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Anti-malaria candle project struggles to benefit locals

By Lindile Sifile | 2017-05-19 15:45:50.0

While parts of Limpopo province are battling the outbreak of malaria, a mosquito repellent project launched 12 years ago to fight off malaria is struggling to take off.

A candle-making project, Hi-Hanyile Essential Oils, situated along the R81 and about 5km outside Giyani, was believed to be the answer to curb the seasonal malaria outbreak.

Scores of people were reported to have contracted the disease in Mpumalanga and Limpopo recently. Sowetan was told of at least six deaths in Giyani alone this month.

Years ago, traditional healers discovered that an indigenous plant, Lippia Javanica (locally known as msungwani), was very effective in repelling mosquitos. Their discovery was confirmed in the early 1990s by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that tested the plant.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) got involved, and in 2000 launched Hi-Hanyile as an essential oils factory where other plants such as lemon grass and geranium were also incorporated.

The oils from these plants are commonly used as an ingredients by cosmetics manufacturers. In 2005, a 30-hectare factory to focus on making mosquito repellant candles using the combination of the three plants was launched to the tune of R7.2million.

It has plantations, a distillation unit where the oil is extracted from the plants and a candle-making factory.

In partnership with the SA Essential Oils Business Incubator (SEOBI), the project employs 27 locals. They harvest three to four times a year, producing about 36 litres of oil.

Project manager Petra Terblanche said over the years they had only been selling the oils, which are converted into perfumes or mosquito-repellent candles, which are sold for about R50 per candle.

"Unfortunately, we have not been able to do a mass production of the candles. Although we still get some government funding, it is not enough to help us produce an effective and cheaper candle that locals can afford," she said.

She added that she needed investors and manpower to develop a business plan and get more scientific studies on the oils to get a better product.

"Government funding has gradually been cut down and we don't know what the future of the project is if we continue at this rate. The government wants to see this project succeed with the support of the people of Giyani, but that is too much to ask from disempowered poor people of this rural town," said Terblanche.

Departmental spokeswoman Veronica Mohapeloa said they had spent R15-million over 10 years in the project. She said they were experiencing challenges such as plant diseases and expertise needed to achieve sustainability.