Devil's claw

Harpagophytum procumbens and H. zeyheri

Devil’s claw, known for its effective treatment of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, probably has one of the oldest histories in the commercialisation of any indigenous natural plant product in Namibia, starting in the 1960s. Found almost throughout Namibia, with the exception of the arid west, devil’s claw is an important INP in terms of the number of the poorest of the poor earning much-needed supplementary cash income by being involved in its harvesting and trade. It is also important because of the volumes traded and the significant export earnings that Namibia accrues.

Harpagophytum, more commonly known as devil’s claw, comprises two species: H. procumbens and H. zeyheri. The plant is a geophyte with a main taproot from which secondary or storage tubers extend, and it is these secondary storage tubers, which contain the highest concentrations of secondary compounds, including harpagoside, that are harvested for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Devil’s claw derives its name from the fruiting body, which has sharp, re-curved hooks protruding off the fruit, which assist in seed dispersal by attaching themselves to almost anything, including animal pelts. Interestingly many of the local names for devil’s claw (gamagu in Damara, makakata in Oshindonga, omalyata in Oshikwanyama, otjihangatene in Oshiherero and malamatwa in Silozi) in Namibia refer to this feature. The name devil’s claw is a direct translation from the German name Teufelskralle whereas the English name for the plant is actually grapple plant.

Devil’s claw harvesters are generally subsistence farmers living in communal areas where resources are limited and shared. Agricultural activities include rain-fed crop farming, which does not provide a secure source of food or market opportunity. Many households do not own livestock or only have small numbers of animals. These communities are most vulnerable during the dry months, especially if they have been unable to store sufficient quantities of grain during the rainy season to provide staple foods during the rest of the year. During these periods households need to buy food to supplement the limited amounts they have been able to produce through agricultural activities and, in some cases, what they can harvest from wild foods.

Devil’s claw harvesting and sales by harvesters to traders takes place after the end of the rainy season. The Namibian devil’s claw policy states that devil’s claw can be harvested from March to October, but harvesting generally starts in June, once the rains have ceased and crops have been harvested from the fields.

The indigenous inhabitants of Southern Africa, mainly the San, have made use of the plant’s tubers for medicinal purposes for centuries. Ethno-medicinal uses have been recorded mostly for digestive disorders, fever, sores, ulcers and boils, and as an analgesic. Today, devil’s claw is widely used in rural communities, mostly as a general health tonic, an analgesic and a treatment for digestive disorders.

Although the plants were first collected and described by European scientists in 1822, the medicinal properties of devil’s claw were only ‘discovered’ in Namibia in 1907 by GH Mehnert, as a result of his access to the knowledge of the indigenous Khoi and San people. This early bio-prospector exported some dried devil’s claw tubers to Germany, where they were first studied by B. Zorn at the University of Jena in the 1950s,whereafter the medicinal value of devil’s claw for the treatment of rheumatism, arthritis and other ailments of this nature began to be recognised by ‘western medicine’. In 1962, the Namibian company Harpago (Pty) Ltd started exporting devil’s claw-tubers in larger quantities to the German company Erwin Hagen Naturheilmittel GmbH.

Devil’s claw products are registered as Herbal Medicines in France and Germany, and as Food Supplements in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, the USA and the Far East. Lending credibility to its efficacy, devil’s claw’s applications are listed in various references, amongst which the following are considered to be the most important:

  • The European Pharmacopoeia. Published in 1964, sets out common standards for the composition and preparation of substances used in the manufacture of medicines, with the aim of guaranteeing their quality. The monographs listed have the force of law, replacing earlier national pharmacopoeias. It supplies manufacturers with a list of ‘reference samples’, enabling them to ascertain and ensure the quality and conformity of medicines produced and marketed in Europe, or exported from it. It is recognised as one of the main authorities on medicinal quality and safety, and its cooperation with the European Union has resulted in the setting-up of a scientific research programme to standardise biological medicines, and an official network of medicine control laboratories. This pooling of expertise helps to ensure that the same quality standards are applied throughout Europe.
  • The German Commission E (the German equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States), is a governmental regulatory agency that was established in 1978 to evaluate and approve traditional, folk and herbal medicaments and to publish monographs listing uses and side effects. Under one of these monographs, devil’s claw is indicated for the treatment of painful arthrosis, loss of appetite and dyspepsia, and as a supportive therapy for degenerative disorders of the locomotive system.
  • The monographs of The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP), founded in June 1989, is as an umbrella organisation representing national phytotherapy associations across Europe with the aim of advancing the scientific status of phytomedicines and assisting with the harmonisation of their regulatory status at the European level. ESCOP recognises it for the treatment of painful arthrosis, tendonitis, loss of appetite and dyspepsia.

More recently, in 2004, the EU Directive on Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products 2004/24/EC came into force aimed at making the entry of traditionally used medicinal products into the EU simpler, while at the same time ensuring that quality and safety standards are met, thereby providing safe usage information and giving the public confidence in the use of these applications. A seven-year transitional phase was granted for unlicensed products on the market to become registered. A necessary requirement for registration was that the product should demonstrate at least 30 years of traditional use, of which 15 years must have been in the EU. By April 2011, all herbal medicinal products had to be registered under this directive to remain in the market. They could either be designated as ‘well established use’ or as ‘traditional use’. However, there seem to be differences in the interpretation of the above, for example, in Germany devil’s claw is approved under the ‘well established use’ category, while elsewhere it is approved under ‘traditional use’.

Clinical research has demonstrated the efficacy of devil’s claw as an analgesic, antirheumatic and antiinflammatory agent in the treatment of, for example, back pain. Its main commercial use today derives from an extract from the root tubers which is added to various proprietary joint-care products. Active ingredients that have been noted include iridoid glycosides such as harpagoside, procumbide and harpagide, phenols such as acetosid and isoacetoside, and other substances including harpagoquinones, amino acids, flavonoids and phytosterols. The relative presence of these complex molecules constitutes the main chemical difference between H. procumbens and H. zeyheri.

In general, the level of active ingredients, in particular that of harpagoside, is used to determine the quality of dried tubers supplied. Aqueous or ethanol-based technologies are most commonly used for the extraction of the active ingredients, although extraction can also be effected with liquid carbon dioxide and a cosolvent. Various patents regarding extraction technologies have been registered.

Broadly speaking there are presently three key market segments for devil’s claw:

  • as an extract in herbal medicines – generally referred to as ‘traditional herbal remedies’ – sold over the counter as opposed to on prescription from a medical doctor. In Germany, the proportion of prescriptions from physicians for the treatment of poly-arthritis, and back and joint pains that included Harpagophytum had increased significantly from 40% in 2000 to 60% in 2001, accounting for approximately 74% of the treatments for rheumatism in that country. This, however, decreased when devil’s claw (and a number of other “natural products”) was removed from the list of claimable items on medical aid schemes in 2004. By mid-2004, the sales of herbal medicines in Germany (including devil’s claw) had decreased by approximately 50%.
  • as a raw material for veterinary herbal remedies or animal food supplements, or an extract in a proprietary veterinary ‘cure’; and
  • as a herbal tea with therapeutic qualities.

Of these traditional herbal medicines are estimated to have the biggest market share (92%), followed by veterinary medicine (5%), and then herbal tea (3%).

Devil’s claw or Harpagophytum, grows in many parts of Southern Africa, mainly in deep Kalahari sands that cover much of the region. Populations have been recorded in Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique. It comprises two species, H. procumbens (with two subspecies, procumbens and transvaalensis) and H. zeyheri (with three subspecies, zeyheri, sublobatum and schijffii) Devil’s claw is a perennial prostrate vine and has a strong taproot with a number of secondary storage tubers growing laterally off of the taproot. H. procumbens, which is the more sought-after species due to its higher concentration of active ingredients, is concentrated in central and southern Namibia, north-eastern South Africa and central-western Botswana. H. zeyheri occurs further to the north, in both Namibia and Botswana, as well as in Angola, South Africa and Zambia.

Regulations and conservation

In Namibia, devil’s claw was listed in 1977 as a protected species by the former Ministry of Environment and Tourism under the Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1975 and, as a result, permits were required for harvesting, trade and export. This system was introduced due to increased trade and the subsequent concerns regarding the conservation status of the species. Devil’s claw is protected through similar legislation in both Botswana and South Africa and, more recently, Zambia but not in Angola.

However, a Namibian study in 1986 established that only 10% of the harvested devil’s claw was being harvested with a valid permit, and the permit system for harvesting, possession and transportation of devil’s claw was subsequently discontinued, as it could not be effectively implemented. Permits thereafter continued to be required only for the export of devil’s claw and were mainly intended as a way to monitor exports - no quotas or other limitations were imposed.

Increasing concerns regarding possible over-utilisation in Namibia were raised again in 1999. This was due to a dramatic increase in export figures of dried devil’s claw from approximately 300 tonnes in 1996/7 to over 600 tonnes in 1998/9, and to reports of unsustainable harvesting practices (unsustainable harvesting refers to when the taproot is removed) and exploitative prices being paid to harvesters. This prompted the Government of Namibia to reintroduce an amended permit system for the harvesting of devil’s claw.

In 1999 the government drafted a policy in 1999 concerning the use of devil’s claw resources but never ratified it. With the support of the Millennium Challenge Account Namibia Indigenous Natural Products (MCA-N INP) Activity the Namibian Government revised and ratified the policy in 2010. The MET has the task of enforcing the policy and uses traceability as a tool, where permits are required for all stages of production and the sale of devil’s claw. One of the main aspects of this policy is that a ‘harvesting season’ (1 March – 31 October) was established with no harvesting permitted outside of this period. In addition, traders and exporters now have to complete a test on various aspects related to the policy in order to be registered with the MET as such.

Concern regarding the sustainability of the devil’s claw resource was also highlighted at an international level when, in April 2000 at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) eleventh Conference of Parties (CoP 11) held in Kenya, Germany proposed that both species be listed on Appendix II. Namibia and other Southern African range states did not support the listing and the proposal was withdrawn, primarily because of the absence of scientific data to support it.

There has been no comprehensive range-wide survey to determine the extent of the devil’s claw resource within Namibia, largely due to the many difficulties, such as the vast area that would need to be covered, the remoteness and inaccessibility of many areas, as well as some difficulty in finding the plants, particularly in wooded areas. Population figures cited in the literature are therefore local and/or anecdotal. Reports of population densities vary from less than one to more than 2,000 plants per hectare. Plants tend to occur in definite population clusters, which can possibly be explained by the adventitious establishment of a single mother plant due to animal-borne seed dispersal, followed by a localised population increase from that mother plant. However, there might also be a correlation with groundwater availability, and competition for this resource from other deep-rooted plants.

While not essential in determining and ensuring sustainability some knowledge of the extent of the resource would go a long way in forecasting potential wild production levels.

Cultivation

As with many other indigenous plant products, ensuring consistent and increasing supply are not features that escape devil’s claw. Commercial cultivation is now possible, and has been tested in both Namibia and South Africa. To date, however, the continued availability and the lower prices paid for wild harvested devil’s claw has meant that only limited production has taken place. There has been considerable debate regarding the possibility of the supply of commercially cultivated devil’s claw having a negative impact on harvesters of the wild product. In this respect, however, two scenarios can be considered, one which sees cultivation marginalising rural harvesters, the other benefiting them.

Negative impact: The supply of large quantities of cultivated material could impact negatively on the livelihoods of rural harvesters by taking up much of the market share. For a variety of reasons, such as the unavailability of capital, technology and, in some cases, access to land, it is unlikely that rural harvesters would be able to enter into commercial cultivation. If the cultivation methods that are currently being developed can succeed under a more favourable climatic, human resource and institutional/infrastructural conditions, but cannot be replicated in the context of the far less favourable conditions prevailing in traditional-use areas, the expropriation of the rights of the original providers of traditional knowledge regarding devil’s claw will have been completed, with the only winners being the commercial farming and pharmaceutical sectors.

Positive impact: Appropriate cultivation efforts at a rural level could have a positive impact on the livelihoods of rural harvesters. For example, appropriate cultivation efforts, such as enrichment planting, could provide rural harvesters with the opportunity to increase their resource base, thereby ensuring their continued participation in the trade. At the same time, cultivation efforts could also provide an opportunity to ‘rehabilitate’ areas in which unsustainable harvesting has taken place. Enrichment planting involves planting seedlings into areas where devil’s claw already grows but does not require any ‘traditional’ cultivation upkeep, such as weeding.

The harvesting of and trade in devil’s claw in Namibia is characterised by a complex set of formal and informal arrangements. In the supply chain, material does not simply move from harvester to trader to exporter. There is a complicated network of trading that takes place between the harvester and the exporter. Understanding this system is further complicated by a lack of information and data, particularly regarding the informal sector, which plays a large role in the supply of devil’s claw. In terms of supply, three main groupings can be identified: harvesters, traders and exporters.

Harvesters

Harvesters in Namibia are drawn from the poorest segments of society, who eke out a living under the most marginal of agricultural and socioeconomic conditions and who rely on the harvesting and sale of devil’s claw to generate some cash income. The importance of this income to household food security should not be underestimated. The exact number of harvesters of devil’s claw in Namibia is unknown, however, some estimates have put this figure to be between 3,000 - 5,000 harvesters. The following generalisations can be applied to the organisation of harvesters:

Individual harvesters: These harvesters generally live within or close to a harvesting location, but may move to other areas during harvesting times. They are independent and will in most cases sell directly to an exporter. In some cases, however, devil’s claw may be sold to traders.

Group harvesters: It is more common that harvesters are organised into groups who harvest in a particular area. The manner in which they are organised varies quite considerably and also determines the income they generate from harvesting. These groups fall into two broad categories:

  • Organised into a group by a middleman and taken to a particular area in which they may remain for some months to harvest. The middleman will supply food and water when they collect the dried devil’s claw from the harvesters. The cost of food and transport is often deducted from the wages that harvesters receive on completion of harvesting. In this scenario, harvesters are unlikely to receive fair compensation for their harvesting efforts. The bulk of devil’s claw is supplied in this manner.
  • In other instances, harvesters are organised into groups by other bodies (NGOs and church organisations), which attempt to maximise the benefits to harvesters. This has seen a prolific increase in recent years, particularly with the implementation of the MCA Namibia INP Activity.

The manner in which harvesters are organised and the benefits they receive have a direct impact on the sustainability of the harvesting practices.

Traders

In terms of the devil’s claw policy of 2010 traders are now required to be registered with the MET. However their roles are largely unknown and there seems to be a fluctuation in and out of the trade depending on demand, economic incentive and need. Some traders operate on an ad hoc basis, while in other cases some exporters have highly organised supply networks with a number of traders directly linked to them. There are other, more opportunistic, traders, however, that will supply any exporter.

There is clearly a link between the number of traders, or marketing layers, between harvesters and product manufacturers on the one hand and the benefits derived by harvesters on the other. There is usually a chain of traders between harvesters, the exporters and the processors of the final product, and the poor price paid to harvesters is often a reflection of this.

However, traders could also play a positive role by linking poor rural harvesters to the market and by providing other services that would not otherwise be available to them. For a marketing system to be mutually beneficial, it would have to be organised in a manner that prevents the exploitation of harvesters by traders.

Exporters

Exporters are also required to be registered with the MET. The number of exporters of devil’s claw from Namibia has also varied over the last decade or two. For example, between 1995 and 2002 there were 17 Namibian exporters who each exported two tonnes or more of dried devil’s claw, with some exporting more than 100 tonnes. More recently, however, there appear to be no more than five main exporters. In general, all of them have additional sources of income and, in most cases, the contribution of devil’s claw exports to their incomes is relatively small (between 2.5 and 25%).

In June 2014 these five main exporters decided to form a Namibia Devil’s Claw Exporters Association as a Trust with the support from MCA-N which provided legal and technical assistance. The main thrust of the Trust is to promote and protect the trade in devil’s claw in Namibia. This is a noteworthy achievement and, while it is still early days, should at least send a message to the international market that there is at last some form of collaboration and coordination in Namibia.

The vision of the Trust, is to promote a sustainable, profitable, active and quality-driven devil’s claw industry in Namibia, while the objective is to constitute an entity to represent the devil’s claw industry in Namibia with respect to resource sustainability, sustainable harvesting, supply-chain management and ensuring benefits to all stakeholders, traceability, quality control, local value addition, policy development and generic marketing. The Trust will promote and aspire to the following core standards and values, in relation to the devil’s claw industry in Namibia:

  • Implementation of sound regulatory systems to control mandated standards and quality assurance around resource sustainability, production, processing and marketing;
  • Promotion of export diversification and local value addition by increasing market access to competitive markets;
  • Strengthening of relations with Government and key stakeholders leading towards improved collaboration and partnerships;
  • Promotion of sustainable harvesting and trade of devil’s claw in Namibia on a basis ensuring adherence to the Namibian policy on devil’s claw;
  • Promoting and ensuring that all devil’s claw purchased, imported and exported from Namibia, is of the highest quality and fully traceable;
  • Establishing a mechanism to undertake generic marketing, including the promotion of ‘premium Namibian devil’s claw’, that is devil’s claw that meets all the relevant standards.

The Sustainably Harvested Devil’s Claw Model

Although for decades devil’s claw has been an established product in the world market, the industry was not focused on sustainability or benefit sharing with harvesters. Prior to the introduction of the Sustainably Harvested Devil’s Claw (SHDC) model, the industry’s growth was based on exploitative relations of production and trade between harvesters and exporters, and between exporters and European buyers. Some estimates have indicated that Namibia captures between 1 – 2% of the value of the trade in devil’s claw extracts and harvesters consequently not more than 0.5%.

The SHDC project started in 1997/98 as a pilot on one farm, namely Vergenoeg (an Afrikaans word meaning ‘far enough’), and by 1999/2000 had expanded to 17 other farms in the Omaheke Region. The project was implemented by the Centre for Research Information and Action in Africa, Southern Africa – Development and Consulting (CRIAA SA-DC). Its implementation was funded by a number of donors at that time.

The MCA-N INP Producer and Processor Organisations (PPO) sub-activity has enabled significant scaling up to occur in the last three years. The SHDC concept introduced a simple benefit-sharing model based on the insight that there is a growing congruence of interests linking ethical consumerism in the Northern Hemisphere to sustainable resource use and socioeconomic equity in the Southern Hemisphere.

In addition to the donors mentioned above, the involvement of the private sector was crucial to the setting up and sustainability of the project. Mike Brooke of the Organic Herb Trading Company (formerly Hambleden Herbs) in the UK was interested in sourcing sustainably harvested devil’s claw, and played a key role in the very early phases of the project. Another key SHDC project partner was the devil’s claw exporting firm Gamagu, owned by Mike and Sabine Krafft of Dordabis in Namibia, who supported the implementation by entering into buying agreements with the harvester groups, which ensured consistency and improved prices to harvesters.

The basis of the SHDC project is formed by the activation and organisation of groups of registered harvesters. Harvesters engage in an exchange of knowledge on sustainable resource use, and voluntarily adopt sustainable resource management practices which they have helped to formulate. Pre- and post-harvest ecological monitoring surveys help them to set sustainable harvesting quotas and to monitor compliance with sustainable harvesting techniques. These techniques were tested in a five-year research programme to investigate the long-term impact of regular harvesting on the plant populations’ regeneration and growth rates. Importantly, the research showed that there were no adverse impacts detected.

Key to sustainable practices introduced by the SHDC model is the harvesting only from mature plants, and taking only the secondary tubers. This is achieved by only harvesting a portion of the tubers from each plant over a two-year period with a further rest period of two to three years or harvesting all the tubers with a three-to four-year rest period between harvests. In addition, the taproot is not disturbed and the hole is refilled with soil after harvesting to enable re-growth in two to three years. The innovative SHDC model, however, is more than just a sustainable harvesting technique it considers mechanisms to maximise benefits to harvesters. Supporting harvesters to organise into harvester groups so that they can collectively sell directly to an exporter rather than to an informal trader is an important aspect of this strategy. The SHDC model includes the following key features:

  • Training and registration of harvesters who apply for a group permit
  • Management system for quality control and record keeping that guarantees product traceability
  • Sustainable harvesting methods, compliance of which is ensured through harvest monitoring and postharvest impact assessments
  • Reliable partnership with local exporter, which secures a market and access to market information
  • Premium price paid directly to harvesters

Prior to the MCA-N INP intervention there were nine organised harvester groups representing some 830 harvesters who supplied approximately 46 tonnes of sustainably harvested devil’s claw during the 2009 harvesting season. This generated almost N$590,000, or about N$710 per harvester. In 2011, there were 18 harvester groups supported by the MCA-N INP Activity who collectively produced more than 100 tonnes of devil’s claw, and harvesters earned approximately N$1.9 million; with 1,321 harvesters, this equates to N$1,500 per harvester. In 2012 there were 23 harvester groups comprising 2,254 harvesters who produced and sold 215 tonnes with the collective contribution to harvester’s income amounting to approximately N$ 4.2 million, or about N$1,880 per harvester. In 2013 there were 19 harvester groups who harvested and sold 104 tonnes and directly earned about N$2.4 million, with 1,494 harvesters earning almost N$1,660 per harvester.

PPOs that received support through the MCA-N INP Activity supplied almost 20% of Namibia’s devil’s claw exports in 2011, close to 43% in 2012 and approximately 20% in 2013. The decline in 2013 was largely due to a proposed ban by the MET on harvesting and trade in the Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi) which did not materialise but took time to resolve. As a result it was considered by many harvester groups to be too late in the season to start harvesting and although it resulted in reduced revenue to harvesters, allowed the area to rest for the year.

Namibia is by far the largest supplier of devil’s claw in the world, providing at least 90% or more of the product used worldwide, although more recently significant quantities originating from Angola and Zambia have been reported. Other range States such as Botswana and South Africa also export, but to date in smaller quantities. However, records (where they exist) of production from all the other range States indicate some inconsistency attributable to numerous problems that occur in managing a harvesting permit system, including bypassing the system and under-reporting even where a permitting system is in place.

The first large scale exports of devil’s claw from Namibia were recorded in 1962. Namibia exported a total of more than 9,500 tonnes to European and other markets between 1992 and 2013, with an average annual export of approximately 435 tonnes. Although highly speculative, the value of foreign export earnings to Namibia from devil’s claw from 2011 to 2013 is estimated between N$20–30 million per annum based on figures obtained from Namibian exporters. The reason for the speculation is that there is no fixed price for devil’s claw exports and export prices received by Namibian exporters are kept confidential.

Although there is some variation in countries that import devil’s claw from Namibia, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain and South Africa were the largest importers between 2009 and 2013. In total, 12 countries imported devil’s claw from Namibia during this period. The above mentioned countries all imported 100 tonnes or more in total while the ‘other’ countries, Switzerland, China, Brazil, South Korea, United Kingdom and the United States imported less than 100 tonnes in total.

Trends in the export of devil’s claw over a single year seem to indicate three main peaks in activity - March/ April, June to August and October/November - with the last being the highest peak.

Currently no in-country value addition takes place in Namibia apart from the initial slicing and drying, although a new initiative to develop an extract locally was initiated in 2012, supported by MCA-N. Although it is still too early to tell whether this will take off, preliminary indications are that such value addition would be economically viable.

In 2002 research indicated that although devil’s claw from Namibia is sorted and bagged by the Namibian exporters before export, between 60 to 80% of it went to international buyers that only cleaned, graded, pre-processed (ground) and repacked it. Only about 12% of the exports went directly to extractors/manufacturers. The balance of devil’s claw exported went to unknown buyers that may themselves have extracted or manufactured their own products. There is no real evidence that this has changed since 2002, with the exception of a Namibian company (ECOSO Dynamics) that now produces tablets and powder for the retail market. However, even they send the dried devil’s claw to South Africa, where the tablets are manufactured under contract.

Once devil’s claw has left Namibia, it moves through a complicated network of phyto-extract processors and end-product manufacturers, including:

  • phyto-ingredient suppliers who stock hundreds of different plants in their unprocessed form;
  • specialist phyto-ingredient suppliers who stock certified, cleaned and sliced devil’s claw for the manufacturers of end products; and
  • extraction companies who buy devil’s claw for producing extracts that are either used in their own branded products or sold to other manufacturers of branded products.

Nevertheless ‘value addition’ remains a complex idea for devil’s claw in Namibia. The Namibian market is small and would be unable to take up a significant quantity of a local value-added devil’s claw product. Value addition is constrained further by a number of extraction and other patents that are held outside of the country. In addition, regulations governing export of a finished product into many countries are stringent and costly to overcome, and this, coupled with the costs associated with marketing a product internationally, make local value addition of devil’s claw in Namibia rather unappealing.

The harvesting and trade of devil’s claw has come a long way since the 1960s. The fact that it is still in reasonably good shape is testament to the resilience and determination of those who continue to be involved in the trade. Current demand worldwide appears to be stable and should continue to be so considering the proven efficacy of devil’s claw in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism.

Significant progress in many areas has also been made in terms of resource management, sustainable harvesting and trade. With respect to policy and regulation, Namibia in 2010 amended its policy on devil’s claw to strengthen the monitoring of various aspects of the trade with particular emphasis on ensuring traceability throughout the supply chain. Based on the Namibian policy Zambia also introduced and promulgated legislation in 2013 that is aimed at improving resource management, harvesting and trade.

Noble efforts have also been made at expanding the SHDC model. Having been pioneered by one small group of harvesters, it is now implemented by 24 organised harvester groups throughout Namibia and presently probably covers in the region of 4 million hectares. Similarly organised groups, based on the SHDC model, are now also being established in Zambia and Angola.

Within Namibia there are estimated to be between 1,500 to 2,500 harvesters organised in such a manner. Added to those in Angola and Zambia this number could now be as high as 4,000. Increased harvester organisation has also been boosted by the formation in Namibia of the Namibian Devil’s Claw Exporters Association.

This augurs well for resource management, quality control, improved harvester income and trade. However, Namibia and other producing range states remain price takers rather than price setters. Bold and innovative decisions will need to be taken if the opportunity that this presents is to be taken full advantage of.

Despite the advantages and improvements mentioned above, remain a number of challenges that will need to be addressed if this advantage is to be fully pushed home.

Firstly, all of the mechanisms and other institutional arrangements mentioned above will need to be maintained and grown.

Secondly, policy and regulation will be ineffective unless they are fully implemented and remain pragmatic in their approach so that while they address conservation issues they, at the same time, provide realistic guidelines to support sustainable harvesting and the trade, including local value addition, of devil’s claw.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the harvesting of and trade in devil’s claw offers a small but important opportunity for rural inhabitants to generate much- needed cash income. These benefits are available only for a limited season and are dependent on environmental conditions. The socioeconomic issues influencing and impacting on devil’s claw resource management, harvesting, trade and benefits cannot be seen in isolation from the broader socioeconomic issues facing people in the rural areas of Namibia today.

In this regard there is an ever-increasing pressure on the devil’s claw resource as a means for rural inhabitants to generate much-needed income.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to create other income-generating opportunities to supplement the benefits obtained from devil’s claw if there is to be any substantial improvement in the livelihoods of the rural poor.