Medicinal plant trade and opportunities for sustainable management in the Cape Peninsula, South Africa

Loundou, Paul-Marie (2008-12)

Thesis (MScConsEcol (Conservation Ecology and Entomology))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


Medicinal plants represent an important asset to the livelihoods of many people in developing countries. This is the case for South Africa where most of the rural and also urban communities rely on medicinal plants for their primary healthcare needs and income generation. Harvesting for domestic usage is not generally detrimental to the wild populations of medicinal plants. However, the shift from subsistence to commercial harvesting is posing unprecedented extinction threat to the wild populations of medicinal plants. The purpose of this investigation was to: (1) document the most traded/used species of medicinal plants in the Cape Peninsula, including parts used, sourcing regions, harvesting frequencies and seasons as well as the conservation status of these species; (2) to profile and investigate the rationales for the involvement of stakeholders in medicinal plants related-activities; and to (3) assess constraints and opportunities for sustainable management of medicinal plants in the Cape Peninsula. Triangulation techniques such as semi-structured questionnaires, formal and informal interactions with key informants from the Cape Peninsula and surroundings, personal observations and field visits were used to gather relevant data for this investigation. Accordingly, about 170 medicinal plant species were found to be actively traded or used in the study area. These species were mostly traded/used for their underground parts; shoot, barks and in many cases the whole plant is uprooted. The bulk of traded/used species were from the wild populations, harvested on monthly basis and the Western and Eastern Cape provinces acted as the main source regions. Some of the traded/used species are rare, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered and are declining from the wild. Nonetheless, there are subtitutes for some of these medicinal plant species. Traders and collectors were mainly men in the Cape Peninsula. Cultural considerations, economic conditions and the burden imposed by the number of dependents were the factors influencing local communities to engage in medicinal plants related-activities. Despite the fact that the majority of the informants acknowledged the decline of medicinal plants from wild stocks, an overwhelming number of them expected an upsurge in the future demand for natural remedy due to its popularity among South Africans. Similarly, the majority of the respondents were aware of the conservation status of the plants that they were using, but this did not prevent them from trading/using some protected species. Encouragingly, an overwhelming number of the informants were willing to use cultivated species and cultivate some of the most used medicinal plant species if seeds and land were freely provided. It is noteworthy that these results were influenced by the gender, age, category and time of involvement in medicinal plants, ethnicity and residence status of the respondents as well as the source of supply of medicinal plants. It is recommended that species that have been identified of concern should be prevented from further commercial harvesting. Competent conservation organizations like CapeNature should focus on practical skills development of people who have expressed willingness to cultivate medicinal plants or are already doing so, especially in plant propagation and basic gardening techniques.

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