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Geographic location

The indigenous medicine plant markets in KwaZulu-Natal are distributed throughout the province in both rural and urban areas. The project, however, focused in the urban markets in the Durban region due to their large size and the need for a cost-effective approach. The Durban market is also a regional clearing house for medicinal plants in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and its neighbouring states (including Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia) (Figure 1.1). In addition, the population of Durban (some 4 million) accounts for some 50% of the total population in KwaZulu-Natal and therefore constitutes a representative site for a case study.

The case study time schedule

The field work took place during the course of 1996, and analysis of data and writing in 1997. Despite the Institute of Natural Resources being active in this field for the last decade, and having extensive experience in this field, the time taken to carry out the survey was considerable. The need to develop credibility with all the market participants was a lengthy process requiring regular meetings and discussions.

The need to develop credibility amongst the role players

The market players in the medicinal plant trade were regularly raided by conservation authorities in the past as many of the plants traded were, and still are, protected or specially protected species. The confrontation between conservation authorities and the traders created suspicion and distrust between the market players and any outsiders, including researchers. The market survey had to develop the credibility of the researchers before any work in the markets could take place. In addition, for the findings of the survey to be acknowledged and used by the market, the project needed to develop ownership of the survey amongst market participants.

Developing credibility frequently required getting involved with issues not directly associated with the survey. Commitment by the researcher to the role players' interests served to develop the markets' commitment to the project, facilitating the research. As most of the research was based on perspectives and opinion, it was essential to gain the best support possible to ensure that the information collected would be factually correct.

The development of trust and ownership of the survey took eight months of regular meetings and communication to establish. Links were developed with a key traders' organization, a healers' organization, and a union which represents some of the market players. Numerous public meeting were also held at market sites to inform market players of the survey and its objectives. The survey strategy was to develop support for enabling the survey to take place, and to obtain accurate information. One of the approaches adopted was to encourage the various organizations to adopt the survey as a tool for them to use in improving their business opportunities and personal welfare. Leadership had to be shown that information of the markets gave them power to influence the market environment.

Developing project ownership amongst the market players

The advantage of this approach was that the leadership recognized the value of information and consequently adopted the survey as an initiative of their respective organizations. Consequently at public meetings or organization membership meetings, the project was frequently referred to by the respective leadership as 'their project' and that the researchers were 'working for the organization'. The researchers had to do little convincing of the membership to participate in the survey due to the active support of leadership.

This approach was however costly in time and resources but was essential to gain access to the markets and to obtain factually correct and accurate information.

Collection of quantitative data in the market

The market survey was based on both questionnaires and market observations. Several key groups were identified and targeted for the survey, and included:

· street traders and gatherers,
· indigenous healers,
· shop traders and wholesalers,
· indigenous healers' patients,
· clinic patients (the general public from the same sector of the population), and
· various health and conservation authorities.

As most of the market is informal, and the more formalized traders keep few or no records of transactions, the study was not able to utilize any business data, but had to capture information which traders had internalized. The questionnaires were conducted as interviews as many of the market players are illiterate.

Four questionnaires were designed to capture information about the supply and demand of medicinal plants, by focusing on the expertise of various key market players. For example, plant gatherers were questioned intensively about the source and supply of wild plants as they are the major harvesters of the resource. The questionnaires were designed after discussions with various role players to refine approaches and to answer specific questions that discussions had identified as priorities. While the questionnaires focused on nine species of high value plants, there were also general questions that were designed to capture broader market information. The interviews took between 15 minutes and 60 minutes to complete, and were generally carried out by Zulu speakers who were also proficient in English.

The major challenge in this study was to develop an understanding of the quantitative characteristics in a market where there was little or no recorded trade information. Due to the lack of any recorded quantitative data, the questionnaires were designed to capture as much quantitative information as possible for analysis to be undertaken. Prior to this study, there had been considerable speculation regarding the levels of plant use, with no indication of the levels of use. Cunningham [1988] undertook a major survey with shop traders, but this did not attempt to estimate the total volume of trade for the entire market, and focused on shop trade.

In designing the questionnaires it was important to use a number of questions to enable quantitative assessment to be made. The survey attempted to capture the frequency of use/sale, the quantities used/sold, and the price of the product sold. For example, to determine how much plant material of a certain species was traded, the questionnaire respondents had to estimate how many times a day the product was sold, the mass per traded item was then weighed, and the price recorded. These traded amounts were then annualized and aggregated for the numbers of market players in similar situations, enabling a gross estimate of quantities traded to be made.

Several approaches were used in undertaking the interviews. The street markets were visited on a prearranged day and the survey was completed within a day. Two street markets were surveyed, and a total of 189 half-hour questionnaires were completed.

The indigenous healers were interviewed either at their practices or at meetings where several healers were gathered. These questionnaires generally took approximately 45 minutes to complete and 41 healers were interviewed. This group was particularly difficult to interview as many healers were reluctant to commit time to the interview. There was also considerable suspicion by the healers that the information may be used by other people to make money from their knowledge. This aspect of the survey was time intensive requiring considerable introductory discussions prior to any interviews taking place.

Shop traders and a wholesale company (only one wholesaler functions in KwaZulu-Natal) were interviewed at their shops and each interview took approximately 60 minutes to complete. The sample in this group was limited due to time constraints of the project and after seven interviews it became clear that the traders operated in a similar pattern. It was felt that the sample provided a good reflection of traders as a whole. However, further information would be useful as different prices are charged for products in smaller towns.

The patients at the indigenous healers' practices and at western medical clinics were surveyed. Ninety-one patients were interviewed at the healers' practices to try to develop an understanding of the use of indigenous medicine. These patients were mostly women who had brought their children to the healers on specific 'baby' days and would wait in lengthy queues. At the western medical clinics 104 patients were interviewed. The two localities were selected as both sites had long queues of patients waiting for attention, enabling the interviewers to have at least 15 minutes discussion with each respondent. This waiting period at the healers and clinics gave the study the opportunity to interview people who would otherwise not be willing to spend time talking about their use of healing systems. The patients at the clinics were used as a sample that would represent the broader publics' use of healing systems. The clinic sample could then be compared with the sample from the healers' practices.

A summary of the range and number of respondents is illustrated in Table 3.1, together with criteria for their selection and the average duration of the interviews.

Table 3.1: A summary of interviews undertaken


Number of respondents

Selection criteria

Duration of interviews

Street traders and gatherers


Traders and willing to be interviewed

30 minutes

Indigenous healers


Healers willing to be interviewed

45 minutes

Healers' patients


People waiting in queues on busy days

15 minutes

Clinic patients


People waiting in queues on busy days

15 minutes

Shop traders


Traders and their leadership willing to be interviewed

60 minutes



The only wholesaler in KwaZulu-Natal

120 minutes

The project had initially intended to interview much larger samples than indicated above. There were however several major constraints which resulted in the interviews and the time for the project being significantly curtailed. The intense suspicion required that numerous discussions take place to gain access to the interview sites. Even though the leadership of various organizations had made public statements in meetings within the markets regarding the value of the study and their support for the work, the survey frequently had to hold additional discussions with market participants to reiterate the survey objectives. This was not only to obtain data, but to ensure that the data were as reliable as possible, and to ensure the safety of the interviewers in the field. The threat of physical violence was present at times and on several occasions field work had to be terminated due to strenuous objections from antagonistic traders. An additional mechanism that was used to diffuse tense situations, was to employ a committee member of a regional healers' organization as a team member, who would frequently be called upon, during the course of interviews, to placate objectors.

Apart from for the above suspicion, Zulu culture does not accept concise conversations as being socially acceptable. Discussions were generally protracted, with conversations taking place before key issues were discussed. It is considered culturally unacceptable to get straight to the point, and also not acceptable to have any discussion about a person's private business (work or personal) without the respondent having a clear understanding of the work being undertaken. In addition, when the respondent wished to discuss some associated issue with the interviewers, these discussions had to be completed before continuing with the questionnaire. Failure to allow the respondents to ask their own questions of the work being undertaken, and have them adequately answered, would be considered socially unacceptable, and would likely result in the respondent not wanting to continue with the discussion as it would be perceived as merely a one-way process. The concise approach usually used by market survey workers was therefore not appropriate to the culture of the market players. A questionnaire which under more formal market circumstances would take 10 minutes took between 20 to 30 minutes to complete depending on how much feedback the respondents wanted.

Data coding

The information in the questionnaires was coded. All the variables for the answers were listed and given a number (code). A dictionary was produced which lists the questions, and each of the responses to the questions and their codes. The dictionary is an important tool in the analysis as it allows the researcher quick reference to the data without having to return to the individual questionnaires to find out what the responses were. These codes were then placed in a spread sheet.

Data analysing

QuattroPro (6.0) (Novell Inc.) was used to analyse the data and produce either graphs or statistical analysis.

Collection of qualitative market information

Apart from collecting data through questionnaires, an important part of the survey was to make observations during the course of the work. The researcher took notes during formal and informal discussions, at public meetings and during field work. This helped to provide insights into the market which were not possible to obtain from the structured interviews. Several lengthy unstructured interviews were also undertaken with various market players and helped to provide a depth of detail not obtainable from the structured questionnaires. These observations were particularly important during the initial stages of the survey as they helped focus the study and provided insights into the design of the questionnaires and the approaches for the survey.

More discussions and observations could have reduced the numbers of questions that were placed in the questionnaires making the entire process of data capture, coding and analysis more efficient.

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