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Economic Botany

, Volume 71, Issue 1, pp 58–74 | Cite as

Social and Ecological Characteristics of an Expanding Natural Resource Industry: Aloe Harvesting in South Africa

  • A. MelinEmail author
  • O. M. Grace
  • G. D. Duckworth
  • J. S. Donaldson
  • E. J. Milner-Gulland
Article

Abstract

Sustainable harvesting practices are important for conserving plant species and their habitats, but also the livelihoods of those that depend on them. Aloe ferox, a valuable natural resource harvested for its leaves, is the focus of a recent rural development initiative in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. This has the potential to benefit poor residents through a high-value, sustainable, export market. We characterize the social and ecological components of the system, in order to evaluate the potential for effective natural resource management. We interviewed aloe tappers to obtain information on their dependence on the A. ferox industry and harvesting practices. We assessed the harvesting pressure on A. ferox populations, sampling plants at three plots positioned along each of four transects at distances of 1.5, 3.45, and 7 km from the factory, grouping plants into two size classes: small (height <0.5 m) and large (>0.5 m). We investigated the influence of proximity to the factory and plant size class on the likelihood and intensity of harvest. The majority of aloe tappers were women, unemployed, and in receipt of government welfare grants, and the main reason for harvesting A. ferox was to generate a cash income for their daily needs. Training guidelines did not appear to be followed, with aloe tappers leaving on average 6 leaves, rather than the recommended 18–20 leaves, allowing insufficient time to pass between harvesting episodes and harvesting outside of the prescribed wetter periods. In line with training guidelines, aloe tappers were targeting larger plants; however, against recommendations, smaller plants were also regularly harvested. Harvesting pressure decreased with increasing distance from the factory. We discuss requirements to ensure A. ferox is harvested at sustainable levels in the region, particularly in light of a possible regional roll out of the program, and provide recommendations for regulating use and better training.

Key Words

Aloe ferox sustainable use non-timber forest products natural resource use plant products Eastern Cape tappers ethnobotany 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Financial support for the fieldwork was provided by the South African National Biodiversity Institute. We thank the aloe tappers whom AM interviewed for participating in our research. We also wish to thank Natalie Uys and Mluleki Nkosi for their assistance in the field. We are very grateful to Mr. Ken Dodds for providing valuable insights into the Aloe ferox industry as whole, the new initiative in the Eastern Cape; giving of his time; and introducing us to members of the Ikhala Cooperative.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The fieldwork was done in collaboration with, and approved by, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). No permissions were required to carry out this work because it did not take place in a protected area. Although Imperial College did not at the time require ethics clearance, we nonetheless endeavored to put in place all necessary measures to conduct the interviews in accordance with appropriate ethical standards.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Melin
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • O. M. Grace
    • 4
  • G. D. Duckworth
    • 5
  • J. S. Donaldson
    • 1
    • 2
  • E. J. Milner-Gulland
    • 3
    • 6
  1. 1.Kirstenbosch Research CentreSouth African National Biodiversity InstituteCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of Life SciencesImperial College LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.Comparative Plant & Fungal BiologyRoyal Botanic GardensSurreyUK
  5. 5.Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation, Department of Statistical SciencesUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  6. 6.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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