Drought devastates 2016 rooibos yield


SA’s worst drought in the past two decades is set to cause a devastating decline in Rooibos output next year, which could see the price of Rooibos rise by as much as 90%. 

With concerns mounting about the impact of climate change, Rooibos farmers have already been adapting processes - to minimum tillage and conservation agriculture to preserve moisture and humus in soil - but according to the SA Rooibos Council, this year’s impact has been off the charts.

Having received very little or no rainfall during the important planting months of July and August, Rooibos farmers in the Cederberg, Bokkeveld and other regions of the Western and Northern Cape are at their wits’ end.

Ernest du Toit, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council, says the 2016 harvest could be the worst in years.

“Although difficult to evaluate the true impact of the drought at this stage, we expect it to be significant. Output losses can only be quantified between January and May of next year, once the final volume of the harvest is known. Last year’s crop stood at 11 000 tons with total consumption at 15 000 tons.

The ongoing drought of the past few years had already diminished Rooibos reserves, but given its prolonged nature, the economic effect will potentially be even more severe.

“Exports will decrease as a result of supply constraints which will drive up the price of Rooibos, making it very expensive. As things stand, there will not be enough volume to service both the local and export demand, therefore processors would need to prioritise sales between local industry demands and exports.

 “Prioritisation decisions will be based on many factors, including exchange rate, product quality and suitability for export, product availability from suitably certified producers (RFA/UTZ) and so forth. In an extreme case government may even look to apply duties to exports to preserve the local industry,” says du Toit.

The expected poor Rooibos crop could also impact negatively on farm jobs and the communities that rely on the industry. Du Toit says less volume for harvest vs previous years would result in lower demand for harvesters since the harvesting process is still done by hand.

Rooibos traders are to ready themselves for a significant price increase next year, while consumers can expect to see a sharp rise in Rooibos shelf prices before mid-2016.