Organic Gotu Kola Market
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Vanessa
Posted on: October 04, 2007

I came across your contact details in the online article: Tapping Into the Organic Herb & Spice Market. If you have the time to answer my query I would appreciate it. On our ‘farm’ in South Africa (not a working farm but a piece of land in the country) we have a lot of gotu kola growing wild and naturally. Is there a viable market for the herb? What would be the best way to go about sourcing a market, harvesting, preparing, packaging and transporting the herb? If you could perhaps point me in the right direction it would be really great.

We get asked often about the commercial potential of wild stands of herbs. But it is not easy to give clear direction because much depends on circumstances. Most of the world’s gotu kola supply is from India. But much of what we have seen from India is poor quality, and I feel that there are market opportunities for growers and wildcrafters who produce a superior product.

But the first thing that comes to mind is how are you going to harvest the herb in a competitive fashion. If the wild stand is intermittant and on uneven terrain, hand labour may be the only option for harvesting. Consider that gotu kola is a wild herb in India and Sri Lanka where labour is cheap; are you able to secure cheap labour to harvest the herb by hand?

It is interesting to note that herbs are often cultivated where they are abundant in the wild because of the advantages of mechanical harvesting and because the crop quality is often better. A herb like gotu kola is very easy to grow in field conditions, so we are even seeing this crop under cultivation in America where the cost of labour is of course much higher than India and Africa.

Often the first approach for a new producer is to sell to brokers. But brokers are usually interested in only large lots, often in the tonnes. Is your stand of gotu kola large enough to yield dried herb in this quantity range?

You refer to the organic market article, so I assume that you are thinking of selling a product acceptable to that market. Wildcrafted herbs do not automatically qualify for the certified organic market: you have to get your stand certified by a competent and internationally recognized organic certified. If you hope to sell to the North American market you should look for a certifier that is accredited under the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP).

Once your stand is harvested then the postharvest issues are pretty much the same as for cultivated crops. I strongly recommend that you get a copy of Greg Whitten’s book "Herbal Harvest" which is an excellent guide on many of the issues that you will encounter in preparing your product for sale and marketing it. This book is available from Richters.

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