Rooibos farmers commemorate World Day to Combat Desertification

By Siyabonga Myeza

Friday, 17th June was World Day to Combat Desertification.  This year’s theme was: “Protect earth. Restore land. Engage people”, which resonated with the work of farmers in the Suid Bokkeveld, who live in drylands and whose farms are situated on the margins of more productive landscapes.

Drylands of the Northern Cape, where silence makes the loudest sound. Warm hearts, loving smiles and souls that burst with hope.  Two years of living here and I am still blown away by this magnificent landscape: the Suid Bokkeveld where the “world’s finest rooibos tea” is produced.

This area receives less the half of the region’s average rainfall, and experiences long, hot summers. It is situated south of Nieuwoudtville town in the Northern Cape.

Despite the dry harsh conditions and with very limited resources and poor access to basic services, the Suid Bokkeveld communities have soldiered on against the odds and made ends meet. Fifteen years ago, community members formed the Heiveld Cooperative, which afforded the opportunity to access the European market, and sell organic tea directly to distributors.

Climate change impacts threaten the livelihoods of this community by exacerbating dry conditions and reducing production.  In response, the Heiveld Cooperative developed a project titled “Climate proofing small-scale rooibos producers” with the aim of helping its partner farmers enhance soil fertility and prevent soil erosion by composting and mulching with organic material. The application was approved for funding by SANBI, the National Implementing Entity for the Adaptation Fund. The farmers will use this opportunity to further improve the ways they manage their soils so that they can remain productive despite the increasingly harsh natural conditions.

In celebration of World Day to Combat Desertification, Heiveld members met on Melkkraal farm to launch the project on June 18th.  A workshop was also held to plan in more detail the activities that will be undertaken in the coming months.  This includes compost production, mulching of rooibos fields and collaborating in research on soil micro-biology.

Sustainable land management is crucial for human and ecosystem wellbeing, and  through their local actions, farmers are contributing to promoting sustainable land use globally.