PC12 Doc. 8.1
English only/Solamente en inglés/Seulement en anglais
CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES
OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA
Twelfth meeting of the Plants Committee
Leiden (The Netherlands), 13-17 May 2002
Follow-up of CoP11 Decisions
HARPAGOPHYTUM SPP. 1. This document has been prepared under the supervision of Dr John Donaldson, Regional
Representative for Africa.
The Trade, Management and Biological Status of
Harpagophytum spp. in Southern African Range States
A Report submitted to the CITES Plants Committee
Domitilla Raimondo and Dr. John Donaldson
National Botanical Institute
Private Bag X7
Republic of South Africa
This report summarises the information provided in terms of decision 11.63 and reviews all available
data on the biological and trade status of Harpagophytum species subject to international trade, as
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 1
required by decision 11.111. Information used in this report was obtained from range states,
stakeholder interviews, visits to harvested populations, and a literature search.
The genus Harpagophytum comprises two species that occur in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique,
South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This report deals mostly with H. procumbens, which is the
species currently used in the medicinal trade, and which is restricted to the range states Botswana,
Namibia, and South Africa.
The trade data show that the total trade for all southern African countries is ca. 700 tonnes per
annum. Based on the most recent annual figures, 92 % of exports originate from Namibia, 5 % from
Botswana, and 3 % from South Africa. Consultation with stakeholders, and different sources of data,
indicate that the total trade is not being recorded by range states.
The overall population status of Harpagophytum procumbens is unknown. Nevertheless, the available information suggests that it would not be classified as threatened using IUCN criteria for
overall population size, extent of occurrence (range), or area of occupancy. The only threat to
Harpagophytum spp. would be decline in populations as a result of harvesting. In all three range
states, harvesting is not being monitored closely enough to determine the actual impact on plant
populations. Despite this many stakeholders argue that decline is unlikely to have had a substantial
effect on total population size of Harpagophytum spp. as populations occur in protected areas and on
commercial farms where harvesting does not occur.
Botswana has existing policies to promote sustainable use of Devil‟s Claw and government is
actively managing the trade in collaboration with NGOs. Devil‟s Claw is protected in Namibia but
policies for sustainable use have only been enforced in the last few years. Recent increases in trade
have resulted in revision of policies. The vast range of Devil‟s Claw in Namibia makes it very difficult
to manage the resource and enforce policy throughout its range. Unsustainable harvesting practices
are widespread but NGO activity in the Omaheke region is promoting sustainable use. In South
Africa, trade has only been recorded in the past two years. Harpagophytum spp. are protected by provincial legislation except in some communal areas. Provincial nature conservation authorities are
managing the trade in spite of a lack of national legislation or policy.
Namibia and Botswana are opposed to listing Harpagophytum spp. on CITES Appendix II because of a perceived negative effect on poor rural communities. If range states remain opposed to a CITES
listing, it is important for the Plants Committee to monitor the development of the trade and to request
updates from the range states.
Species of Harpagophytum (Devil‟s Claw) grow in the savannah areas of southern Africa. The
indigenous San and Khoi peoples of southern Africa have used Devil‟s Claw tubers medicinally
for centuries. Europeans discovered the medicinal properties of the Devil‟s Claw from local
people in 1907 and since 1962 dried tubers of Harpagophytum spp. have been exported to
Europe and used in the production of herbal medicines to treat mainly arthritis and rheumatism.
Increase in trade has led to concerns about the sustainability of harvesting plants from the wild.
In an attempt to promote sustainable utilisation of Harpagophytum spp. Germany submitted a
proposal to include Harpagophytum spp. on Appendix II at the 11th CITES Conference of the
Parties (COP) held in April 2000. Objections to the proposed listing of Harpagophytum spp. by
the range states, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, led to the adoption of decisions 11.63
In the light of increasing international trade in the roots of Harpagophytum spp. (Devil‟s Claw),
the range and importing States should submit to the Secretariat all available information
concerning the trade, management and biological status of Harpagophytum species and
regulatory measures applying to them
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 2
The Plants Committee shall:
a) Review information submitted to the Secretariat in accordance with Decision 11.63;
b) Summarise the biological and trade status of Harpagophytum species subject to
international trade; and
c) Prepare a report on the biological and trade status of Harpagophytum species, at least six
months before the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, for consideration at that
This report summarises the information provided in terms of decision 11.63 and reviews all
available data on the biological and trade status of Harpagophytum species subject to
international trade, as required by decision 11.111. Information used in this report was obtained
from range states, stakeholder interviews, visits to harvested populations, and a literature search.
Most of the report deals with H. procumbens, which is the species currently used in the medicinal
trade, and which is restricted to the range states Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
2. Biological status
The genus Harpagophytum DC. ex MEISSN. (Pedaliaceae) comprises perennial herbs with
creeping stems that sprout every year from a tuberous main root (Hachfeld 1999).
Secondary root tubers, which can reach a length of 5 – 25 cm, form from the main root
(parent tuber) and it is these tubers that are harvested for medicinal purposes and contain
active ingredients that have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. The plants produce
characteristic fruits that give the plant its common name, Devil‟s Claw. They comprise a
flattened woody capsule with spiny appendages on each carpel.
Harpagophytum plants produce numerous seeds that are released slowly from the fruit
capsule (Hachfeld 1999). Seeds display high levels of dormancy and germination rates are
low (less than 20%) (Ernst et al. 1988 in Sekwhela, 1994). Recruitment rates are also low
with few seedlings surviving the first year. Despite these life history traits, Devil‟s Claw is
considered to be a pioneer or even „weedy‟ species and is often found growing in areas
where the soil has been disturbed or where grazing pressure is high (Taylor and Moss 1982;
Sekwhela 1994). In established plants, annual shoot growth from the perennial tuber begins
after summer rain (usually December) and the shoots die back between April and June as a
prelude to winter dormancy.
The genus Harpagophytum occurs in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South
Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (Ihlenfeldt & Hartmann 1970). There are two species,
H. procumbens (BURCH.) DC. ex MEISSN. and H. zeyheri DECNE., with two and three
subspecies respectively. The two subspecies of Harpagophytum procumbens occur in
distinct geographic areas with H. procumbens ssp. procumbens (BURCH) DC. ex MEISSN.
in southern Namibia, southern Botswana, and the northern part of South Africa (Northern
Cape Province and North West Province). Recent studies indicate that this subspecies may
occur in greater parts of Bushmanland in Namibia and the northern parts of Botswana. The
other subspecies, H. procumbens ssp. transvaalense (BURCH) DC. ex MEISSN. occurs in a
relatively small area of the Limpopo Province of South Africa and southern Zimbabwe.
Harpagophytum zeyheri comprises three subspecies that grow in the more humid areas of
southern Africa. Harpagophytum zeyheri ssp. zeyheri DECNE. and H. zeyheri ssp. schiffii
DECNE. have a restricted distribution in the Limpopo Province of South Africa whereas
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 3
subspecies H. zeyheri ssp. sublobatum DECNE. has a wider distribution in northern Namibia, southern Angola, south-western Zambia, Zimbabwe, and probably also Botswana.
Currently, only H. procumbens is registered for medicinal use in Europe and it is the only
species that is actively harvested for international trade. Specimens of H. zeyheri may
sometimes be mixed in with harvests of H. procumbens in areas where the two species
occur together, such as Namibia. For this reason, many aspects of the report refer to
Harpagophytum spp. and not only to H. procumbens.
2.3 Population status
Scattered populations of Harpagophytum spp. occur throughout the arid savannah areas of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa (Ihlenfeldt and Hartmann, 1970). The patchy
distribution pattern makes it extremely difficult to quantify total population size and none of
the range states have been able to estimate the overall population status of Harpagophytum
spp. Trends in growth of populations utilised for trade could provide information on whether
or not harvesting is currently sustainable. There have been few population surveys in the
past, resulting in a situation where it is impossible to determine if population numbers have
decreased as a result of harvesting. Furthermore, population numbers fluctuate in response
to rainfall so decreases in population numbers are not necessarily the result of
A comprehensive survey covering the entire range of Harpagophytum procumbens
has never been conducted in Botswana. Taylor and Moss (1982) however
undertook a countrywide survey to determine the resource status of a number of
veld products. Their report contained maps showing densities and distribution of
populations around 83 villages. These data were considered unreliable and no
follow-up monitoring of these populations took place (Setshogo, pers. comm.). A
later study by Sekhwela (1994) investigated Devil‟s Claw (DC) densities around 8
villages in the Ghanzi, Khgalagadi, Southern and Kweneng Districts. The study
included maps of each village with densities of plants per hectare. Population sizes
are reported to have varied greatly. Sekhwela‟s report contains no actual population
numbers (the resource size is quoted in kilograms of tubers) and his surveys
therefore cannot be used to determine the biological status of Devil‟s Claw in
Despite not reporting population numbers, Sekhwela (1994) noted that the status of
populations was found to relate most to the level of commercial harvesting. Villages
with long standing commercial activities had severely depleted resources compared
to settlements which had recently initiated commercial harvesting. Furthermore,
plant population structures around these villages were skewed toward plants with
small primary tubers. The primary tuber is an indication of plant age and is strongly
correlated to the number of secondary tubers produced (Sekhwela, 1994). The
dominance of plants with small tubers indicates over utilisation of older more
The results of the Sekwhela study suggest that harvesting is having a negative
impact on Devil‟s Claw populations in Botswana. No follow-up surveys have been
conducted so there is no evidence to indicate that this trend is being reversed.
Despite this, government officials, the two NGOs who buy Devil‟s Claw, and many
harvesters, all consulted during 2002, state that the resource is not being depleted.
During a brief visit in April 2002 healthy populations of plants were encountered
around many of the villages where harvesting takes place. Only a small number of
villages harvest Devil‟s Claw as the small amount of income generated by this
activity is only of value to the most marginalised, poor rural communities. Given this
situation, it is unlikely that Devil‟s Claw is threatened in Botswana.
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 4
A countrywide resource survey is needed in Botswana to determine what
percentage of the available resource is presently utilised and what the overall
biological status of the species is. A comprehensive survey is also needed for use
as a benchmark in future resource monitoring. The government body responsible for
veld product management, the Agricultural Resource Board (ARB) is in the process
of developing a proposal to carryout a countrywide inventory for all utilised veld
products. Should government approve this proposal, these inventories will be used
to determine utilisation and jurisdiction areas for communities. Harpagophytum spp.
will be included in this inventory and resulting data will be used to determine the
biological status of these species in Botswana (ARB, 2002 a). The University of
Botswana, in collaboration with an NGO (Tusano Lefatsheng) has prepared a
research proposal to assess the biological status of Harpagophytum spp. and to
determine the impacts of harvesting on populations. The study‟s objectives are to
survey and quantify a large number of populations throughout the country and to
closely monitor a subset of harvested populations over 5 years. No funding has yet
been found for this proposal (Setshogo et al. 2002).
Namibia has a National Devil‟s Claw Working Group (NDCWG) composed of a wide
range of stakeholders. This group is currently co-ordinating a resource survey as
part of a greater Devil‟s Claw situation analysis which also includes a socio-
economic survey and a marketing survey. The main objective of the resource survey
is to provide detailed data on the status of the Devil‟s Claw resource in selected
areas throughout Namibia where Devil‟s Claw occurs. The survey is concentrating
on areas where harvesting is known to take place (Strohbach, 2001). This survey
will span a large enough area to provide information on where Devil‟s Claw is
concentrated, the habitat types in which the plants occur, and the proportion of the
population presently being harvested. The survey is being conducted by nature
conservation officials of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and will be
completed by July 2002 (CRIAA 2001). Survey results will contribute significantly to
determining the Biological Status of Harpagophytum spp.. Despite the present lack of data on the biological status of Harpagophytum spp., Namibian officials report that it is unlikely that the resource is being over-utilised as harvesting takes place in
less than 50% of the species‟ ranges (Hamunyela, pers. comm.).
Hachfeld (1999) compared populations on communal and commercial lands and
surveyed populations that had previously been sampled. The resulting report
concluded that population numbers are higher in communal areas (2-20 plants per 22 100m) or (2.6-18.8 per 100mm (Lombard, 1999 in Hachfeld, 1999) from the 2CRIAA SH-DC area) than on commercial lands (0.1-10 plants per 100m). A re-
sampling of sites surveyed 2 to 3 decades ago showed a decrease in the area
where populations occurred and in population size. Harpagophytum procumbens was present at only 13 sites out of 29 sites where it was previously recorded and
reproduction appeared to be taking place at only 6 sites.. Although this decline could
be attributed to differences in rainfall in survey years, an independent study of one
farm with no history of harvesting showed stable plant densities over time despite
differences in rainfall. These data hint at over-utilisation of Harpagophytum spp. in
Namibia but sample sizes are too small to conclude that harvesting is the cause of
M. Strohbach working with the Sustainable Harvested Devil‟s Claw project, run by
the NGO (Centre for Research and Information and Action in Africa, CRIAA), has
been monitoring populations that are harvested by project participants. In the year
2000, 36 harvested sites were surveyed, and plant population numbers estimated
for a total of 423 hectares. The sum of the 36 populations was 592 234 plants.
Strohbach (2000) also reported that 25% of the populations surveyed showed signs
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 5
of unsustainable harvesting practises. Of the 19 areas surveyed in 1999, four 2 transect. showed a decrease in plant density per 100m
2.3.3 South Africa
Little is know about the biological status of Harpagophytum spp. in South Africa. No
surveys were conducted in the past so no trends in population growth can currently
be determined. B. Hachfeld has recently conducted a survey for seven sites in the
North West Province and 15 sites in the Northern Cape. A number of biological
parameters were investigated including the number of plants, the number of old and
young plants, the reproductive status of the plants and the degree of harvesting
taking place. Results of this study will be available by September 2002. The National
Botanical Institute is in the process of seeking funding to conduct a resource and
socio-economic survey in South Africa. The proposed resource survey will use
Hachfeld‟s study as a starting point and gaps in Devil‟s Claw distribution will be
surveyed. Together the two surveys will provide information on how large the total
population of Harpagophytum spp. is in South Africa and what percentage of
populations are presently being harvested (Donaldson 2002). If this research
initiative receives funding, the biological status of Harpagophytum spp. in South
Africa will be known by March 2003.
Even though none of the three range states have carried out comprehensive surveys to
assess the biological status of Harpagophytum spp., the available information suggests that Harpagophytum procumbens would not be classified as threatened using IUCN criteria for
overall population size, extent of occurrence (range) and area of occupancy, (version 3.1,
2000). Populations of Harpagophytum spp. are widespread and one survey of H.
procumbens from a small part of Namibia provided population estimates of > 500 000 plants.
The only meaningful criterion for assessing the threat to Harpagophytum spp. is an
estimation of decline in populations as a result of harvesting. There is insufficient data to
make this assessment, but many stakeholders argue that decline is unlikely to have had a
substantial effect on total population size of Harpagophytum spp. because populations occur
in protected areas and on commercial farms where harvesting does not occur. Furthermore,
the species thrives in disturbed systems and is considered a pioneer or even “weedy”
species (Taylor and Moss, 1982; Sekhwela 1994). The main threat to plant populations in all
three countries is restricted to poverty-stricken communal areas where a combination of
unsustainable harvesting and heavy grazing pressure threatens local populations (Cole and
du Plessis, 2001). Should such populations disappear it would be an economic blow to these
communities but is unlikely to be a threat to the species except potentially as a form of
3. Trade status
A total of 41 551.55 kilograms of Devil‟s Claw were reportedly exported from Botswana
between 1997 and 2001 (Table 1). Trade within Botswana also occurs, but it is relatively
small and has not been monitored. However, the data from Botswana highlight some
potential problems with existing records. Annual harvesting data provided by the Botswanan
Agricultural Resource board (Table 2) differs year by year from export data and also
suggests that the quantity of plants harvested between 1997 and 2001 (21 710 kg) is slightly
more than half the quantity that was exported out of Botswana during that period (Table 1.
and Table 2.). In addition, the export figures mentioned in the CITES proposal (ca. 50t in
1997 and 1998, Dipholo pers. comm. in Hachfeld 1999) differ substantially from those
provided by the Botswanan Agricultural resource board.
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 6
Table 1: Amount of Devil‟s Claw (dry weight?) exported from Botswana between 1997 and 2001.
Data supplied by Botswana Agricultural Resources Board, Gaborone (2002).
Importing 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2001 Country
Germany 0 0 0 0 – 0 0 0 15000 South 10719 3278 24437 45633 – 2451 501 1550 500 Africa
South 0 0 0 0 – 3002 0 500 0 Korea
Namibia 0 0 0 0 – 0 0 0 1800 Others 0 0 0 0 – 40 0 0 6 Total 10719 3278 24437 45633 5493 501 2050 33506 –
Table 2: Data on harvesting of Devil‟s Claw in Botswana from 1978 to 2001. No harvesting was
permitted in 1993 in order to allow the plant to regenerate. Data supplied by Botswana Agricultural
Resources Board, Gaborone (2002).
Year Dry Weight (kgs) Year Dry Weight (kgs) Year Dry Weight (kgs) 1978 1986 1994 13459 6846 22533.7 1979 1987 1995 5175 9786.4 40062 1980 1988 1996 550 16745 26344.8 1981 1989 1997 7564.8 9115.5 5549 1982 1990 1998 16974 56 3016 1983 1991 1999 7712.5 3832.5 4257 1984 1992 2000 13140.55 6896.4 4317 1985 1993 2001 2807.5 – 4571.5
The reasons for these discrepancies are not known but figures could be influenced by unrecorded
harvests as well as unrecorded exports. An exporter at the Regional Devil‟s Claw Conference held in
Windhoek 2002 reported importing 4 tonnes of material from Botswana, which is not represented in
the records (Davis, pers. comm.). This too indicates that not all exports are being recorded. There
were no recorded exports of Devil‟s Claw in 2000 due to lack of demand. Exporters attribute the lack of demand to buyers stockpiling from the previous year, but the NGO sector argue that the proposal
to list Harpagophytum on CITES Appendix II in 2000 affected consumer demand.
The first large-scale exports took place from Namibia to Germany in 1962. By 1975 exports
had risen to 180 tonnes per annum, exports continued to increase resulting in exports of ca.
300 tonnes in 1997 and 600 tonnes in 1998. There was a drop in exports from ca. 600
tonnes in 1999 to ca 400 tonnes (Table 3.) (also seen in Botswana), attributed to the
proposal to list Harpagophytum spp. on CITES Appendix II, but trade returned to previous
levels in 2001 with exports of 600 tonnes.
Table 3: Total quantities (kg) of Devil‟s Claw exported from Namibia between 1991 and 2001.
Data derived from export permits issued by Ministry of Environment and Tourism,
Year Dry Weight (kgs) Year Dry Weight (kgs)
1991 1997 20880 251091
1992 1998 96174 613336
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 7
1993 1999 65767 604355 1994 2000 157938 379740 1995 2001 284409 637032 1996 313652
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 8
Figure 1: Quantities of Harpagophytum (dry weight) imported from Namibia between 1997 and
2001 by the main importing countries.
The current management system for Devil‟s Claw in Namibia requires exporters to obtain a
Phytosanitary Certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development
(MAWRD) in addition to the export permit required by the Ministry of Environment and
Tourism (MET). The figures from these sources often do not tally (Cole 2002). In addition,
there are claims of a substantial illicit trade, for which figures are obviously not available
3.3 South Africa
Export permits are not required to export Harpagophytum from South Africa. This situation
makes it extremely difficult to monitor trade but the consensus is that harvesting of
Harpagophytum spp. in significant quantities has only recently taken place. Provincial nature
conservation organisations are monitoring trade. Permits issued by nature conservation
departments to collect and transport plants (Table 4) indicate that quantities of harvested
material have increased substantially from 1999 to 2001 and that trade requires closer
monitoring. A number of pharmaceutical companies based in South Africa are involved in
the processing of the raw Harpagophytum material so that not all harvested material is
exported. Given this situation, monitoring of actual harvesting in each province should
continue even in the event of a national export permit being enforced.
South African exporters and pharmaceutical companies buy large amounts of Devil‟s Claw
from Namibia and Botswana. These trade deals are not monitored in South Africa and South
Africa‟s role in the trade is currently not quantified.
Table 4: Quantities of Harpagophytum tubers harvested in Northern Cape (N. Cape) and the
North West Province (N.W. Province) in South Africa.
Year N. Cape N. Cape N.W. N.W. Total Total
Wet material Dry material Province Province Wet Dry
Wet material Dry material (kg) (kg) Material (kg) Material (kg)
(kg) (kg) 1999 0 6900 – – 0 6900
2000 402 1258 – – 402 1258
2001 500 6248 10904 14780 11404 21029
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 9
At the Regional Devil‟s Claw Conference held in Namibia (February 2002) it became
apparent that trade figures from different sources within range states and from importing
countries do not tally. In all three range states, trade is not being monitored closely enough
to determine the actual quantities of plants being harvested from the wild.
4. Resource management
Devil‟s Claw is protected by the Agricultural Conservation Act (1974) and accompanying
regulations of 1977. Permits, issued by the Agricultural Resource Board (ARB) are used to
control extraction and trade in Harpagophytum. There are three types of permits, an
extraction permit, a transfer permit, and an export permit. The extraction permit states
conditions, which the extractor has to follow to ensure that harvesting is sustainable. Each
permit is issued to one individual for three months, is for a specific locality, and stipulates a
specific quota. Quotas are decided upon by ARB extension officials, in collaboration with
community members, after visual assessments of Harpogophytum populations (Ben, pers
comm.). Transfer permits are required to transfer ownership of Devil‟s Claw or its parts from
one owner to the next. An export permit is required to export Harpagophytum spp. or their
parts. The Botswanan legislation includes penalties for committing illegal or unlawful b, 2002). activities regarding Devil‟s Claw (ARB
Harvesting methods are specified on each extraction permit and are explained to harvesters
by extension personnel when permits are issued. Government and NGO‟s, primarily
Thusano Lefatsheng, run regular training workshops to equip harvesters with the skills
needed to identify harvestable plant parts and to harvest sustainably (Matlhare, 2002).
Secondary tubers and not primary tubers are harvested. Harvesters are advised to dig a few
centimetres from the parent stem and to cover all holes after the removal of tubers.
Government extension personnel monitor harvesting to ensure that harvesting is done in
accordance with permit conditions. These conditions stipulate that the primary tuber may not
be harvested so that the plant can regenerate, that holes must be covered once harvesting bis complete, and that a rotational harvesting system is practised (ARB, 2002).
Government officials report that communities appear to be capable of managing their own
resource in Botswana. Self-policing among community members takes place, and any
harvesting without permits or out of season is reported to ARB officials. Some villages
voluntarily implement rotational harvesting by harvesting in different directions away from the
village each year. There have been cases where communities have turned down permits for
a particular year reporting that the resource needed time to recover (Ben pers. comm.). This
is in contrast to the findings of Sekwhela (1994) that harvesters at four of the eight study
villages expressed negative attitudes towards resource conservation and were pursuing non
sustainable harvesting techniques. A brief field visit in April 2002 found no signs of
unsustainable harvesting in three villages including Mahotshwane, where Sekwhela (1994)
reported unsustainable harvesting practises. This could indicate that resource conservation
practises have improved since 1994 but further investigation of harvesting practises in
Botswana is recommended.
In a further effort to promote resource conservation for Harpagophytum, Botswana only
issues extraction permits during the dry season when the above ground shoots have died
back and the seeds have dispersed. Harvesting in the dry season means that harvesters
only find ca 30% of plants and therefore cannot deplete any single population (de Wolf, pers.
comm.). Sekwhela (1994) however, reports that harvesting secondary tubers in the dry
season leads to increased mortality of plants as the water and nutrient reserves in the
secondary tubers are required for plant survival during the dry season. Future research
investigating the impact of harvesting in different seasons should be prioritised.
The NGO, Veld Products Research and Development (VPRND) are conducting research
that will contribute to the sustainable use of the Devil‟s Claw resource. They are in the
PC12 Doc. 8.1 – p. 10