Hectares of rooibos going unharvested

There is a sea of rooibos tea at the moment, with some farmers in Western Cape leaving crops in the field because it is not worth their while to harvest them, Business Day reported on Tuesday.

Ironically, the market for the tea has been growing, with a world market of 12 000 tonnes, estimated at a total value of more than R180-million.

But higher input costs and over-production have led to the present situation, Rooibos Limited MD Martin Bergh told the newspaper.

Willie Nel, a farmer near Clanwilliam, which is the centre of rooibos production in South Africa, said farmers switched to rooibos in a spirit of “over-eagerness” to ride the wave of what they saw as a more lucrative crop.

It fetched about R13 a kilogram locally, with an export price of about R17/kg.

The switch to rooibos and overplanting occurred after a few seasons of over-production in wheat and potato crops.

Nel told Business Day that many hectares of rooibos are not being harvested because it is not economically viable to do so, and the over-production means there are not enough drying facilities available to process the tea.

Furthermore, high fertiliser, fuel and labour costs have affected the price, as production of rooibos is labour intensive.

But while producers are affected, consumers benefit from lower prices.

Demand for the product worldwide is still growing “but it’s just unfortunate that there is a surplus”, Bergh was quoted as saying.—Sapa


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