Rooibos cup of by Simphiwe Mbokazi 7

Nompumelelo Magwaza

The right for South Africa to secure geographical indicator status for rooibos tea has not been “a storm in a tea cup” but rather a battle. Now that the storm has settled, South Africa will be able to build rooibos exports in new markets.

This new development was part of this week’s announcement on the Economic Partnership Agreement between southern African nations and the EU by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Gerda De Wet, the spokeswoman for Rooibos Limited, said the industry was relieved at the news that the department together with the sector were able to fight the geographical indicator status of rooibos.

This will enable the tea growers to look for new markets in Asia, as well as grow those that already exist.

“Rooibos is already big in the European markets, other countries we are trying to make entry to are the Asian markets,” she said.

The first battle was in the US in 2004 when a company registered Rooibos as a brand name. At that time South Africa could not export rooibos unless it was called rooibush. The matter was since settled.

Last year, the SA Rooibos Council scrambled to stop an attempt by a French company – Compagnie de Trucy – to trademark the name in France.

De Wet said: “It took a long time and we are now relieved that it is over.

“And that similar situation will not happen in future with the regulations in place.”

Rooibos tea only grows in the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape. The indigenous shrub-like plant is known for its health benefits, sweet taste and many uses. These include herbal teas, fruit juices and other foodstuffs, as well as healthy and beauty products.

It is also a good carrier of flavours and also known for its anti-ageing potential and proven skin protection properties. South Africa produces about 15 000 tons of rooibos a year, half of which is exported and the rest consumed locally.

“People have tried to grow it elsewhere in the world but this has failed because there are many factors that should be taken into account when planting it, such as the acidity of the soil,” De Wet said.

Now that the name has been brought home, people selling rooibos cannot use the name as the brand. The correct trading name would be, for example, Laager Rooibos or Freshpak Rooibos. Early this year, Rooibos Limited increased rooibos producer prices by 15 percent due to supply constraints and the fact that demand was exceeding supply.

Rooibos Limited managing director Martin Bergh said at the time that not only had the worldwide demand for the tea increased, but last year’s harvest was not as big as had initially been projected.

He said that although production would increase this year, demand would still outweigh supply and the reserve situation was becoming alarmingly low.