Guidelines for the Sustainable Harvesting of Wild Honeybush

Basis for these guidlines

This is a technical document which presents existing knowledge used to develop recommendations  towards Best Practice in the wild honeybush industry. The term honeybush here refers to the  various plant species belonging to the genus Cyclopia, and covers those species which are  commercially used to produce tea. The system of harvesting wild honeybush is complex and in  many ways, unpredictable by nature. In developing the guidelines for the sustainable harvesting of  wild honeybush, the economic, environmental and social aspects of the industry have been  considered. The principle thinking behind the guidelines is the fact that renewable resources  should be managed in such a way as to provide a sustainable yield, or, more directly: the rate of  harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration (Daly, 2005). The international market for  herbal teas such as honeybush tea comprises sophisticated consumers who are increasingly  demanding of Best Practice and sustainable methods in the production of the products they buy.  

These guidelines recognize the fact that honeybush farming is part of an existing economic system,  and that there will be ecological compromises in order to keep the economic system functioning.  However, there are some basic ecological principles which need to be considered which will  support ecological and economic sustainability. With the implementation of some simple and  ecologically sound management principles, it should be possible to continue to reap the benefits of  wild harvesting of honeybush.  

These guidelines are a first attempt at developing a formal set of guidelines for the wild harvesting  of honeybush, with a focus on C. intermedia as it is by far the major resource of the honeybush tea  industry. The foundations on which these guidelines are based are listed below; they indicate both  the strengths and weaknesses of the guidelines.  

  • The primary data and information on which these guidelines are based were collected  methodically from interviews, field observations and measurements taken in the field with harvesters and farmers who have long experience in the wild harvesting honeybush  industry;  
  • No long-term scientific monitoring has been carried out on wild Cyclopia populations  (although some monitoring sites have now been set up). The best information that exists  which relates to sustainability is long term historic harvest yield data from farms  correlated with annual climatic conditions;  
  • The guidelines are based on best available secondary data (e.g. plant localities)  supplemented with field data and expert information gathered during the course of the  three month project. These experts are named in the Acknowledgements section. Where  appropriate, these data are supplemented with other data (species distribution, threats,  etc.) collected on Cyclopia intermedia by the project leader over a period of three years;  
  • The guidelines are supported by the best available ecological evidence (published material  and expert knowledge);  
  • These guidelines are only applicable to land outside of formal protected areas; they do not  address harvesting in protected areas which are considered to be sanctuaries of  honeybush genetic diversity, as well as biodiversity; 
  • The guidelines deal only with C. intermedia, which makes up about 85% of the wild  harvested crop. Information on the other four species is presented in a limited way in the  introductory material owing to a lack of available data, while information on the fifth  species, C. plicata is almost non-existent; 
  • It must be emphasized that it is risky to make generalizations owing to the high variability  and complexity of the wild harvested industry. The variation lies in:  
    • Environmental factors including rainfall, fire, micro-climate, seasonality, pests,  genetic diversity; 
    • Harvest team factors: desire to harvest, economics, accessibility, harvest day  weather conditions, variation in capacity within harvest teams; 
    • Landowner factors: desire to harvest, availability of harvesters, need for income,  attitude to conservation; 
    • The scale and physical extent of the study area is substantial, crossing mountain ranges,  from the coast to 100km inland, with an east/west extent of 500km, which inevitably  introduces further complexities (See Figure 1); 

The range of harvest sites and types of harvest teams which could be assessed during the period of  this project was limited by time and a lack of commitment to appointments made by some harvest  teams.