Senior researcher (soil science) at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij
"There is a need to cultivate honeybush under irrigation due to rising product demands."
Exploring irrigation for honeybush production
The demand for honeybush tea is rising, and so is the pressure for increasing yields while maintaining quality. Currently, honeybush is mostly grown wild in South Africa, meaning that our growers do not irrigate their crops. However, due to rising product demands, there is a need to grow more honeybush under irrigated conditions. My research, therefore, involves developing irrigation guidelines to support optimal irrigation practices.
Why this matters
In the past, there was no need for tea producers to irrigate their honeybush plantations. Growers have been watering it whenever they feel the need to and the quality of the tea has not been consistent.
Nowadays, climate change is an unnerving reality, and there is no denying its impact on local honeybush farmers. More frequent drought events are becoming the norm in the region, and we have to adapt to it. Both the frequency and severity of climate-induced extreme events, including droughts, are increasing. At the same time the extent, duration and seasonal distribution of rainfall is changing. Low levels of rainfall are already hampering the development of wild honeybush populations. The plants are experiencing moisture stress, and yields are dropping.
Through an irrigation trial established at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij campus, more honeybush fields will now be irrigated and cultivated. As part of this trial, honeybush plants (Cyclopia subternata) are exposed to different irrigation practices and access to water. The trial will run until April 2022 and hopefully provide new answers on how the industry can deal with changing climatic conditions.
About the researcher
Lewu is an experienced researcher in the fields of agronomy, agriculture and botany. She holds a PhD in plant population genetics and food crop nutrition from the University of Fort Hare. Lewu has experience in the application of conventional techniques in the laboratory determination of food crop nutritional composition, in vivo toxicological assessment of food crops (using live experimental animals, in this case rats, for testing) and statistical analysis methods, among others. Lewu has presented her research findings on several occasions, including at the Indigenous Plant Use Forum (IPUF). She is a member of this forum, as well as a member of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) and the Society for Medicinal Plants and Economic Development (SOMPED).
As a senior researcher at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij, Lewu's responsibilities include research on alternative water management techniques in crop production and rural community development. Her work includes irrigation research, water conservation (through irrigation scheduling) and the use of soil conditioners with good water retention abilities to support plant growth.
Dr Nike Lewu, a senior researcher at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij, focuses on establishing irrigation guidelines for growers to increase honeybush supply.