Opinion: How South Africa's Potent Aloe Ferox Is Losing Ground To Foreign Rivals

Barnard Inc.


Barnard Inc is a full-service commercial law firm, with services covering corporate and compliance, intellectual property, construction, mining and engineering, property, fiduciary services commercial litigation, M&A, restructuring, insurance, and family law. Our attorneys advise listed and private companies, individuals, and local and foreign organisations across South Africa, Africa and internationally.
While South Africa harvests a mere 200 tons of Aloe Ferox annually, our global competitors, like Mexico, churn out a staggering 400,000 tons of Aloe Vera.
South Africa Food, Drugs, Healthcare, Life Sciences
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While South Africa harvests a mere 200 tons of Aloe Ferox annually, our global competitors, like Mexico, churn out a staggering 400,000 tons of Aloe Vera. This stark contrast not only highlights a missed economic opportunity but also underscores a perplexing disregard for our own superior indigenous resources. Despite Aloe Ferox being scientifically proven to contain double the amino acids and twenty times more antioxidants than its international cousin, Aloe Vera, our local markets and manufacturers overwhelmingly favour the less potent import. Why do we neglect our own "green gold" in favour of an outsider?

This preference for the foreign Aloe Vera over the local Aloe Ferox is symptomatic of a broader trend of self-inflicted economic wounds. While the latter has all the makings of a Geographical Indication (GI) champion—a status that has lucratively benefited the Rooibos tea sector—efforts to elevate Aloe Ferox to similar heights are bogged down by regulatory red tape and lacklustre industry support.

Retailers' preference for Aloe Vera, driven by its established traceability and consistent supply, seems pragmatic on the surface. However, it reveals a deeper reluctance to invest in the systems and structures that could make Aloe Ferox a global contender. The entrenched farm-gate to pharmacy-shelf challenges and the stringent provisions of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA Act) further exacerbate this issue. 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.

In the shadows of these regulatory obstacles, Aloe Ferox remains an underutilised asset, relegated to niche markets and small-scale production. This is not just an agricultural oversight; it is a glaring economic misstep. By sidelining this indigenous resource, we forfeit millions in potential revenue and deny our farmers and communities the chance to prosper from the land's true bounty.

The path forward requires a radical shift in how we view and value our native species. It demands a coalition of dedicated scientists, legal advisors, and farmers to advocate for more accommodating regulations and stronger market support. The pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, major users of aloe products, must also be brought into the fold to help recalibrate the scales in favour of Aloe Ferox.

South Africa's rich biodiversity is a national treasure, yet our approach to leveraging this wealth remains timid and fragmented. 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.

If we continue to overlook the potential of Aloe Ferox, we not only undermine our biodiversity but also our economy. 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.

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