Livelihood and income generation from the woodcarving trade in the Cape Town area of the Western Cape Province, South Africa

Mikolo Yobo, Christian (2007-12)

Thesis (MScFor) (Forest and Wood Science)--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


While the contribution of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in sustaining livelihoods of the poor is gaining global attention, the importance of woodcarving trade in sustaining the livelihoods of the poor people has been poorly researched. A study was conducted in Cape Town area of the Western Province, South Africa to assess the contribution of woodcarving trade to the livelihoods of the traders and the dynamics of the trade, and institutional constraints impacting on the development of the trade. A total of 61 traders in wood carving, as well as municipal authorities and key informants, were interviewed using structured questionnaires; note taking, personal observations, and in-depth interview based open-ended questions. The findings of the study revealed that the woodcarving trade is a highly male (69%) dominated activity. Most traders were married (55%) and most of the respondents (63%) fell within the active age group of 21-35 years. The wood carving trade was dominated by highly literate people with 66% and 25% having reached secondary and tertiary education, respectively. The study also revealed that “earning a living” represented the single most important factor (70%) that pushed people into the wood carving trade. Most traders (85%) did not own property but for those who owned property, 56% were South Africans followed by Zimbabweans (22%). The study showed that most of the woodcarving products arriving in the Western Cape come from the SADC region accounting for 78% of the products. Malawi (36%), Zimbabwe (30%) and Kenya (13%) are the main sources of the wooden crafts curio into the Western Cape woodcraft market. The study also found that Dalbergia melanoxylon from Zimbabwe (47%) and Malawi (16%) and Brachylaena huillensis from Kenya (47%) and Afzelia quanzensis from Zimbabwe (27%) represent the most traded wood species. The wood for carving was mainly accessed through intermediate agents (48%) and on site purchase (43%); and polishing represented the most important process (80%) of value adding compared to painting and shining. Personal cars (38%) and buses (36%) were the main means of transportation used compared to other forms of transport. It was shown that cost (48%) and customer based price (33%) represented the main pricing methods used by traders. Shop owners had an average income estimated at R 6, 450 and R 2, 692 in good and lean month sales, respectively. In addition, seasonality represented the single most important factor (56%) threatening the woodcarving industry and the livelihood of urban traders compared to factors such as quality of wood product (18%) and scarcity of the resource (10%). This study found that traders had difficulties accessing physical infrastructures (87%); social assets (50%) and human capital (74%). On the other hand, 62% of the traders did not seem to have problems accessing natural assets. As a livelihood strategy, traders also undertook multiple activities including sale of minor products as well as soliciting extra help from companions and/or hiring extra help during peak seasons. For the sustainability of the woodcarving trade in the Western Cape, there is a need for sustained, long-term management of wood species used for carving through domestication and use of alternative wood species. In addition, policies should promote: (i) integrated resource use that will ensure maximum utilisation of the wood from a single tree e.g. timber and wood carving, (ii) the culture of association and cooperation among traders, (iii) collaborative mechanisms involving all players from the forest and the tourism sector as well as the traders, (iv) secure traders’ livelihood assets, (v) an environment favourable to business venture’s expansion and growth through micro-finance and micro-credit schemes.

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