Endless cups of Rooibos tea. That was Madiba’s favourite day-time beverage, according to his former chef, Brett Ladds. If it was good enough for Madiba, it’s good enough for me. How you have your Rooibos tea is a matter of taste. I like it the ‘traditional’ way – hot, strong, medium milk and a spoon (and a half) of sugar. My three-year-old daughter likes her Rooibos red (no milk), a spoon of sugar, and luke-warm.
The health benefits of Rooibos tea, exclusively farmed in the Cederberg and Sandveld, is still up for debate, but numerous studies have shown it is rich in cancer-preventing anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Indeed the reputation of Aspalathus linearis has spread across the world, and by all accounts, it is fast becoming one of the most attractive agricultural products to invest in.
The SA Rooibos Council’s Nicie Vorster says 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. It’s not only Rooibos’ health benefits that make 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.”
I’ve had Rooibos infused gin. It’s delicious.
Vorster says the current area planted under Rooibos is at a record high of 57 000 ha – 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.”
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.
The Rooibos industry currently employs an estimated 8 000 farmworkers and additional employment is created in processing, packaging and retailing.
South Africans clearly love their Rooibos. About half of the produce – between 6 000 and 7 000 tonnes – is consumed locally, while the balance is exported to more than 30 countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, the UK and US.
It seems like a win-win situation. The world loves Rooibos, we are really good at growing it, it’s water smart, so let’s maximise its potential.
Raise a cuppa to Rooibos … now on everyone’s lips.