Over the past decade, succulents have soared in popularity, thanks to the growing demand for alternative medicines, as well as gardeners seeking out drought-tolerant, easy-to-grow plants. Nearly half of the world’s succulent species are endemic to Southern Africa. Despite this, our commercial farmers have yet to cash in on the thriving global succulent market. Anthony Rausch, chairperson of the Johannesburg Succulent Society, shares some of his insights into the growing demand for succulents:
Species that have good market potential include A. ferox, which has laxative, detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-parasitic properties; the kanna (Sceletium tortuosum), valued for its mood-enhancing properties, and Hoodia gordonii, which is an appetite suppressant. The fruit of the Hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis) can be processed into jams and syrups, while its leaves have antiseptic properties and can be used for skin burns and insect bites.
“We underrate our own plants and prefer to eat imported products. Hottentot fig, however, makes for great stews,” Rausch says.
He adds that Adenium spp. and Cyphostemma spp. are ideal for gardening and have excellent hybridisation potential. They also suit the modern architectural trend of patios and balconies, and survive well in pots. They are hardy, survive the heat, provide good colour and have interesting forms. Another key benefit is their low maintenance.
“Succulent production has the ability to revolutionise the Karoo by significantly increasing farmers’ income per hectare,” says Rausch.
“This isn’t possible with sheep, as only so many can be produced on a piece of land. With the right mix, thousands of plants can be grown on the side, almost like forests used for timber.”
The truth, however, is that farmers usually manage a specific commodity and do not have the time or capacity to cope with the difficulties that come with another crop. Succulents are specifically challenging in this way, as attention is needed all the way from production to the development of new markets and the logistics associated with these. In addition, plant material to be exported must comply with various standards, and these are even higher if the material is aimed at the cosmetic or medicinal markets.
Livestock farmers may also not necessarily be interested in plant production. According to Rausch, the best solution for these farmers might be to pool resources.
“If you don’t have the time or capacity to produce succulents, you could still cash in on the market by renting out land or paying someone to manage production on your behalf. Producers could also create a type of co-operative to bring scale to projects and reduce initial infrastructural and production costs,” he advises.
Government could help with market development by promoting South African succulents at international trade shows, and making it easier to export them legally. Rausch suggests a permit system, as used in the fishing industry, to allow producers to collect small volumes of seed at specific times of the year in protected areas.
“The commercialisation of rare plants will actually help to safeguard them against extinction,” he says.
Read more on Farmer’s Weekly.