Red lattes and teas may be scarce and spendy as rooibos suffers from drought

JOHANNESBURG – From frothy red lattes to rust-colored teas, popular rooibos drinks will likely become scarcer and more expensive because of a widespread drought in South Africa, including in scrubland where the rooibos plant normally flourishes.

A devastated rooibos harvest may lead to a 90 per cent price increase, a trade council said on Thursday. The United States is one of the biggest importers of rooibos tea.

There was little rainfall during the July and August planting months which could cause the worst harvest in years, the South African Rooibos Council said in a statement.

Farmers will only know the extent of their losses in the first half of 2016 when the volume of the final harvest is known, said council spokesman Ernest du Toit. Last year’s rooibos harvest yielded 11,000 metric tons.

“Although difficult to evaluate the true impact of the drought at this stage, we expect it to be significant,” du Toit said in the statement. “As things stand, there will not be enough volume to service both the local and export demand.”

South Africa exports more than half of its annual rooibos harvest to more than 30 countries, with Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States making up its biggest markets, according to the council’s website. The rooibos industry, which also produces skincare and household products, earns an estimated 500 million rand, or $35 million.

South Africa is the only region where the rooibos plant grows naturally, found in the mountainous regions in the country’s Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces.