- Rooibos, Aspalathus linearis, is a natural herb found in the Cape fynbos biome. It is cultivated commercially mainly in the Cedarberg region north west of Cape Town. The plant thrives on coarse sandy soil and winter rainfall.
- It is called rooibos (‘red bush’) or Red Tea because of its colour when dried. It has a refreshing flavour and sweetish aroma, is caffeine-free and lower in tannin than black and other teas. Its anti-allergy, antioxidant and antimutagenic properties make it a healthy alternative to most hot drinks.
- Rooibos and honeybush teas (see separate page) and their health properties are valued in beverages, food flavourants, functional foods, nutraceuticals and cosmetics. Indeed, rooibos and honeybush have more than 300 trademarks and 20 patents to their names (Red Dawn IP Holdings, 2016).
- Exports could be further developed through new value-added products while, as the website http://rooibos-route.co.za shows, agro-tourism also represents a development opportunity.
International business environment
- Traditionally grown in South Africa, in the Cederberg mountains north of Cape Town, rooibos is today worth an estimated R600-million. South Africa began exporting the tea in 1904.
- Rooibos’ popularity has greatly increased which led to companies abroad in America and France making audacious bids to trademark the name. After negotiations, South Africa won geographic indicator status giving rooibos tea manufacturers of South Africa which will have ownership of that particular name and that term will be applicable only to products that come from this country. (Geographic indicator status is enjoyed by the likes of champagne, Darjeeling tea and Colombian coffee).
- The same trademark protection will apply to honeybush, another tea indigenous to the Cape region, and Karoo lamb. In turn Pretoria was forced to make a concession on feta cheese which has been protected since 2002.
South Africa: imports and exports
Rooibos is exported to more than 30 countries across the globe. Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America are the biggest importers of Rooibos. The increasing global demand for Rooibos pushed exports up to more than 6 000 tons per annum (SARC, 2019).
The annual A Profile of the South African Rooibos Market Value Chain (see “Websites & publications” heading) over several pages analyses the major export destinations of rooibos tea from South Africa.
Local business environment
- Rooibos provides income and employment to more than 5 000 people in South Africa
- On average, about 14 000 tons of Rooibos are produced in South Africa per year
- The demand for and consumption of Rooibos in South African is around around 8000 tons.
- The increasing global demand for Rooibos pushed exports up to more than 6 000 tons per annum
- If both the export and local volumes are sold and enjoyed as pure Rooibos, this would be equal to 5,6 billion cups of tea
- The prolonged drought in the Western Cape is having a devastating effect on this sector.
For the newcomer
Rooibos seeds are sown between February to March and the seedlings transplanted a few months later. It takes about 18 months before plants can be harvested for the first time. Each spring the plant is covered with small yellow flowers. Each flower produces a small legume with a single seed inside. The Rooibos seeds pop out when they are ripe and can therefore be difficult to collect. Early Rooibos farmers got hold of the local wisdom that ants harvested the seeds and that they could collect Rooibos seeds from anthills. Today, most farmers collect the seeds by sifting the sand around the plants.
During the summer harvest, the plants are cut to about 30 cm from the ground. After three to five harvests, the Rooibos plantation must be re-established.
The harvested shoots are bound into sheaves and cut to less than 4 mm. The green leaves and stems are either bruised and “fermented” in heaps (to produce traditional Rooibos) or immediately dried to prevent oxidation (for green Rooibos). The “fermentation” process involves oxidation, brought about by enzymes naturally present in the plant. During this process the product changes from green to a deep amber colour and develops its distinctive aroma. After fermentation the Rooibos is spread out to dry in the sun.
The Rooibos is sorted and graded according to length, colour, flavour and aroma. All Rooibos, whether for domestic use or the export market, is steam pasteurized to ensure a product of high microbial quality. The product is then sent in bulk (loose tea leaves) to various packers and exporters in South Africa.
National strategy and government contact
The European Commission registered (May 2021) rooibos in its lists of Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). It is the first African food to receive the status.
Rooibos featured in the last of the Industrial Policy Action Plans (IPAPs), the intention being “increased brand recognition and global demand for rooibos tea and value-added products for food, medicinal and cosmetic use, creating higher revenues along the value Chain” (the dtic, 2018).
The industry provides income and employment to approximately 8 000 agricultural workers. Other jobs are created in related activities such as processing, packaging, retailing and agritourism (SARC, 2021).
- Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) Directorate Marketing www.dalrrd.gov.za
- National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za
- Western Cape Department of Agriculture www.elsenburg.com
- South African Rooibos Council (SARC) www.sarooibos.co.za
Training and research
Find the research option under “News & Research” at www.sarooibos.co.za.
- AgriSETA www.agriseta.co.za Find information on learnerships at www.agriseta.co.za (under “Skills delivery” option). Information on the National Certificate: Rooibos Production and National Certificate: Rooibos Processing can be viewed under the “Skills Delivery” option.
- ARC-Infruitec/Nietvoorbij Dr Elizabeth Joubert Tel: 021 809 3100/444 joubertL [at] arc.agric.za
- ARC-Plant Protection Research Dr Sandra Lamprecht Tel: 021 887 4690 lamprechtS [at] arc.agric.za
- ARC-Small Grains Dr Justin Hatting Tel: 058 307 3400 / 68 hattingJ [at] arc.agric.za
- Cape Peninsula University of Technology Antioxidant Unit Dr Jeanine Marnewick Tel: 021 953 8416 marnewickJ [at] cput.ac.za
- Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute www.elsenburg.com
- Envirocon Training https://envirocontraining.co.za Training in rooibos production
- South African Medical Research Council www.mrc.ac.za
- Nelson Mandela University Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology http://biomicro.mandela.ac.za/
- Stellenbosch University (i) Department of Biochemistry (ii) Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology (iii) Department of Food Science www.sun.ac.za
- University of the Free State Department of Agricultural Economics www.ufs.ac.za/agri-econ
Companies and growers
- African Rooibos Tea Company www.fresh-rooibos.co.za
- Afriplex www.afriplex.co.za
- Annique Health and Beauty www.annique.com
- Audacia www.audacia.co.za Antioxidant rooibos/honeybush wood preserved wines
- The high school Augsburg Landbougimnasium also cultivates rooibos. Call 027 482 2120.
- Big Five Rooibos Tea www.africandawn.com
- Bokkeveld Rooibos www.bokkeveldrooibos.co.za
- Cape Natural Tea Products www.rooibostea.co.za
- Cape Honey Bush Tea Company www.capehoneybushtea.co.za
- Carmién Tea www.carmientea.co.za
- Entyce Beverages www.avi.co.za/portfolio/6865-3/
- Heiveld Rooibos Tea Cooperative www.heiveld.co.za
- I & M Smith www.iandmsmith.com
- Joekels Tea Packers www.joekels.co.za
- KhoiSan Gourmet www.khoisangourmet.com
- King’s Products www.kingsproducts.co.za
- LC Packaging http://lcpackaging.co.za
- Red Dawn IP Holdings http://reddawnip.co.za Rooibos and honeybush plant materials replace synthetic preservatives in the making of alcoholic beverages
- Red Espresso www.redespresso.com
- Rooibos Limited www.rooibosltd.co.za
- The Red T Company www.redtcompany.com
- SA Rooibos Tea Supplies www.rooibossa.co.za
- Shop Rooibos https://shoprooibos.com Rooibos tea and other products
- Skimmelberg www.skimmelberg.co.za
- Unilever South Africa www.unilever.co.za
- Wupperthal Rooibos Tea Co-operative www.wupperthal.co.za
Environmental and other service providers:
- CapeNature www.capenature.co.za The SA Rooibos Council partners with CapeNature on biodiversity initiatives.
- Ecocert Southern Africa www.ecocert.com/en-ZA/home Organic certification
- Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) www.emg.org.za
- Natura Libra Environmental Consultants Tel: 022 482 1500 / 082 450 2571 Find the Rooibos Biodiversity Initiative (RBI) prepared by these consultants under the next heading.
- Rainforest Alliance www.rainforest-alliance.org/utz/
- UTZ Certified – now part of the Rainforest Alliance
Websites and publications
Visit the websites listed earlier on this page.
- Find the Rooibos Biodiversity Initiative (RBI)’s Biodiversity Best Practice Guidelines for the Sustainable Production of Rooibos at www.cepf.net/Documents/rooibosguidelines.pdf
- Handbook for Implementing Rooibos Sustainability Standards, compiled by the South African Rooibos Council (SARC) and the World Wildlife Fund’s GreenChoice Alliance. The book is available in English and Afrikaans from both organisations.
- Find the SARC “Rooibos Industry Information Sheet 2020” at https://sarooibos.co.za/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/SARC-2020-Information-sheet.pdf
- Find the A Profile of the South African Rooibos Market Value Chain on the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Directorate Marketing’s web pages at www.dalrrd.gov.za. Also available is Brochure rooibos tea among the brochures and production guidelines under “Resource Centre” on the same website.
- The DALRRD-NAMC TradeProbe 78 (August 2019) includes the article “A success story for Rooibos as a Geographical Indication for South Africa”.
- “Market research on the organic and natural products and fynbos industry – with an emphasis on how to facilitate entry”, done for the Surplus People Project by Marianna Smith, includes a study of rooibos. Visit www.spp.org.za.
- Find videos on YouTube like “The story of Rooibos – the production process” and “Why you should drink red bush tea”.
- Find news of the DVDs Adapting to the wild side: Climate friendly rooibos and Everybody’s cup of tea – Living sustainably in a dry land at www.emg.org.za. The latter “documents the challenges facing small-scale Rooibos farmers in the Suid-Bokkeveld, their subsequent decision to form a co-operative to market their organic and fair-trade certified tea, and the benefits this has brought to the community”.
- Find the articles “Khoi and San to share in benefits of rooibos” and “Big in Japan: Rooibos booms” on our website.
- Francke R-L. 2021, August 23. “SA’s rooibos industry receives EU certification”. IOL. Available at www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/sas-rooibos-industry-receives-eu-certification-13f07dbb-949c-5320-bebf-f1ee90db2124
- Bonadio E. & Contardi M. 2021, June 28. “Rooibos tea: EU protection is good news for South African agriculture”. The Conversation. Available at https://theconversation.com/rooibos-tea-eu-protection-is-good-news-for-south-african-agriculture-163502
- Reporter. 2021, June 10. “South African Rooibos makes list of EU’s protected designations”. SA News. Available at www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/south-african-rooibos-makes-list-eus-protected-designations
- Genis A. 2020, July 27. “Staat se teeverwerker in sakeredding geplaas” [State’s tea processor in business rescue]. Landbouweekblad. Available at www.netwerk24.com/landbou/Nuus/staat-se-teeverwerker-in-sakeredding-geplaas-20200727
- Reporter. 2018, September 14. “The evolution of rooibos tea, and why we love it”. Bizcommunity. Available at www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/168/181935.html
- The Traveller24 page “What you might not have known about our rooibos heritage” (2019, September 12) provides a very useful overview of rooibos, complete with maps and photographs.
- Cape Talk. 2018, August 8. “SA township woman’s rooibos tea bag purses all the rage in Paris”. Available at www.capetalk.co.za/articles/314591/sa-township-woman-s-rooibos-tea-bag-purses-all-the-rage-in-paris
- Van Wyngaardt, M. 2016, October 4. “Rooibos, Honeybush among South Africa’s most widely commercially cultivated plant products”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/rooibos-honeybush-among-south-africas-most-widely-commercially-cultivated-plant-products-2016-10-04
- Read articles like “New method for green rooibos with higher antioxidants” and “Experiencing the heart of rooibos with the Rooibos Route” at https://agriorbit.com.
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