Karas Looks to Production of Hoodia

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK More and more interest is developing around the Hoodia Gordonii, with the latest being a project proposal by the Karas Regional Council to establish 900 Hoodia production units in two of its constituencies. Hoodia is a succulent plant that grows in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. One of its species, Hoodia Gordonii has appetite suppressant properties and is made into dietary pills that are on high demand in the USA and Europe. According to the proposal, which was submitted to the Millennium Challenge Account through the National Panning Commission, each of the units to be established in Berseba and Karasburg constituencies is expected to sell 1 000 seedlings and supply 30 000 seeds annually. The project, the Growing and Protection of Hoodia under the small-scale farming component will involve the collection of seed from wild Hoodia plants, establishing nurseries, Hoodia cultural practices, training of Hoodia producers in production techniques, processing and marketing, at a cost of N$1.7 million for a period of three years. The goal of the project is to reduce the number of unemployed and underemployed people in rural areas, particularly women and youth who are the most vulnerable and food insecure. Although there are some patent rights on the plant, the council has suggested that Namibia produces, processes, manufactures and markets Hoodia products and adds value to them because “you cannot put a patent on vegetables because anyone can grow them”. The council says the plant, which they term the Green Diamond, has a parallel economic value to that of diamonds as it “can earn the country billions of dollars in foreign exchange annually”. Realising the tremendous impact on the socio-economic development and being aware of the huge demand for Hoodia products in the world, stakeholders in the industry a few months ago established the Hoodia Growers Association of Namibia (HOGRAN) to ensure good control to ensure a high quality and genuine product. The council estimates that N$15 million can be earned from 1 000 bushes of Hoodia, taking into consideration that under wild conditions, there are 100 to 150 seeds per pod, with each bush yielding 10 pods per stem and each bush carries 15 stems. From the stems, nursery operators will produce seedlings and will sell 4- to 8-month plants to Hoodia growers, which would yield N$30 000 from 1 000 seedlings. One seedling costs N$30. But for subsistence farmers, the council feels that production of mature plants is a long-term option for farmers who want to diversify their income. From three bushes, a farmer can earn N$2 100 as the price of 1kg of fresh Hoodia stems is N$70 and there are 3 kg per Hoodia bush. The plants can also be sold in the form of powder, which is easier to handle and export. Powder can be used as additive to any range of drinks and foodstuffs, with the price of powder at the moment being in the range of N$235 per gram. Among the many medicinal properties that Hoodia has is an ingredient called P57, which cures obesity. It also has appetite suppressant components as well as energy giving ones – in fact members of the San community chew it to reduce hunger and also to increase energy. With a good proportion of the world’s population being obese, the council feels that economic benefits derived from the plant can be astronomical, while the semi-desert conditions would not be able to supply the whole world. Apart from Namibia, the plant also grows in Australia, Mexico and the Northern Cape in South Africa. “The foregoing presents an extremely favourable Hoodia monopolistic economic environment for the residents in the semi-desert areas like Namibia, Botswa-na and South Africa in terms of production and marketing,” says the proposal.