Agro-processing is one of the key sectors identified by government “that demonstrate strong potential for socio-economic growth, employment creation and value addition”. The Enterprise Creation Development (ECD) unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) identified the rural community of Nourivier in the Kamiesberg region of Namaqualand,
to establish an agro-processing enterprise focussing on one local plant species; Sceletium tortuosum (kougoed). Here Kougoed or kanna, an indigenous succulent plant belonging to the plant family Mesembryanthemaceae, is being developed as a natural, calmative agent by local researchers identifying mesembrine as one of its active compounds.
Through its enterprise creation activities, the CSIR implements projects funded by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) and the European Union (EU), aimed at developing the local agro-industrial sector in South Africa, hence the initiative to demonstrate rural-based agronomy and value-adding processing of indigenous plants with commercial potential.
DST Sustainable Livelihoods and the CSIR have an ongoing partnership aimed at developing the local agro-processing sector by providing infrastructure, technology transfer, training, market development and business incubation for emerging farmers. The aim is to demonstrate commercial scale agro-processing based on the sustainable cultivation, harvesting and processing of indigenous plant species with cosmetic, medicinal and/or nutritional value thereby adding value to indigenous knowledge on traditional plant use, while contributing to the conservation of local biological resources.
The cultivation and minimal processing of kougoed was identified as a suitable agro-processing demonstration project providing opportunities for employment and poverty alleviation in a poverty-stricken rural area. Kougoed typically grows in the shade of small shrubs in the wild; hence the decision to cultivate the species in shade houses under gravity fed sprinkler irrigation using water from the adjacent Nourivier dam, which is a significant source of perennial water in the area. The Kamiesberg Local Municipality willingly made agricultural land available to the CSIR next to the Nourivier dam for purposes of establishing the Nourivier Medicinal Plants project in July 2011.
Since August 2011, the Nourivier Medicinal Plants project reported a number of significant achievements including providing employment to more than 30 people from the Nourivier community; the installation of an on-site weather station to collect climate data on a daily basis; the entire project is operated by solar-powered energy; installation of rainwater harvesting augmenting water use on site; successful propagation of approximately 4,500 kougoed plants from cuttings; the establishment of a 750m2 shade house with overhead sprinkler system; and provided training to 10 project staff members in basic horticultural techniques.
Kougoed has a long history of traditional use by rural communities in the Northern Cape and elsewhere. The market potential of scientifically validated herbal products based on kougoed appears to be attractive. However, the commercialisation of kougoed products will require a sustainable supply of plant material of consistent quality, which currently not available from the wild due to overharvesting but that which the Kougoed (Sceletium tortuosum) Medicinal Plants Project is addressing.
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