DEVIL'S CLAW: HOW TO BRIDGE BETWEEN OVEREXPLOITATION AND UNDERUTILIZATION
Devils claw is the common name for two species in the genus Harpagophytum, native to Southern Africa. Their root extracts contain the iridoid glycoside harpagoside, which has been found to be effective in the treatment of degenerative rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, kidney inflammation and heart disease. Harpagophytum species products are generally registered as herbal medicine or as food supplement but not as chemically formulated medication. Devil's claw tubers are wild-harvested by people of the poorest sections of society, who eke out a living under marginal agricultural and socio-economic conditions and rely on the sale of devils claw to generate a cash income, which is extremely important to household food security. In 2002, the peak year of export, 1,018 tonnes of dried tubers were exported, mainly from Namibia, representing the harvest of 50 million plants. Under such rates of wild-harvest, devil's claw survival is significantly endangered. In 2001, devil's claw sales in Germany were estimated at 30 M while the Namibian income from devil's claw export that year was only 2.7 M. With the considerable formal and informal network of middlemen, the harvesters' income remains extremely dull. The case of devil's claw is a perfect example how, for historical reasons, the unusual potential of a plant species is underutilized, while the sustainability of the production system is endangered due to poor income and overexploitation. A long-term revolution is required at every level of the production and marketing chain. First, production must be shifted from wild-harvest to sustainable cultivation systems, tailor-made for the capacity and conditions of the target population. To do so, the problems of propagation and water requirements should be addressed. Second, a non-profit authority should be established to supply seedlings, to guide growers and to manage transportation of produce to destinations. Finally, in order to benefit from the produce in Namibia, the local industry must be encouraged and the export of raw materials gradually reduced by appropriate regulation and agreements. Worldwide marketing should be endorsed, taking advantage of the competition among international traders of generic pharmaceutical produce.
Cole, D. and Bustan, A. (2009). DEVIL'S CLAW: HOW TO BRIDGE BETWEEN OVEREXPLOITATION AND UNDERUTILIZATION. Acta Hortic. 806, 603-614
adding value, Harpagophytum spp., herbal medicine, pharmaceuticals marketing, trade regulations, sustainable cultivation