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A Treasured Harvest

Currently, Pelargonium sidoides is harvested for Afraceuticals in four picturesque villages of the Eastern Cape. Throughout these villages, the extraordinary plant grows wildly and prolifically through the rolling hills and savanna plains, largely unnoticed by most. For Afraceuticals, it is of the utmost importance that we make regular trips to our rural partner communities to spend time with all stakeholders, including our dedicated harvesters.

Towards the end of last year, two members of the Afraceuticals team - Caitlin Gilfillan (Sales Operations Manager) and Quin Clark (Biodiversity & Sustainability Program Manager) - set out on their annual journey to the source of our roots. Part of their visit included a close-up study of one of the main harvest sites. Along with a guide, Caitlin and Quin navigated through the boulder-strewn, rolling grasslands. As they trekked through the grassy plains, the dense thorn bushes common to the savanna biome gave way to aloes and blossoming shrubs, and then finally to a grove of lush trees lining a winding river. Suddenly, a pelargonium plant was spotted, humbly nestling in the grass. Another appeared shortly thereafter. Followed by another, and yet another. All of a sudden, Caitlin and Quin saw them everywhere: a field of pelargoniums swept across the horizon. Witnessing pelargonium in its natural habitat gave the team a new appreciation of the plant’s hardiness and sheer resilience; the distances covered by our dedicated harvesters; and the indescribable, raw beauty of this humble plant’s home.

Pelargonium sidoides is commonly known to our harvesting communities of the Eastern Cape as Uvendle or Ikhubalo. P. sidoides has been used by traditional South African cultures for centuries, mainly for ethno-veterinary applications. The plant is used primarily by the people of the Eastern Cape for the treatment of dysentery in cattle. In order to treat this, P. sidoides root is chopped and soaked for 3 days in water and the resulting extract is administered orally to the cattle. Root decoctions are also used as a remedy against parasites in calves. Boiled leaves serve to protect animal wounds against maggots, as well as to prevent purging in horses. Pulverised roots of P. sidoides are mixed with fresh cow’s milk by traditional healers (commonly known as sangomas) to treat diarrhoea and gastritis in children (and occasionally in adults). A further use of P. sidoides by the people of the Eastern Cape is for the treatment of various bacterial infections. At Afraceuticals, we feel strongly that those who are involved in the process should be the first to have access to the final product and its potent healing benefits. For this reason, we offer complimentary PELAFORCE™ oral drops to all our harvesters.

In the Eastern Cape, many aspects of traditional culture are still preserved. Over 38% of inhabitants in the Eastern Cape live in traditional dwellings and approximately 49% of the population is unemployed. Most of the harvesters are from rural communities without a reliable source of income and very little access to formal employment. This means that most rely on natural resources for subsistence through direct use or resale. Our investment into these communities has had a very meaningful impact for all involved, and our harvesters in particular. This became most tangible for the Afraceuticals team when, during their recent site visit to the Eastern Cape, one of the village’s traditional healers shared her inspiring story. She began by telling us that harvesting for Afraceuticals had changed not only her life, but also that of her daughter. She went on to explain that this was a result of her current monthly income, which is the highest amount she has ever been able to generate. She spoke with warmth and pride as she described how she had recently been able to place her daughter with Down’s Syndrome into a school for children with special needs. Prior to working for Afraceuticals, this hard-working mother had not been able to afford schooling for her child, which meant that this had remained a pipe dream of hers for years. She was thrilled that this dream had finally come to fruition, as she realised that providing her child with schooling would maximise her daughter’s opportunities in life.

We were humbled by this dedicated mother’s gratitude. The vast majority of our harvesters are women, and harvesting has empowered them all to provide a better life for themselves and their families. Afraceuticals offers partner communities support in the form of infrastructure; supply chain access; training in harvesting methods, quality control, traceability, sustainability, and entrepreneurial skills; and sustainable income-generating opportunities. We focus on fostering personal relationships not only with village chiefs and leaders, but also with our devoted harvesters, without whom none of this would be possible.

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