the story of Tresia Hamutenya
Sustainable Harvest of Devil’s Claws restores hope
December 15, 2022
It is unlikely that, Tresia Hamutenya would have had the courage to wake up early morning to be at her village’s central point by 6 AM. But on the 9th of August 2022, she decided to make the long queue to participate in her first devil’s claw harvest with other women harvesters from and around her village Katope, about 10 Km from Mpungu, in the Kavango West Region of Northern Namibia.
Organized by Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF), a consortium under the Namibia Integrated Landscape Approach for Enhancing Livelihoods and Environmental Governance to Eradicate Poverty (NILALEG) Project, the harvest brought together a total of 186 community members, which includes 137 females and 49 males of which the majority were youth from ten villages namely, Nepara l, Nepara ll, Tjohwa, Nkulivere, Gava, Katope, Ngandu, Kasimba, Nkorose and Siraro villages.
As a 32-year-old single mother of three, Tresia relies on her small business selling sweats and biscuits around Katope to support her children aged twelve, nine and seven. Her business has not been profitable enough to sustain herself and family however, her dream is to expand her business and own a convenience store in Katope. She ruminates on the occasions when she did not make profit:
“On many occasions, I do not make profit from my small business, and I still have to pay school fees for my children who all depend on me” she explained. “Additionally, since I live in my family home, I am expected to contribute to household upkeep.”
With her self-determination and desire to improve the lives and livelihoods of her family through sustainable harvesting of devil’s claw, she was undaunted by the physical challenge of the long road ahead to achieve her dreams.
The sustainable harvesting training provided to women harvesters like Tresia is lifechanging. Sustainable harvesting techniques of devil claw ensure the long-term use of the plant resource which involves only partially harvesting the plant’s underground tubers but allowing it time to recover for re-harvest in future. One of the obstacles to increasing harvest productivity in Katope is that devil’s claw harvesting and sales by harvesters to traders only takes place after the end of the rainy season. The Namibian devil’s claw policy states that devil’s claw can be harvested from March to October, but harvesting generally starts in June, especially with climate change altering everything.
As a signed-up harvester, Tresia was one of the women who took advantage of the opportunity and applied their newly acquired knowledge. The fruits of their sweat and labour were visible at the formal sales day by harvesters to traders.
When reflecting on her first formal buying event, Tresia smiled,
“With the 2 sacks of the Devil’s Claws that I harvested, I earned N$ 1500.00. With this money, I will pay school fees for my children, buy school uniforms for my boys as their school clothes are torn and put food on the table for entire household. I usually earn N$750 per month from my small business, this income really means a lot to me and family.”
Tresia is happy that her harvest of the Devil’s Claw (Harpophytum procumbens) “Ekakata” in Rukwangali will be used as a medicine for treating arthritis, reducing pain and fever, and stimulating digestion. More recently, it has become an important product for export to the European market with the biggest exports to France and Germany. In Namibia, Devils’ Claw is listed as a protected species under the 1977 Nature Conservation Ordinance of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, and may not be harvested or exported without the correct permits.
Tresia is a symbol of determination, motivation, and inspiration for other harvesters, not only for the women harvesters of Katope and, by extrapolation, for Kavango West Region and all of Namibia.
The NILALEG Project is being implemented through the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MEFT) Namibia in partnership with the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) with funding from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) .The project is working in the forest, savannah, and rangeland of Namibia’s northern areas to pilot an integrated landscape management approach, reducing poverty through sustainable nature-based livelihoods, protecting, and restoring forests as carbon sinks, and promoting Land Degradation Neutrality.