Rooibos tea is synonymous with the semi-arid regions of the Western Cape. Rooibos harvesting for tea brewing were familiar among local people as long as a century ago. With the recognition of the health properties of Rooibos tea, together with the increase in demand for the “close-to-the-earth” taste of this brew, harvesting and production expanded considerably. But with such expansion of the tea product, came the risk of biodiversity depletion, particularly as rooibos is a naturally occurring fynbos species, growing wild in the northern parts of the Western Cape. A previous article described how potential climate change can impact the tea farming industry due to the tea farming in semi-arid areas…but is it possible that introduction of Rooibos tea to the Starbucks menu could help and even change biodiversity sustainability in the Western Cape? Even slowing down climate change?
One of the crucial factors in successful biodiversity protection, is financial support. Biodiversity protection means that areas of important biodiversity, including fauna and flora diversity, requires protection as a unit. An ecosystem allowed to watch time pass on its own steam. Yet this can only happen if there is conservation and operation planning, including designating suitable areas where farming, or whichever other activity, can go ahead. Rooibos tea products are predominantly produced from cultivated rooibos farming. The risk factor here is that rooibos tea grows best where it is found indigenous – hence the risk factor for biodiversity. But farmers are more likely to support biodiversity initiatives if they now they are not economically restrained from producing their crops.
Up to 50% of South Africa’s rooibos tea is cultivated in the Sandveld ecosystem region – a highly threatened ecocystem. This reason, as well as the increased pressure due to strengthened demands for rooibos tea, led to the establishment of the Rooibos Tea Biodiversity Initiative during 2008. This initiative aims to develop Biodiversity Best-Practice Guidelines, and to oversee principle implementation. Sustainability, including environmental, social and economic sustainability, forms the basis of these biodiversity principles.
With continued and new international interest in Rooibos tea, including a Starbucks herbal infusion with Rooibos, Starbucks Vanilla Rooibos tea, Tazo Red Tea Latte, the future for Rooibos tea with a biodiversity and sustainability flavour, looks promising. Long term benefits are also noted: ecosystems of healthier biodiversity, will be better equipped to withstand the onslaught of climate change.