Fynbos gets ‘good practice’ code

Harvesting of wild fynbos in the Western Cape may soon be governed by a set of guidelines requiring environmentally sustainable and socially responsible practice.

Fynbos is the smallest but richest floral kingdom in the world and has been harvested for the fresh-flower market for decades. It is already a protected resource, but most exported fynbos comes from the veld and conservationists would like to see greater monitoring of the harvest.

The Flower Valley Conservation Trust, a pilot project in sustainable practice on the Agulhas Plane, near Hermanus, operates under an interim set of guidelines it drew up in conjunction with Flora and Fauna International and the Western Cape Department of Nature Conservation.

The effort forms part of a certification practice that will eventually guard against the exploitation of labour, over-harvesting and damage to the environment through unsound harvesting practices, said Lance Kabot, Flower Valley’s biodiversity business director.

“The guidelines are in use at Flower Valley and the plan is eventually to roll them out to everyone harvesting wild fynbos.”

The Western Cape Department of Nature Conservation already maintains a strict permit system for the harvesting and sale of fynbos, but the sustainability and good practice guidelines will benefit the conservation of this natural resource. Certification will guarantee traders and consumers that good practices have been employed.

The guidelines require an accu-rate record to be kept of the harvest’s location and the weight of all species. Harvesters must be trained to know which species to pick and which to leave untouched. Plants must be picked cleanly, not broken or uprooted, and may not be over-harvested. And no endangered or non-target plants or fauna may be damaged.

Strict fire management and alien clearance policies must be in place, pesticides and fertilisers may not be used, and water and waste management measures must be instituted.

“The general consensus is that wild harvesting is done sustainably,” said Kabot.

“People go into the veld with secateurs, so it’s low impact anyway. We just want to make sure it’s done properly and we can create interest overseas because it’s a good product and [the fynbos is] managed sustainably.”

The guidelines are also intended as a code of good practice for labour, structured to comply with the national labour laws.

Poor rural communities have been surviving off their fynbos harvest for decades. Kabot said the Flower Valley initiative would like to see these communities trained and protected by the guidelines.

Conservationists also want commercial farmers to become aware of the potential commercial value of fynbos on their properties so they protect these pristine areas, limited as they are, rather than use them for grazing or monoculture farming.

Veld-harvested fynbos is less coddled than nursery-farmed plants, so flowers may show bird or insect scratches.

This is often a problem for exporters, who regularly lose entire batches of flowers that are rejected at airport inspection if one or two blooms are damaged.

“We need to have separate dispensations for [farmed and] veld-harvested fynbos,” said Kabot.

“A standard should be set where consumers shouldn’t mind a few scratches, because it means the flower is a bird-friendly product.”

The issue is significant in the wake of shock reports recently that some commercial flower farmers use poisons to protect their flowers against foraging sugarbirds and insects that damage petals.

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