in the Western Cape’.

According to Dr Dave Bek, Research Associate at Newcastle University, the assessment tools measure elements such as the number of stems picked, and the number of stems with this year’s seed left. It also identifies and measures other impacts on the veld, such as litter and the use of roads.

“Leaving twine in the veld is a nightmare. And leaving thick piles of leaves in the fynbos where harvested stems have been cleaned, can smother plants underneath. So these tools look at these elements. If retailers are saying that they are buying product that is not damaging the veld, we need the metrics to back that up. That is what this field assessment offers.”

The field assessment tools could ideally be undertaken annually within a supplier outfit. However, it would not replace a more formal audit. According to Dr Bek, “This is about underpinning the Sustainable Harvesting Code of Best Practice.” The Code encourages harvesters to not harvest more than 50 percent of the stems on any bush, and to leave sufficient seedstock in the veld.

Flower Valley Conservation Trust’s Conservation Manager Roger Bailey said at the workshop that the tools offer a means of verification, to ensure good land management is practiced by suppliers. “The field assessment tools really strengthen our Sustainable Harvesting Programme, and create a culture for those working in the environment to ensure conservation goals are implemented on the ground.“

The assessment tools can be used by external assessors as a form of third party verification. A summary score can be produced which rates on an A to D scale: A, which indicates good compliance, whilst D indicates failure to comply. Thus, the assessment is a mechanism for ensuring suppliers who have signed up to the Sustainable Harvesting Programme are complying with the Code.

It is hoped that the assessment will be used by a variety of stakeholders to ensure improved management of the fynbos biome. Suppliers are encouraged to use the assessment themselves in order to assess their own practices. In this sense, the assessment is an excellent training tool for harvesters.

Training materials were also officially launched at the workshop. A field guide detailing 40 harvestable species will be made available in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. Visual training materials in Afrikaans and Xhosa, with English subtitles, have also been compiled to help encourage good land management in the fynbos industry.

Video: What you need to pick fynbos

Tips on what you need if you head out to the veld to harvest fynbos are now available, to help pickers prepare themselves adequately. The footage, available on YouTube, was developed by the Knowledge Exchange Project. It will form part of the Sustainable Harvesting Programme’s training material. Click here to watch the video.