AFRICANGLOBE – The ecosystem in which Devil’s Claw is cultivated can best be described as partially degraded Kalahari woodland and shrub land.
The resettlement farms are relatively densely populated and are heavily grazed. For settlers without livestock, Devil’s Claw harvesting often constitutes the only source of cash income. The plant has a strong taproot with a number of secondary storage tubers growing off it – these tubers are listed in the European Pharmacopoeia and are used mainly in the treatment of rheumatism and arthritic ailments.
There is a growing international demand for Devil’s Claw because it contains compounds that combine analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties with minimal side-effects.
Namibia is the main (and most drought-prone) distribution centre of Harpagophytum procumbens and its genetic biodiversity of this species has been the target of European and South African efforts to collect high-yielding strains for use in domestication and cultivation trials. Efforts to link harvesters directly to a large European pharmaceutical company have not succeeded yet. The vision of the exporting project is to create a clear and long-term market link between participating harvesters and upstream national and international operators, on the basis of a superior product.
Harvesting groups are equipped with scales and have access to secure storage facilities. This allows them to know exactly how much each harvester is supplying, how much the group is harvesting, and to collate commercially viable quantities of Devil’s Claw at central points where it can easily be collected by the exporter. In return harvesters are paid a premium price directly by the exporter (at least 50% – and in some cases up to 1 000% – more than prices paid by informal-sector middlemen).
Chairperson of the Okamatapati Conservancy, Eberhard Karita, says the aim is to continue sustainable utilisation of an important natural resource to secure cash income for its traditional users and other poor people in rural areas, an increased share of total income accruing to harvesters and to establish long-term and mutually beneficial relationship between harvesters and upstream operators (exporters, processors, pharmaceutical users)
“This is also an opportunity for traditional wild-harvesters to avoid being forced out of the supply chain by possible domestication and cultivation of the plant and encourages conservation and sustainable use by increasing the perceived long-term value of the
plant to the harvesters. We must also facilitate sustainable use through the dissemination of sustainable harvesting and resource management practices, which will result in a larger share of benefits accruing to harvesters and the holders of traditional knowledge,” he says.
In English the plant is called Devil’s Claw or Grapple Plant because of the very sharp, hooked form of the woody fruits. These fruits are distributed by hooking onto animals and being carried away. They are shaped in such a way that ripe seed will be shaken out of old fruits while the animal walks. Seeds will also germinate close to the mother plant after being released by decaying pods.
By: Deon Schlechter
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