Khoi farmer Barend Salomo knows the secrets of the special crop that grows in the mighty Cedeberg.
He speaks to Gugulethu Khumalo about his passion for the rooibos, land use and ownership, as well as the conversation around indigenous knowledge and cultivation
Born and raised in the tranquil and peaceful town of Wupperthal, Cederberg in the Western Cape, young and ambitious Barend Salomo decided to pursue a future in agriculture, specifically rooibos cultivation just as his ancestors had done before him.
As a young boy in Cederberg, the rooibos capital of the world, the famous tea was all he knew and he loved it with his essence.
Both his father and grandfather were involved in the cultivation of rooibos, but neither of them owned the land that they nurtured and worked, much like the wine labourers of the Stellenbosch region.
The love and knowledge of rooibos has been passed down from generation to generation like valuable jewels.
Salomo lovingly gives an anecdote of the role rooibos played in his childhood.
“Rooibos was used for everything even as a substitute for breast milk, if a mother gave birth to a new baby while the other child was still breast-feeding the child would just be given rooibos which is just as nutritious as breastmilk,” he explains.
Salomo also states that there has been a huge effort to get more indigenous people to run and own their own farming businesses but the government cannot intervene in most land-related issues since the land is mostly owned by the church.
The colonial legacy still sweeps through the valley like a darkhand. The eastern part of the slope where Salomo and his compatriots found themselves, thanks to various laws during the colonial and apartheid era, is far less arable and lush than their wealthy, white western slope dwelling counterparts, who have a significant advantage.
The rooibos and agriculture industry is still largely divided on who gets a bigger piece of the pie.
All Salomo has ever known was the rolling hills, harsh sun and nature surrounding the Cedarberg valley yet in his first attempt to monetise his skill and love for rooibos, his only option was to lease the land from the Monrovian church, which owns all the land on the eastern slopes, where he and many descendants of Khoi people grew up.
Despite the challenges, Salomo insists that “rooibos is in our blood, it’s all we’ve ever known and we have a special connection to the land.”
And their skill and expertise in farming it in such harsh climates and challenging terrain.
“Everything we use from start to end is organic because we respect the land and we know that we need to take care of it so future generations can benefit,” Salomo adds.
The connection between indigenous people and their knowledge of the land has not been ignored, instead, it has garnered a great deal of attention from a number organisations such as the SA Rooibos Council for their interest in the alternative benefits of the plant.
This has the potential to become a historic deal, in which big corporations and indigenous groups stand to both benefit from each other.
Salomo and his community are excited and hopeful at this new endeavour.
There is still much work to be done to ensure a level playing field for all smallholding farmers to have a chance to make their mark in the agricultural world. – Mukurukuru Media