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


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 



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.

Literature Cited

  1. Adam, Y. O., J. Pretzsch, and D. Pettenella. 2013. Contribution of non-timber forest products livelihood strategies to rural development in drylands of Sudan: Potentials and failures. Agricultural Systems 117: 90–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. ----- and C. M. Shackleton. 2016. Distribution and use of cash income from basket and mat crafting: Implications for rural livelihoods in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Forests, Trees and Livelihoods 25(3): 199–211.Google Scholar
  3. Akaike, H. 1974. A new look at the statistical model identification. IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control 19(6): 716–723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allsopp, N., P. M. L. Anderson, P. M. Holmes, A. Melin, and P. J. O’Farrell. 2014. People, the Cape Floristic Region, and sustainability. In: Fynbos ecology, evolution and conservation of a Megadiverse Region, eds. N. Allsopp, J. F. Colville, and G.A. Verboom, 337–362. UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belcher, B., M. Ruíz-Pérez, and R. Achdiawan. 2005. Global patterns and trends in the use and management of commercial NTFPs: Implications for livelihoods and conservation. World Development 33(9): 1435–1452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bond, W. 1983. Dead leaves and fire survival in southern African tree aloes. Oecologia 58(1): 110–114.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Burgess, M. 2007. Aloes alleviate poverty in the Eastern Cape. Farmer’s Weekly. 4 April.Google Scholar
  8. Chen, W., B. E. van Wyk, I. Vermaak, and A. M. Viljoen. 2012. Cape aloes—A review of the phytochemistry, pharmacology and commercialisation of Aloe ferox. Phytochemistry Letters 5(1): 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cousins, S. R. and E. T. F. Witkowski. 2012. African aloe ecology: A review. Journal of Arid Environments 85: 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cunningham, A. B. 2001. Opportunities and constraints on sustainable harvest: plant populations. In: Applied ethnobotany. People, wild plant use and conservation, ed. A.B. Cunningham, 145–191. UK: Routledge, Earthscan Publication Ltd.Google Scholar
  11. de Vaus, D. 2002. Surveys in social research. London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  12. Department of Environmental Affairs. 2014. Resource assessment for Aloe ferox in South Africa. Republic of South Africa.Google Scholar
  13. Djoudi, H., E. Vergles, R. R. Blackie, C. Koffi Koame, and D. Gautier. 2015. Dry forests, livelihoods and poverty alleviation: Understanding current trends. International Forestry Review 17(S2): 54–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Domeisen, N., P. Ress, and C. Simpson. 2006. New jobs for poor communties through trade. International Trade Forum Magazine. Issue1/2006. International Trade Centre.Google Scholar
  15. Eastern Cape Development Corporation. 2004. Global allure awaits ECDC’s Aloe Ferox project. Eastern Cape Business News. 25 June. Available: Accessed: 8 February 2012.
  16. Gaoue, O. G. 2016. Transient dynamics reveal the importance of early life survival to the response of a tropical tree to harvest. Journal of Applied Ecology 53(1): 112–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. -----, C. N. Ngonghala, J. Jiang, and M. Lelu. 2016. Towards a mechanistic understanding of the synergistic effects of harvesting timber and non-timber forest products. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 7(4): 398–406.Google Scholar
  18. ----- and T. Ticktin. 2007. Patterns of harvesting foliage and bark from the multipurpose tree Khaya senegalensis in Benin: Variation across ecological regions and its impacts on population structure. Biological Conservation 137(3): 424–436.Google Scholar
  19. Ghimire, S. K., O. Gimenez, R. Pradel, D. McKey, and Y. Aumeeruddy-Thomas. 2007. Demographic variation and population viability in a threatened Himalayan medicinal and aromatic herb Nardostachys grandiflora: Matrix modelling of harvesting effects in two contrasting habitats. Journal of Applied Ecology 45(1): 41–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grace, O. M. 2011. Current perspectives on the economic botany of the genus Aloe L. (Xanthorrhoeaceae). South African Journal of Botany 77(4): 980–987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. -----, M. S. J. Simmonds, G. F. Smith, A. E. van Wyk. 2009. Documented utility and biocultural value of Aloe L. (Asphodelaceae): A review. Economic Botany. 63(2):167–168.Google Scholar
  22. Greengrass, C. 2004. The effects of leaf harvesting on the morphology, reproduction and sap production of the Cape aloe (Aloe ferox). Honours Dissertation, University of Cape Town, South Africa.Google Scholar
  23. Hernandez-Barrios, J. C., N. P. R. Anten, and M. Martnez-Ramos. 2015. Sustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products based on ecological and economic criteria. Journal of Applied Ecology 52(2): 389–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holland, P. G. 1978. An evolutionary biogeography of the genus Aloe. Journal of Biogeography 5(3): 213–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. ----- and R. F. Fuggle. 1982. Impact of veld management of Aloe ferox in Western Cape Province. South African Geographical Journal 64(2): 83–96.Google Scholar
  26. International Trade Centre. 2005. Training manual - Aloe harvesting. 1–17. Switzerland: Export-led Poverty Reduction Programme (EPRP), International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO.Google Scholar
  27. Klopper, R. R., and G. F. Smith. 2011. The genus Aloe L. (Asphodelaceae: Alooideae) in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Haseltonia 16(1): 16–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lawes, M. J., H. A. C. Eeley, C. M. Shackleton, and B. G. S Geach. 2004. Indigenous forests and woodlands in South Africa. Policy, people and practice. South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.Google Scholar
  29. Leclercq, F. 2008. Aloe ferox cosmetics sales blossom for South Africa. Switzerland: Export-led Poverty Reduction Programme (EPRP), International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO.Google Scholar
  30. Mandle, L. and T. Ticktin. 2012. Interactions among fire, grazing, harvest and abiotic conditions shape palm demographic responses to disturbance. Journal of Ecology 100(4): 997–1008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. -----, -----, S. Nath, S. Setty, and A. Varghese. 2013. A framework for considering ecological interactions for common non-timber forest product species: a case study of mountain date palm (Phoenix loureiroi Kunth.) leaf harvest in South India. Ecological Processes 2(1): 21.Google Scholar
  32. -----, -----, and P. A. Zuidema. 2015. Resilience of palm populations to disturbance is determined by interactive effects of fire, herbivory and harvest. Journal of Ecology 103(4): 1032–1043.Google Scholar
  33. Marshall, E., A. C. Newton, and K. Schreckenberg. 2003. Commercialisation of non-timber forest products: first steps in analysing the factors influencing success. International Forestry Review 5(2): 128–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McCarthy, T. J. M. and M. C. B van Rheede van Oudtshoorn. 1966. The seasonal variation in aloin of leaf juice from Aloe ferox and Aloe marlothii. Plant medica 14(1): 61–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Milner-Gulland, E. J. 2012. Interactions between human behaviour and ecological systems. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences 367(1586): 270–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nakazono, M. E. and W. E. Magnusson. 2016. Unsustainable Management of Arumã (Ischnosiphon polyphyllus [Poepp. & Endl.] Körn.) by the Novo Airão Artisans Association, Rio Negro, Amazon, Brazil. Economic Botany 70(2): 132–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Newton, D. J. and H. Vaughan. 1996. South Africa’s Aloe ferox plant, parts and derivatives industry. South Africa:TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa.Google Scholar
  38. Parker, D., and R. Bernard. 2008. Lessons from aloes in the Thicket Biome: Reconstructing past elephant browsing to understand the present. South African Journal of Science 104(5–6): 163–164.Google Scholar
  39. Parker, D. M. and R. T. F. Bernard. 2009. Levels of aloe mortality with and without elephants in the thicket biome of South Africa. African Journal of Ecology 47(2): 246–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pfab, M. F. and M. A. Scholes. 2004. Is the collection of Aloe peglerae from the wild sustainable? An evaluation using stochastic population modelling. Biological Conservation 118(5): 695–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. R Development Core Team. 2015. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
  42. Reynolds, G.W. 1950. The aloes of South Africa. Johannesburg, South Africa: The Aloes of South Africa Book Fund.Google Scholar
  43. Ruwanza, S. and C. M. Shackleton. 2015. Density and regrowth of a forest restio (Ischyrolepis eleocharis) under harvest and non-harvest treatments in dune forests of Eastern Cape province, South Africa. Economic Botany 69(2): 136–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schippmann, U., D. J. Leaman, and A. B. Cunningham. 2002. Impact of cultivation and gathering of medicinal plants on biodiversity: Global trends and issues. In: FAO. 2002. Biodiversity and the ecosystem approach in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Satellite event on the occasion of the Ninth Regular Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Rome, 12–13 October 2002. Inter-Departmental Working Group on Biological Diversity for Food and Agriculture. Rome.Google Scholar
  45. -----, D. Leaman, and -----. 2006. A comparison of cultivation and wild collecting of medicinal and aromatic plants under sustainability aspects. In: Medicinal and aromatic plants, eds. R.J. Boger, L.E. Craker, and D. Lange, 75–95. Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
  46. Schmidt, I. B., L. Mandle, T. Ticktin, and O. G. Gaoue. 2011. What do matrix population models reveal about the sustainability of non-timber forest product harvest? Journal of Applied Ecology 48(4): 815–826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schulze, R. E., and S. D. Lynch. 2007. Monthly rainfall and its inter-annual variability. In: South African atlas of climatology and agrohydrology. Water Research Commission, South Africa, WRC Report 1489/1/06, Section 7.2., ed. R. E. Schulze.Google Scholar
  48. ----- and M. Maharaj. 2007. Rainfall seasonality. In: South African atlas of climatology and agrohydrology. Water Research Commission, South Africa, WRC Report 1489/1/06, Section 6.2., ed. R. E. Schultze.Google Scholar
  49. Shackleton, C. M. 2009. Will the real custodian of natural resource management please stand up. South African Journal of Science 105(3–4): 91–93.Google Scholar
  50. ----- and S. E. Shackleton. 2006. Household wealth status and natural resource use in the Kat River valley, South Africa. Ecological Economics 57(2): 306–317.Google Scholar
  51. ----- and J. Gambiza. 2007. Growth of Aloe ferox Mill. at selected sites in the Makana region of the Eastern Cape. South African Journal of Botany 73(2): 266–269.Google Scholar
  52. -----, N. J. Griffin, and D. I. Banks. 1994. Community structure and species composition along a disturbance gradient in a communally managed South African savanna. Vegetatio 115(2): 157–167.Google Scholar
  53. -----, S. E. Shackleton, E. Buiten, and N. Bird. 2007. The importance of dry woodlands and forests in rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation in South Africa. Forest Policy and Economics 9(5): 558–577.Google Scholar
  54. Shackleton, S. E. and D. Gumbo. 2010. Contribution of non-wood forest products to livelihoods and poverty alleviation. In: The dry forests and woodlands of Africa, eds. E. N. Chidumayo and D. J. Gumbo, 63–92. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  55. -----, B. Campbell, H. Lotz-Sisitka, and C. M. Shackleton. 2008. Links between the local trade in natural products, livelihoods and poverty alleviation in a semi-arid region of South Africa. World Developmement 36(3): 505–526.Google Scholar
  56. Smith G. F., R. R. Klopper, N. R. Crouch, and Figueiredo E. 2016. Reinstatement of Aloe candelabrum A. Berger (Asphodelaceae: Alooideae), a tree-like aloe of KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa. Bradleya. 34: 59–69.Google Scholar
  57. -----, -----, E. Figueiredo, A. E. van Wyk, and N. R. Crouch. 2008. Aloes in the Eastern Cape of South Africa: The value of natural history observations in biological sciences. South African Journal of Science 104(11–12): 421–422.Google Scholar
  58. Stanley, D., R. Voeks, and L. Short. 2012. Is non-timber forest product harvest sustainable in the less developed world? A systematic review of the recent economic and ecological literature. Ethnobiology and conservation 1(9): 1–39.Google Scholar
  59. Statistics South Africa. 2001. Census 2001: Primary tables, Eastern cape: 1996 and 2001 compared. Available: Accesssed: 14 April 2015.
  60. Ticktin, T. 2004. The ecological implications of harvesting non-timber forest products. Journal of Applied Ecology 41(1): 11–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. -----, and C. M. Shackleton. 2011. Harvesting non-timber forest products sustainably: Opportunities and challenges. In: Non-timber forest products in the global context, eds. S. E. Shackleton, C. M. Shackleton, and P. Shanley, 149–169. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  62. van Jaarsveld, E. 1996. The Cape aloe: Aloe ferox and its uses. Veld and Flora June: 57–59.Google Scholar
  63. van Wyk, B. E. 2008. A broad review of commercially important southern African medicinal plants. Journal of ethnopharmacology 119(3): 342–55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. ----- and G. Smith. 2003. Guide to aloes in South Africa. 2nd ed. Briza Publications, South Africa.Google Scholar
  65. ----- and -----. 2014. Guide to aloes in South Africa. 3rd ed. Briza Publications, South Africa.Google Scholar
  66. van Wyk, B. and P. van Wyk. 1997. Field guide to trees of southern Africa. Struik., South AfricaGoogle Scholar
  67. Wickham, H. 2009. ggplot2: Elegant graphics for data analysis. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wolfgang, K., B. Patzols, D. Leaman, A. Timoshyna, D. Newton, E. Kholi, G. Kinhail, et al. 2010. Wild for a cure: Ground-truthing a standard for sustainable management of wild plants in the field. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge.Google Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations