The growing phenomenon of the informal and sometimes illicit wild harvest and trade of natural resources is a consequence of the convergence of a variety of African traditional cultural and modern economic factors. South Africa’s trend of rapid urban growth through migration of primarily rural, traditionally oriented people in the last 20 years (Stats SA 2012), combined with the emergence of monetary stimulation from a cash economy to foster demand for wild sourced materials (Mander et al. 2007) has inextricably changed the face and demands of this cultural activity. The scale and diversity of this industry appears patchily understood and is presently superficially managed (Shackleton 2009). Within the city of Cape Town which serves as the urban centrepiece of the botanically unique Cape Floristic Region (CFR), the informal economy of the wild harvest and trade of natural resources for a myriad of uses including traditional medicines, cut flowers, firewood, foods, and building materials is poorly understood. The thesis explores the scope, drivers, workings and scale of this informal economy within the geographical Cape Town municipal area.
Through a process of literature review, database analysis and key informant interviews, a harvested species compendium of 448 locally occurring flora and fauna (198 animals and 250 plants) was developed, illustrating the breadth of illicit harvesting of biodiversity products from nature reserves, public open space and other commonage within the City. These species are most commonly extracted for medicinal uses, although energy, ornamental, sustenance, nursery and other uses are also commonplace. The sustainability of these harvests is questionable - nearly 70% of all harvested flora and 100% of all collected fauna are killed, removed or reproductively harmed through the harvesting processes. Furthermore, for the 183 indigenous floral species currently recorded on the IUCN red list, 28% (51) hold assessments ranging from declining through to critically endangered. With respect to more poorly assessed fauna (46 spp.) approximately 24% (11) have declining or increasingly threatened status.
In understanding the motivations of local wild resource harvesters the research undertook a qualitative study of a sub-group of 58 locally resident traditional healers of the two dominant ethnic groupings (isiXhosa speaking Amagqhira and primarily locally indigenous Rastafari), with an objective to unravel their stated individual motivations for resource collections. The results of this investigation revealed that resource harvester motivations primarily link to economic survival, cultural links to particular resources and practices, and commonage perspectives, with secondary indigenous links and profit seeking motives also apparent. Such direct use resource motivations are largely at odds with legally framed formal conservation practice in the city.
Considering the commonly questioned sustainability of this culturally and economically important harvest the study aimed to investigate the structure of the economy reliant on these wild resource collections. Using qualitative, open ended interviews with informal economy traditional healers and a quantitative consumer study of 235 township households, the research unravels informal economy commodity chains and consumer demand, alongside the traditional medicine demand drivers from participants in the chain. It was revealed that traditional healers are highly vertically integrated, extracting biological materials from varied harvest origins which are influenced by cultural groupings including predominant isiXhosa reliance on Eastern Cape biological heritage, and locally originated rastas predominately wild harvesting local material. Within consumer markets traditional healers are used by at least 50% of all consumer respondents, with 64% reporting using traditional medicines in the past 12 months. These consumers rely on the reputation of the healer, which is primarily built through their purveyance of wild harvested medicines - an important consideration for future conservation or development interventions.
To document the scale of Cape Town’s informal economy of wild medicines a census of household based businesses of different traditional healer types in five typical working class residential areas (representing ~71,500 residents) was conducted to assess the nature and extent of local traditional medicine harvesting and trade. Extrapolating these findings for the city indicates a local industry of over fifteen thousand practitioners collectively conducting trade worth US$ 15.6 million per year. More than 40% of the volume of traditional medicines traded in the city is harvested from the CFR.
The thesis then draws together these studies into a broader reflection of Cape Town’s informal economy of wild harvested natural resources. Various potential conservation policy / management options are compared and contrasted, from future state-managed regimes of open access to common pool resources, through to strict security measures that deny all harvester opportunity. Regardless of potential future managerial interventions for the industry, all conservation approaches must consider that wild harvested natural resource based informal businesses are economically important and in the case of traditional medicine, also largely culturally entrenched. Future formal conservation and economic development measures in Cape Town will need to account for these activities at a growing local scale.