Alter Eco | Rooibos, the red Gold

South African national drink, the Rooibos is an infusion with reddish colors that invades the planet Tea! An endemic plant, this “red bush” grows mainly on the high plateaux of the Bokkeveld, located at 320Km north of the Cape. It is an invaluable resource for the isolated local populations, which goes far beyond the simple economic aspect.

It is in the small town of Nieuwoutdville, nestled in the northern part of the Cederberg mountains, that is based the cooperative “Heiveld”. It consists of 64 members and producers of Rooibos, all of the colored population, whose plots extend all along the plateau. Established in 2001, it is the culmination of long years of exploration and collaboration between local producers, Rooibos traders, and other consultants. Above all, it represents the fulfillment of a dream. The one of a handful of producers who, under the Apartheid regime, had the crazy idea of becoming owners of their land. In order to exist and emancipate themselves, to live more than to survive.

The producers of  Wuppertal (neighboring town, producer of Rooibos) had just created their cooperative. They showed us the way. From then on, we knew it was possible. It was the little spark we needed ” says Koos Koopman, one of the producers behind the project.

Since 1998, workshops have been set up across the region under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture. Space where different stakeholders came to share their knowledge and expertise with the local communities. It is during one of them that Noel and Bettina, a couple in life and members of the NGOs “Environmental Monitoring Group” (EMG) and “Indigo”, discover the project of an entire community. They then meet motivated producers but quickly faced logistical problems. “At the first meetings, everything seemed possible, hope could be seen in their eyes. Regarding the project, nothing was really defined, “says Bettina. After just two workshops, they decide to settle in Nieuwoutdville. With the desire to get closer and to create real relationships with the actors of the project.

They quickly deal with a problem they had not anticipated. “Producers quickly felt vulnerable when they offered us their ideas. Still very affected by Apartheid, we could feel how suspicious they were of us, white collaborators. We had to create a relationship of trust.” continues Bettina. No sooner said than done. Thanks to constant communication and an implication of every moment, the demons of Apartheid gradually took flight.

Today, with a 90% export percentage and a constantly growing turnover, the cooperative is positioning itself as a serious player in the Rooibos international market. In France, the brand “Alter Eco” is one of its most serious support and customer. Their ancestral know-how, their production entirely from organic farming and an equitable organization attract every season new buyers concerned about the quality of the product and the fate of small producers.

And in the land of “Ubuntu” philosophy, success is always shared. The cooperative has been able to share its resources and expertise with the whole community: Educational workshops, professional training, personal accompaniments. So many opportunities for this generation often abandoned for a simple color of skin!

The rooibos brought us much more than we could have imagined. We have become autonomous and united. This is my conception of freedom “concludes Pieter Koopman, president of the cooperative, perched above the valley.

In silence, his gaze then arises on the fields of wild rooibos spreading as far as the eye can see, on the lands of his childhood. Where dreams come true. Where souls bind themselves in the same destiny. Where only one color predominates, now, The Red.

You can find the publication here.