Researcher (Crop Development) at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij
"We want to grow the commercial propagation and cultivation of honeybush by training community members, creating jobs and alleviating poverty in rural areas."
Growing communities with honeybush
My main responsibility at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is to promote community development through sustainable honeybush farming. The transfer of technology is an integral part of disseminating research results to producers. In this regard, the ARC supports five small, medium and micro enterprises that play an important role in the value chain of honeybush cultivation.
Sonskyn Heuningbos (Haarlem, Western Cape), Driefontein Heuningbos (Friemersheim, George), Kuyasa Amamfengu (Kareedouw, Eastern Cape), Clackson Heuningbos (Eastern Cape) and Thornham Heuningbos (Eastern Cape) serve as vehicles for the commercialisation of the ARC's honeybush genetic material. Seed orchards, nurseries and honeybush tea plantations are being developed in these communities. The aim is to commercialise honeybush in a sustainable way that is also profitable to community members. I am assisting these communities in propagation, cultivation, and the conservation of honeybush plants. This is done by supporting the ARC's plant breeding and gene bank programmes led by Dr Cecilia Bester.
I provide specialist technical support and ensure technology transfer according to the clients' needs in compliance with set standards, specifications, within budget and on time. As part of this project, I aim to contribute to community training via relevant seminars, workshops and stakeholder meetings.
Why it matters
Honeybush tea is produced mostly from wild-harvesting small fynbos-like shrubs of Cyclopia species that are indigenous to South Africa. The use of the plant to make tea and the health benefits that drinking the tea provides are claimed to be part of the Khoisan's indigenous knowledge system. Honeybush plants produce caffeine-free, sweet-tasting medicinal tea that has been used for centuries, including for its health benefits.
Sustainable harvesting of wild-growing honeybush remains vital as it ensures consistent supply. I am helping to ensure that the commercialisation of honeybush plantations (farming) is far-out-weighing wild harvesting.
Cultivating the plant on a larger scale will help to supply the growing demand for honeybush. It will also relieve the pressure on wild honeybush populations. Farmers also need access to honeybush seeds or seedlings, knowledge about soil preparation, plantation care, harvesting, processing and marketing.
Propagating and cultivating honeybush by training community members creates jobs and alleviates poverty in rural areas. It also builds a bridge between indigenous knowledge systems and the latest technologies.
Honeybush should be marketed and positioned as a unique, niche product. A variety of research initiatives has shown that honeybush has numerous marketable aspects, such as its health properties. Researchers are now looking for particular medicinal extracts in honeybush tea and for producing high-quality tea.
About the researcher
As a young boy, Mkhize herded cattle in rural KwaZulu-Natal to fund his schooling. He was always fascinated by science and ended up matriculating in the biology and agricultural science stream. Mkhize then completed a BSc degree in genetics and biochemistry at the University of Natal. In 1997, he joined the Mondi Group in KwaZulu-Natal. He worked in Mondi's forestry division as a eucalyptus tissue culture technician.
Mkhize completed an MSc degree in plant biotechnology in 2002 at Stellenbosch University. At the same time, he researched walnuts as part of the ARC's professional development programme. He has been with the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij since 1999. Mkhize has been working as a researcher at the ARC since 2003, focusing on apple scab. He now applies his skills to support the emerging honeybush industry.
Thokozani Mkhize, a researcher at the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij, who is working with local communities towards successful cultivation of honeybush tea.