The Kopjes’ Treasure
Vongai Magwiridze is a farmer from hot, dry Chivi district where declining rainfall is threatening livelihoods in the community. Although agricultural crops struggle under changing climatic conditions, many indigenous plants, well adapted to dry conditions, continue to thrive. The tough resurrection bush is one of these. It grows in pockets of shallow soil on Zimbabwe’s rocky outcrops, known as kopjes, and has long been used as a traditional medicine. But it is now gaining popularity outside its places of origin.
A few years ago, Vongai and a group of other local women started harvesting resurrection bush for sale and export. “In the past we used resurrection bush as a sweeping broom or boiled the twigs for inhalation for children when they had a flu or chest ailments. Sometimes we arranged the leaves in the house as decorative ornaments. But then we discovered its other uses, such as for cosmetics and tea,” Vongai says.
She and her fellow collectors harvest the plant during the dry season between June and October. The harvesters use secateurs to carefully trim a few twigs at a time at lengths that depend on customer requirements (usually 10cm). “We try to make the plant look as if it has not been cut,” laughs Vongai.
Although resurrection bush is abundant, the harvesters are careful to avoid over-exploitation. “Monitors have been appointed to check all the harvesting sites to ensure that no overharvesting takes place. We also have agreements with local traditional leaders who fine anyone seen to be abusing the bush. Since many people now know that resurrection bush is a source of income it is highly protected by the community and overharvesting does not take place. We also avoid harvesting in the same place continuously. We give the harvesting site a rest allowing it to rejuvenate while we move on to the next area,” Vongai explains.
Vongai and her friends use the money they earn from selling resurrection bush twigs to pay school fees and to buy food and livestock feed. Vongai has used some of her earnings to buy goats and one of her fellow harvesters bought a cow. Vongai has seen the market for resurrection bush growing over the past years; the last order her group received was so big that she was able to settle all of her children’s outstanding school fees.