Cape Natural Tea Products' Rooibos seed improvement project aims to rectify genetic deterioration in the Rooibos industry, which over decades has led to lower yields and survival rates.
The project is led by experienced botanist Dr Hannes De Lange in partnership with our Agri division. Three years ago, seeds from wild populations throughout the farming region were collected and planted.
Now that these plants have matured, we are able to select the most desirable plants, which will later be used to produce better seeds.
Why do Rooibos seeds have to be improved?
Improving the Rooibos seeds used in the industry is important both for economic and environmental reasons.
Genetic deterioration in commercial Rooibos seeds has led to lower yields and survival rates. This means the amount of harvested Rooibos provided by a bush throughout its lifetime is not optimal.
Rooibos farmlands go through a cycle: they stand fallow for 2-3 years for the soil to
regenerate, then the Rooibos seedlings are planted, and a year after that the first Rooibos is harvested. Harvesting takes place once a year. The shorter the lifecycle of the Rooibos plant, the fewer times it can be harvested.
This has an impact on the profitability of the Rooibos farm. The costs of maintaining the Rooibos land, even when it stands fallow, need to be outweighed by the income generated from the land's yield over the Rooibos plant's lifetime.
But it also has an environmental impact. We believe that increasing the efficiency of rooibos farming can only have a positive impact on reducing pressure on the clearing of new lands with obvious benefits to the conservation of biodiversity.
Cape Natural Tea Products believes that by using better seeds, the Rooibos industry will be able to harvest more Rooibos from fewer fields, thereby reducing costs and the pressure on virgin lands.
What has been done?
Wild, indigenous populations of Rooibos are still found throughout the farming region. They differ genetically from the Rooibos plants that have been cultivated throughout the years and are commonly used for commercial farming.
More than three years ago, Dr Hannes de Lange travelled throughout the farming region in search of wild populations with good genetic qualities. The seeds of these plants were collected and planted.
The idea is to determine which of these plants have desirable genetic qualities and to use that information to produce Rooibos seeds that will grow longer-living plants with better yields.
What's the way forward?
Now that the first batch of plants has matured, we have started to make observations and selections based on the number of flowers on a plant (which indicates the plant is focusing energy on producing seeds rather than roots), and the number of Rooibos leaves on a plant (which indicate better yields).
The information gathered during the process will be used to start producing seeds that can be used by farmers throughout the industry.