Master's degree student (Crop Production) at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)


  Study leaders: Professor Francis Lewu & Dr Nike Lewu


"I am investigating the effects of different irrigation rates on the growth,
yield and quality of honeybush tea."

The science of watering honeybush

My research focuses on developing irrigation guidelines for honeybush growers. I am investigating the effects of different irrigation rates on the growth, yield and quality of honeybush tea. The demand for indigenous tea has prompted concerns of over-exploitation of natural populations of the Cyclopia species. In the past, harvesting practices contributed to the decrease and even disappearance of populations of some species. Climate events now make irrigation for the sustainability of the industry even more significant. Research is needed about the effects of heat wave and recent drought conditions in the Western Cape and elsewhere where honeybush species occur. Some wild and cultivated honeybush species have already been lost due to excessive heat, natural veld fires and drought caused by climate change. Improving our understanding of how the risk of extreme weather and climate events is changing is crucial to build a robust honeybush tea industry in the region. My research focuses on the effects of three different irrigation rates on Cyclopia subternata ("vleitee" or "swamp tea") in particular. This species was selected for my experiments because it is one of the most commonly grown honeybush species in the country.

Why it matters

The indigenous herbal tea plants or shrubs from the Fabaceae legume family are famous for the use of a fusion of its leaves, branches, flowers and stems in hot water. Unlike coffee and black tea, honeybush tea contains no caffeine. It also has many other health benefits. Currently, the demand for honeybush tea is growing in both local and export markets.

While a few honeybush variants are cultivated for commercial purposes, no field studies have been done to examine the farming practices concerning Cyclopia species. Although honeybush grows naturally in some parts of Eastern and Western Cape, farmers often irrigate it when they feel like they need to. The water intake and needs of the species are, however, still largely unknown. For the honeybush industry to remain competitive, to improve the production of consistently high-quality tea and contribute to the critical economic growth of poor local communities, the industry aims to formalise cropping practices that will involve small-scale and emerging farmers.

Honeybush is a highly valuable tea commodity; therefore, irrigation guidelines for this specific crop are a priority.

MARY_JANE_MAHLARE-small.jpgAbout the student

Mahlare was born in Ga-Marishane in Limpopo. She attended the Secondary School Bopedi Bapedi and thereafter enrolled at the Madzivhandila College of Agriculture (2015-2017) where she obtained an agricultural diploma in plant production. Mahlare was the overall best student during her studies and completed her diploma cum laude. Mahlare was awarded two merit certificates for the best plant production student during her studies at the college. In 2018, she worked as an agricultural advisor intern at the Madzivhandila College under the AgriSETA programme. She registered for a BTech degree in agriculture (crop production) at CPUT in 2019 and obtained this qualification in the same year. During the same year, she also worked at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij) as a research student analysing soil enzyme activities in grapevines. She is currently a postgraduate student at the Wellington campus of CPUT.

Mary-Jane Mahlare is investigating the effects of irrigation on the growth, yield and quality of honeybush tea for her Master's degree.