FARMING & PROCESSING
SA Agri-media introduced to honeybush research project
1 May 2021
Research in support of the fledgling honeybush industry was presented to media members of the !Xhariep Region of Agricultural Writers South Africa at a recent Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Infruitec-Nietvoorbij campuses media information day.
The media representatives work for some of South Africa's leading agricultural publications and agri-related institutions. The !Xhariep region of Agricultural Writers consists of writers from the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape. Some members also contribute to European agricultural publications that feature news related to South Africa from time to time.
They were welcomed to the media information session by Dr Oluwafemi Caleb, the ARC Post-Harvest & Agro-Processing Technologies Research Team Leader.
Dr Cecilia Bester, an ARC Senior Researcher focusing on indigenous crops, presented an overview of the honeybush industry. She also shared some of its highlights and successes over the past five years.
"Honeybush is mostly exported. It has a limited availability locally in some retail stores, and can be found at farm stalls in certain areas," she explained.
Dr Bester focused on horticultural aspects surrounding honeybush, its breeding and genetics and Prof Lizette Joubert on agro-processing. Much of the work currently done at the ARC on these topics form part of the DSI/ARC Honeybush Project.
"It is a plant that grows in nature. We therefore have to be careful when cultivating it commercially," said Dr Bester.
The focus these days is on conserving wild populations. To this end, Dr Bester and her colleagues at the ARC seek to make seed available for commercial use. Honeybush is an ecologically very sensitive genus, with some species being at risk of extinction if overharvested. To this end the ARC maintains a gene bank to preserve honeybush species for future generations.
Honeybush is appreciated both locally and internationally for various health benefits. According to Dr Bester, research to provide adequate scientific backing to these claims is quite expensive. Before this can be done, the fledgling industry will not be allowed to include any statements surrounding specific health benefits on its packaging.
The agriculture media in attendance were able to see and taste a few samples of honeybush products. Feedback from the !Xhariep members ranged from "very impressed", "has a distinctive taste" to "where do we buy it?"
The ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij Campus' media day was arranged by Public Relations Officer Derusha Crank, and was supported by different Divisions on the campus. The information session and display of honeybush took centre stage in the commercial cellar on campus along with other ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij developed products such as wines, table grapes, raisins and jams.
After the tastings and presentations members of the media spoke to Dr Bester to gain further information and to confirm some of the figures she shared.