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WATCH | First for Africa as rooibos tea is awarded unique regional status

As champagne is to France, rooibos tea is to SA

13 August 2021 - 15:00 By Tanisha Heiberg

Come December, when farmers near Cape Town harvest rooibos leaves, they will become the first generation to grow and sell a tea with a unique regional status, a designation awarded to French champagne and Irish whiskey.

Rooibos tea — the name means “red bush” in Afrikaans — was the first African product to be awarded such status in the European Union (EU) in June.

Farmers and agriculture experts hope the EU’s treatment of rooibos could help boost demand and improve the crop’s profitability.

The rosemary-type shrubs are indigenous to a small area in the drought-prone Western Cape and Northern Cape.

“We expect there to be a considerably bigger market so we will expand now that there is more stability and economic viability,” said Deon Zandberg, a manager at Vanrhynsdorp farm.

Rooibos, which is commonly drunk as a tea, infused in drinks and used in beauty products, dates back hundreds of years to the Cederberg region where it grows naturally and has become more popular over the years.

Grown on 70,000 hectares of land, the industry produces around 15,000 tonnes of rooibos annually, with half of that exported to countries including Japan, Germany and the Netherlands.

The sector is made up of around 350 commercial and 100 emerging farmers, who have battled dry conditions for successive years that have dented yields and pushed prices higher.

Industry officials were working on getting similar protected designations of origin for rooibos from the World Trade Organization.

“With more value it means farmers can invest more in sustainable farming,” said SA Rooibos Council director Dawie de Villiers.

He hoped the EU nod would mean rooibos could be sold at a premium, much like champagne when compared with other sparkling wines.