SERRV Sales and Grants Support Small Farmers in South Africa
Henrik Hesselman, age 72, is a small farmer and Manager of the Heiveld Rooibos Cooperative in
northwest South Africa. Members of the Heiveld and Wupperthal Rooibos Tea Cooperatives are
Afrikaans-speaking small farmers, descendants of the Koisan people, who cultivate rooibos
(Afrikaans for red bush), an herb discovered 300 years ago by their ancestors, Khoisan
The rooibos bush grows only in the Cedarberg Mountains of South Africa's
Western and Northern Cape provinces, is unusually high in anti-oxidants and has been used by the
Khoisan for generations as a refreshing drink and as a treatment for a variety of ailments from dry
skin to colic in babies.
Like many of his ancestors, Henrik did not own his own land but
had been cultivating land rented from an absentee landowner for over 50 years. In early 2006, the
landowner, with no advance warning, decided to terminate Henrik's lease before that year's crop was
harvested. As a result his fellow cooperative members moved up the date of their communal harvest
so they could help him salvage one last crop. Losing access to his fields was a huge setback for
Henrik, softened only by the solidarity and support of his fellow cooperative members and the
continuing success of the Cooperative which he manages.
Fair trade sales of rooibos tea
have made a real difference in the lives of the cooperative members, providing long-term
relationships and living wages. A loan from SERRV International to the Heiveld Cooperative enabled
it to become one-third owner, along with the Wupperthal Cooperative and an on-site manager, of the
Fair Packing Company which packages and markets fairly-traded rooibos tea. SERRV was the first U.S.
customer to buy organic, fair trade rooibos tea directly from small farmers in South Africa, thus
avoiding the middlemen.