Against the backdrop of the severe drought which has had a harsh impact on many rural communities’ livelihood options, such communities face the challenge of generating much needed cash in an ever changing world where cash is needed for virtually everything. The circumstances for San communities residing in the Nyae Nyae and N#a Jaqna conservancies are no different – however in this case many members have taken to harvesting and selling devil’s claw to earn much needed supplementary cash.
Devil’s claw is used all over the world as a non-prescription medicine and is taken to relieve arthritis, lower back, knee and hip pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, bursitis, tendonitis, loss of appetite and digestive disorders. Because of its healing properties it is very sought after. In Namibia devil’s claw is listed as a protected plant however it allows for the harvesting and sale of this plant for which permits are required.
The devil’s claw harvesting season recently ended in Nyae Nyae and N#a Jaqna conservancies, with both conservancies having reported a bumper harvesting season. Harvesters have produced around 20 tons of organically certified devil’s claw. This has generated just under N$1 million in sales for approximately 450 harvesters directly.
In addition the conservancies also managed to generate their own income that covered the costs of organising and implementing their activities. Of the total income generated harvesters retain over 90% of the income, creating a real self-sufficient money-making endeavour.
The scale of income makes a significant difference in this marginalised and impoverished community. The conservancies are currently being supported with an EU climate change adaptation grant, focused on food security and livelihood diversification, according to the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia, which is implementing this project, amongst others, in both conservancies.
Many devil’s claw activities would not have been implemented were it not for the important work that is carried out by the conservancies’ devil’s claw coordinators. Coordinators like N!aici Kaqece, who has been the devil’s claw coordinator in Nyae Nyae conservancy since 2010. He is responsible for numerous activities that enable harvesters to harvest and sell the product.
It is essential that harvesters and others comply with the standards that are required in order to be able to sell certified organic devil’s claw and Kaqece ensures this is the case. Namibia is the only source of organic devil’s claw in the world and the product is therefore very sought after and valuable. While complying with organic certification is a costly exercise for conservancies it differentiates their product from competitors.
Another important aspect related to organic certification is that it also ensures that a high quality product is produced. This is important, maintains Kaqece. “Devil’s claw is a medicine and therefore it must always be of the highest standard, and complying with these quality standards also ensures harvesters can earn more income – we are proud that our medicine is used by others all over the world.”
Kaqece adds: “Organic certification also ensures that sustainable harvesting methods are followed – it is important that we harvest sustainably so that we can continue to harvest and sell devil’s claw in future.”