South Africa’s ‘bitterly’ missed opportunity

 ·12 May 2024

The aloe plant has been highly valued for its medicinal and beauty benefits for centuries.

In recent times, it has gained even more popularity, with the market size for the plant valued at $2.65 billion in 2023 and is projected to grow from $2.86 billion in 2024 to $5.34 billion by 2032.

South Africa’s indigenous Aloe Ferox plant (also known as the Cape or Bitter Aloe) contains almost double the amount of amino acids and twenty times more antioxidants than its international cousin, Aloe Vera.

However, the amount cultivated pales in comparison to its international cousin by global peers.

South Africa harvests 200 – 300 tons of Aloe Ferox annually. Global competitors, like Mexico, churn out 400,000 tons of the international aloe vera.

This was outlined by Gerard Verhoef from Barnard Law Firm, who said that “this stark contrast not only highlights a missed economic opportunity but also underscores a perplexing disregard for our own superior indigenous resources.”

“If we continue to overlook the potential of Aloe Ferox, we not only undermine our biodiversity but also our economy [so] it’s high time South Africa capitalises on its green gold, turning the tables on international competitors and finally giving Aloe Ferox the global podium it deserves,” he added.

Verhoef said the preference for the foreign Aloe Vera over the local Aloe Ferox is “symptomatic of a broader trend of self-inflicted economic wounds.”

He said that Aloe Ferox has the potential to achieve Geographical Indication (GI) status like Rooibos tea, but regulatory hurdles and weak industry support are slowing its advancement.

Verhoef pins retailer’s preference for Aloe Vera due to its reliable traceability and supply, indicating a reluctance to develop Aloe Ferox into a global contender.

Farm-gate to pharmacy-shelf challenges and National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA Act) provisions exacerbate the issue.

This is “because the act imposes rigorous requirements for benefit sharing and sustainability, which, while well-intentioned, have inadvertently stifled innovation and commercialisation of local species like Aloe Ferox,” said Verhoef.

Thus, Verhoef argues that Aloe Ferox, a valuable South African resource, is underutilised due to restrictive regulations, hindering economic growth and community prosperity.

He calls for advocacy from scientists, farmers, and industries alike to unlock its potential.

“Aloe Ferox could be a flagship in the global wellness market, much like Rooibos has become for tea, but until we embrace and promote our indigenous resources with the same vigour as we do foreign ones, our ‘green gold’ will remain just out of reach, a latent promise unfulfilled,” said Verhoef.

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