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5. THE SUPPLY OF MEDICINAL PLANTS IN KWAZULU-NATAL


5.1 Sources of supply
5.2 Current and potential production
5.3 Quantities by products
5.4 Description of producers
5.5 Competition between the suppliers


This study has established that the large volume of indigenous medicinal plants, which is traded in the southern African markets, is harvested from wild populations, with insignificant cultivation taking place. These plants are harvested from within South Africa and from neighbouring countries such as Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and Namibia. The supply of high value plants has declined leading to concerns within the industry and conservation agencies.

5.1 Sources of supply


5.1.1 Domestic sources
5.1.2 Imports


Medicinal plants supplied to the markets in KwaZulu-Natal are harvested from a wide range of habitats in the region, including coastal forests, coastal grasslands, mangroves, swamp forests, grasslands, woodlands, riverine forest, montane forest, wetlands, and sub-alpine grasslands. These habitats are located on communal lands, commercial farms, forestry estates, protected areas, and in neighbouring countries.

5.1.1 Domestic sources


5.1.1.1 Supply from wild populations in communal areas
5.1.1.2 Supply from commercial farms


The majority of the plants are harvested from wild populations on communal lands. Popular species, which are no longer available in these communal areas, may be harvested on forestry estates (exotic plantations with natural areas), commercial farms, and protected areas. Harvesting takes place with or without the consent of the landowners or local authority. There is limited commercial cultivation of medicinal species for local markets, although several organizations, such as Silverglen Medicinal Nursery, Institute of Natural Resources, Mondi Forests (a timber company) and several conservation agencies are promoting the cultivation of medicinal plants by farmers and other commercial enterprises.

5.1.1.1 Supply from wild populations in communal areas

The main source of plants for markets in KwaZulu-Natal is from communal or tribal lands where there is generally easy access to forest and grassland resources. In South Africa, there has been an erosion of tribal authority, and little or no state support for developing management systems for communal natural resources. Consequently, there are limited skills and motivation to promote natural resource management in these areas. This has led to a situation where rural communities take little or no responsibility for the state of their natural resources, allowing individuals in the community or outsiders to exploit medicinal plant populations with little or no control [Mander 1997a].

The communal areas closest to the urban and rural markets have been the primary focus of harvesting activities. However, as high value or popular plants have been depleted in these areas, harvesting of popular and scarce species takes place in more and more distant areas. A comparison between key harvesting locations identified by Cunningham [1988] and locations identified in the course of this study show the extent to which harvesting locations have shifted for nine popular species in the last 8 years (1988 to 1996) (see Table 5.1).

The location of the main harvesting areas has increased in distance from Durban, with an average increase in travel time6 of 45% (or 2 hours) over 8 years, between the source and market. The change in travel time ranges between an increase of 1 hour to 4 hours. For example, Eucomis autumnalis, a formerly common grassland bulb which was harvested largely within two hours travel, is now being extensively harvested in areas of 4 to 5 hours away. Furthermore, other barriers to trade, such as international borders and the associated trade controls, are increasingly being encountered and overcome in order to meet the demand for plants. Six out of the nine most popular medicinal species being studied (66%) are now being harvested in either Swaziland and/or Mozambique, and transported to the Durban markets for sale (see Figure 5.1).

6 Travel time has been used to give an indication of changes in the distance between the markets and the source as it represents a more realistic barrier in the market than distance.

Photo 6: Ornithogalum bulbs being harvested for the market.

Table 5.1: Changes in the location of key supply areas for nine popular plants

Plant name

Major locations of current harvesting

Distance to market in time by taxi travel

Past areas of harvesting Cunningham (1988)

Distance to market in time by taxi travel

Difference in time taken to travel to the market

Differences between past and current harvesting locations

Warburgia salutaris

Swaziland, Mozambique, Maputaland

5 to 8 hours

Transvaal, Sibaya Ingwavuma

5 to 6 hours

+2 hours 33% increase

Shift to harvesting in remote locations in two foreign countries, and with greater distances to transport material

Siphonochilus aethiopicus

Mozambique, Umzinto and Umbumbulu and Transkei

2 to 8 hours

Transvaal, Ndwedwe

3 to 7 hours

+1 hour 13% increase

Shift to harvesting in remote locations in one foreign country

Boweia volubilis

Mozambique, Lusikisiki, Zululand

4 to 8 hours

Natal Midlands, Transvaal, Local

2 to 6 hours

+2 hours 33% increase

Shift to resources in remote locations in one foreign country, and with greater distances to transport material

Eucomis autumnalis

Lusikisiki, Ixopo, Hlabisa and Mozambique

3 to 8 hours

Natal Midlands, Local, Northern Natal

1 to 4 hours

+4 hours 100% increase

Greater distances being travelled to more remote locations, and the harvesting of resources in a foreign country

Ocotea bullata

Ixopo, Mzimkhulu, Lusikisiki

3 to 5 hours

Southern Natal, Zululand

3 to 4 hours

+1 hour 25% increase

A relatively small increase in more remote locations

Alepidea amatymbica

Kwamaphumulo, Lusikisiki, Ixopo

2 to 5 hours

Natal Midlands

2 to 3 hours

+2 hours 33% increase

A relatively large increase in more remote locations

Curtisia dentata

Kwamaphumulo, Swaziland, Harding

2 to 6 hours

Southern Natal

3 hours

+3 hours 100% increase

An increase in more remote locations, including harvesting in a foreign country

Scilla natalensis

Inanda, Kanyayo, Bhizana

1 to 5 hours

Zululand, Ixopo, Greytown and Estcourt

2 to 4 hours

+1 hour 25% increase

A relatively large increase in more remote locations

Haworthia limifolia

Kanyayo, Inanda, Espofu, Vryheid, Mozambique, Swaziland

2 to 8 hours

Not recorded



Harvesting in remote locations including in two foreign countries.

Figure 5.1: The changes in location of key harvesting areas for nine popular species (1988 to 1996)

The declining size of bulbs and thickness of bark also illustrate the scarcity of plants. Indigenous healers have reported that they are increasingly using smaller sizes of plants, indicating that popular plants are getting less and less opportunity to grow and to reproduce. Between 25% and 39% of the healers indicated that, for the nine popular plants, they were now using smaller sizes than before. Between 8% and 15% of the healers indicated that they were now using different plant parts (see Figure 5.2).

The general lack of willingness and/or ability to enforce property rights associated with plants in the region, combined with the high levels of poverty in rural areas, exacerbates the destructive methods of harvesting. Rural women are desperate to generate a cash income, and will therefore harvest large numbers of plants for sale to the markets. Sustainable harvesting is not practised, as harvesters have no guarantees that they will benefit from any wise harvesting of species. The above factors result in a highly destructive approach to harvesting with each high value plant population becoming depleted, leading to a new focus on either a different species or on a further area which may still have high value plants.

Figure 5.2: Percentage of healers reporting changes in the use of plants over time [n = 37]

A further destructive condition, which impacts on plant populations, is the fact that most women harvesters concentrate their activities in one area. They are unlikely to shift to new areas to look for a particular species due to travel costs, and will focus on different species to harvest. This means that a population of popular species will not be given a chance to regenerate as any individual popular plant seen while in the course of gathering other plants, will be collected. Consequently, popular species face localized extinctions in areas where harvesters regularly gather medicinal plants for the market.

As consequence of the above approaches to harvesting, the supply of indigenous plants from communal areas is declining, leading to a shortage of popular plants in the market. The local extinctions and concomitant increasing distance to harvesting locations, and the declining size of the plants utilized by healers, are clear indicators that the current supply of plants from communal areas is not sustainable. This has resulted in an increase in imports and an increasing interest in cultivation.

5.1.1.2 Supply from commercial farms

There are several commercial operations initiating the cultivation of indigenous plants to supply markets. Production is focused on supplying high value plants to pharmaceutical companies either within South Africa or in European markets. Production for the South African market is believed to be limited to a few species that can be registered with the Medicines Control Council7. In KwaZulu-Natal there are low supplies of plants from commercial farms.

7 Due to the infancy of large-scale commercial ventures in the indigenous medicine markets and the lack products on the market, there is considerable secrecy in the industry. Little information will be available until products are openly traded.

The level of harvesting from undeveloped areas on commercial farms is unknown. The localities identified by the plant gatherers indicate that there is limited harvesting on commercial land. There is however, some illegal harvesting from commercial farms or estates. There has been an increasing awareness amongst landowners regarding the value of medicinal plants, and it is unlikely that any large-scale harvesting takes place on commercial farms. Harvesting plants for home consumption by farm labourers is likely to be the largest form of use on these properties.

5.1.2 Imports

A number of plant species are imported into South Africa (including KwaZulu-Natal) for the medicinal plant trade. The imports take place on an informal basis with no documentation or customs authorization. There is considerable labour migration between Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa, and this promotes a large informal movement of plant material. Rural families from neighbouring countries frequently have members of their households or community working within South Africa, particularly in large cities, thereby providing remote locations with market information and transport mechanisms. The material is usually traded in its raw form and can be either sold on street markets, in shops, by healers or by wholesalers.

Popular species, now becoming increasingly difficult to obtain in South Africa, are the main focus of trade. Discussions in the Durban market have indicated that Haworthia limifolia, Boweia volubilis and Warburgia salutaris are imported in large quantities from Swaziland and Mozambique. These two countries are now recognized as the main sources of supply for these species. Two other species in great demand, Alepidea amatymbica and Eucomis autumnalis, are imported from Lesotho but in small quantities. (Figure 5.1 indicates some of the other important species that are imported from neighbouring countries.)

The different sources of imports can be ascribed to the distribution of species. All of these species are still found in South Africa but the declining local supply and increasing in-accessibility has led to the importation of these species from countries where they are still common and/or easily accessible.

The quantities of plants imported into South Africa are unknown. The informal nature of the plant trade and the illegal nature of imports make it difficult to make any quantitative estimates of the quantities imported into South Africa. For one species, Warburgia salutaris, it may be possible to provide some idea of what is being imported due to the localized extinction that has occurred in parts of South Africa. The market survey estimated that some 17 tonnes of Warburgia salutaris were traded in Durban in 1996 and Williams pers. comm. 1997 suggests that between 10 and 20 tonnes were traded in Gauteng (formerly the Johannesberg area) in 1995. As the Durban and Gauteng markets are the major trading conduits, it is likely that between 30 to 40 tonnes of Warburgia salutaris are imported annually from Mozambique and Swaziland. Some of the other species, such as Boweia volubilis, Siphonochilus aethiopicus, Curtisia dentata, Eucomis autumnalis, and Haworthia limifolia are also imported to some degree but the quantities are unknown. For example, 33% of the traders selling Boweia volubilis (or nine traders), indicated that they obtained their plants in Mozambique.

5.2 Current and potential production

Current production of market materials

The current production of plant material for the market is unknown but can be based on the estimates made in Section 4.1.1 and 4.1.3 regarding consumer demand. The total quantity of plant material supplied to the markets in Durban is 1 500 tonnes a year, and for KwaZulu (including Durban) it is estimated to be some 4 300 tonnes a year. At national level it is suggested that some 19 500 tonnes may be traded8. However, these quantities should not be considered as production but rather as harvesting since little or no cultivation or processing takes place.

8 The KwaZulu and South African estimates are based on the assumption that the Durban population is a proxy for the entire provincial and national population.

The above quantities are harvested from wild populations and consequently the stock of plants is not known. It is thus not possible with our present level of knowledge to predict the potential production of these wild stocks. However, what is known, is that for many species the current levels of harvesting are not sustainable. Observations of the market indicate that a number of species are becoming scarce, with concomitant price increases, increasing imports, irregular supply, reductions in the size and/or thickness of plant products, and increasing use of substitute plants. For example:

· Siphonochilus aethiopicus - sells for between 10 and 30 times the average price9 of other popular plants in the market.

· Ocotea bullata - alternative tree species (Cryptocarya spp.) in the Laurel family is increasingly being used as a substitute.

· Warburgia salutaris - sells for double the average price of other bark products and is mostly imported from Mozambique.

· Eucomis autumnalis - the average size of bulbs is getting smaller and they are frequently unobtainable in the markets (see Figure 5.2).

· Alepidea amatymbica - previously a common species in the province is now being imported from the Eastern Cape and Lesotho, or being collected in more distant localities. Its price is increasing and market players are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their preferred stock levels.

· Boweia volubilis - large bulbs are scarce and sell for more than three times the price (per unit weight) of small bulbs.

9 Prices refer to price per kilogram and not to price per unit.

The above examples describe the market conditions for some of the most popular medicinal plants traded, showing the effects of trade on species. This evidence is supported by the observations of market players (see Figure 5.3). For the nine popular species, between 45% and 55% of the healers reported that the sale of plants had increased (largely due to increasing demand). However, for these same species, between 19% and 30% of the healers indicated that sales had declined due to scarcity. Healers who are less well connected or who have fewer financial/transport resources are likely to have less access to any species that may become scarce.

Sixty percent of the healers interviewed indicated that they used substitute plants, showing the degree to which shortages may occur in the market.

The harvesting technique used in gathering plant material is highly destructive contributing to the decline in supply to markets (Figure 5.4). Of the most important plants traded in the markets, approximately 28% of the plants have the whole plant or bulb harvested. A further 63% of the plants have either their roots or bark harvested, which for small plants would imply that the whole plant would be extracted from the ground, and for large plants it would imply a high risk of death due to damage to the plant. For scarce species, ring-barking is frequently practised to maximize the harvest of bark, usually causing the death of the tree.

The scale of harvesting, the destructive methods used, and the lack of cultivation have contributed to a widespread decline in plant populations throughout the province and surrounding areas. This has led to considerable concern regarding the sustainability of supply. For example, studies by Cunningham [1988] indicate that harvesting levels, at the time of his work, were not sustainable. In southern Natal forests, some 51% of Ocotea bullata trees and 57% of Curtisia dentata trees were estimated to have more than 50% of their bark removed. In Maputaland, all Warburgia salutaris trees greater than 5 cm in diameter (at breast height), located in the study (excluding protected areas), had been debarked. Similarly, for an area closer to Durban, Oatley [1979] estimated that 99% of some 450 Ocotea bullata located, had their bark damaged and Cooper [1979] estimated that for six areas where he had been working, some 95% of the Ocotea bullata had been damaged, with 45% of the trees ring-barked and dying.

Figure 5.3: Percentage of healers reporting changes in the sales of medicinal plants [n = 39]

Figure 5.4: Plant part used for important market species

There has been some cultivation of popular medicinal species by Silverglen Medicinal Nursery, Natal Parks Board, the Institute of Natural Resources, and Mondi Forests. This production is however not intended for markets but rather for research, education, and to provide foundation stocks for further propagation. These activities therefore do not provide a significant source of supply. There is also a growing number of healers beginning to cultivate plants for their own practices but these are as yet insignificant in terms of the volumes produced. There is one farmer in KwaZulu-Natal currently cultivating Siphonochilus aethiopicus for the indigenous medicinal trade within KwaZulu-Natal.

Potential production of market materials

The decline in access to plant species indicates that current harvesting levels are not sustainable, and it can be anticipated that unless management and/or propagation is undertaken greater shortages of plant material are likely to occur in the future. The supply of other popular species can also be expected to decline in the future. It is possible that currently popular species may face local extinctions, as has already happened for Warburgia salutaris and Siphonochilus aethiopicus.

Current market trends have indicated that plant populations will continue to decline in the future while harvesting is not managed and demand is sustained. The areas for potential harvesting have been reduced significantly, with the area of grasslands, savannah and thicket being reduced from 72 000 km2 to 29 000 km2 (see Table 5.2). A 60% reduction in harvestable10 grasslands and savannah area has taken place due to land use changes and past harvesting pressure.

10 The reduction in area does not imply that all medicinal species have been removed from the area, but rather that the popular and high value species are present in minimal quantities.

The potential area of forests which are available for harvesting have been reduced from 889 km2 to 260 km2 (see Table 5.3). A 70% reduction in harvestable area has occurred through the intensive use of forests not protected by either conservation agencies or private land owners.

Table 5.2: Grassland, savannah and thicket biomes - the area available for plant harvesting

Grassland, savannah and thicket biome

Area

Total area in KwaZulu-Natal1

85415 km2

Total area protected1

7687 km2 (9%)

Area not protected and undeveloped2

72000 km2

Land area already developed (timber and crops)2

17000 km2

Potential area available for harvesting

55000 km2

Available area (communal lands) already intensively harvested2

26000 km2

Area available for future harvesting with limited past commercial harvesting (commercial farm)

29000 km2

1 Low and Robelo 1996
2 Department of Agriculture 1997

Table 5.3: Forest biomes - the area available for plant harvesting

Forest biome (sand, coastal and Afro-montane)

Areas

Total area in KwaZulu-Natal1

1185 km2

Total area protected1

298 km2 (25%)

Potential area available for harvesting

889 km2

Forest area on commercial farms with limited past commercial harvesting2

260 km2

Area (generally communal lands) already intensively harvested

629 km2

1 Low and Robelo 1996 2 Cooper 1985

For both groups of biomes, the protected areas, plantations, crop-lands, and developed land have been excluded. These areas could not be utilized due to either the absence of indigenous plants or the protective legislation governing the use of indigenous plants.

The previous discussions on supply (see Section 5.1.1 and Figure 5.1) indicate that common property areas in KwaZulu-Natal have largely been exhausted of the high value and popular species, with the only areas of high potential remaining on private property or in more distant locations out of the province. There has however been selected exploitation of scarce forest species (Ocotea bullata) on private properties in KwaZulu-Natal [Cooper 1985], indicating that the estimates made for available forest resources may be too high.

The greater reduction in forest area compared to grasslands/savannah, can be ascribed to equal popularity of grassland/savannah and forest species. Of the 68 species identified by street traders and plant gatherers as being important trade items, 49% were forest species and 51% were grassland and savannah species (see Table 7.1). The intensity of harvesting in forests has therefore been considerably higher than harvesting in grasslands and savannah, with the area of forests being some 61 times smaller than the available area of grasslands/savannah. The grassland and savannah species used tend to be dominated by plant forms with short life cycles such as bulbs and rhizomes, while forest species used are dominated by bark producing trees, which take many years to mature.

Assuming that the proportions of plant species used from the respective vegetation biomes was matched by the mass of plants used (that is, 51% of the species represented 51% of the mass traded), then the forests would need to produce some 8.1 tonnes per km2 per annum, while the grasslands would need to produce some 78 kg per km2 per annum11. These are not accurate estimates, but are rather an illustration of the orders of magnitude of supply constraints and opportunities within the different biomes.

11 Method used to estimate production required from remaining underutilised vegetation biomes: Grassland and savanna biome: (51% x 4 300 tonnes of marketed materials in KwaZulu-Natal) = (2 193 tonnes)/28 000 km2 of available grasslands and savanna = 78 kg per km2 Forest biome: (49% x 4 300 tonnes of marketed materials in KwaZulu-Natal) = (2 107 tonnes)/260 km2 =8 100 kg per km2

The above discussion regarding potential areas for harvesting indicates that grasslands and savannahs on commercial farms could be managed on a sustainable basis to supply material for the plant markets. A large grassland and savannah area remains relatively underutilized in terms of medicinal plant harvesting. However, forests on commercial farms would be unlikely to be able to supply sufficiently large quantities of medicinal plants for the market in KwaZulu-Natal. The sustained harvesting of 78 kg a km2 per annum may be feasible in grasslands and savannah, while the harvesting of 8.1 tonnes per km2 per annum of material from existing forests would not be sustainable. The implications of the above are that grassland species could be managed to supply plants for the market in the short term, while forests could only produce the required volumes in the long term provided extensive enrichment planting and management takes place.

Another option to sustain and possibly increase supply is cultivation. Experience in South Africa has indicated that it is possible to cultivate medicinal species in farming systems. The economic feasibility is however unknown. Experiences in India, China and USA have shown that it is possible to produce large volumes of medicinal plants for the market [Lambert et al. 1996]. This implies that it would be possible to produce sufficient plant volumes to meet the demand for indigenous medicinal plants in South Africa should the necessary levels of farm investment take place. However, while it may be possible to supply large quantities of bulbs, tubers, and herbs in the short term, it would take considerably longer to produce sufficient bark products to meet market demand. The slow growing nature of several popular tree species implies that should large-scale production take place, it is unlikely that an increase in the production of bark products would be feasible in the short to medium term.

There is one option that could be used as an interim measure to enhance the supply of several popular tree species in the short term. Medicinal tree species, such as Ocotea bullata and Curtisia dentata, are harvested as high value timber from southern Cape indigenous forests. This harvesting provides a potential bi-product in the form of bark for the medicinal plant trade. The quantities produced in the southern Cape would need to be investigated.

5.3 Quantities by products

The market survey focused on the market as a whole as well as on nine popular species. The mass traded within the market is illustrated in Table 5.4 and is based on the estimates of consumer demand (see Section 4.1).

Table 5.4: Mass traded within the market

Trading area

Quantities traded per annum

Durban City (including surrounding areas)

1519 tonnes

KwaZulu-Natal (province)

4339 tonnes

South Africa

19500 tonnes

The total tonnage traded in Durban has been estimated to be some 1 500 tonnes per year. The products included would consist of bulbs (making up a large proportion of the mass), bark, tubers and herbs. The Durban estimates can be used to provide an indication of regional and national quantities assuming the similarities in the population (see Section 4.1.3).

The survey also collected detailed information on nine popular species in Durban and the annual mass of these plants traded are illustrated in Table 5.5 in descending order.

Table 5.5: Quantities of nine popular species sold in the Durban Medicinal Trade

Botanical Name

Zulu name

Tonnes traded per year

Scilla natalensis

Inguduza

95.5

Eucomis autumnalis1

Umathunga

73.2

Boweia volubilis

Igibisila

43

Alepidea amatymbica

Ikhathazo

31.2

Ocotea bullata

Unukani

25.3

Curtisia dentata

Umlahleni

23.9

Haworthia limifolia1

Umathithibala

22.5

Warburgia salutaris

Isibhaha

17.2

Siphonochilus aethiopicus1

Indungulo

1.9

1 These estimates may include other species within the same genus which are not always distinguished as separate species by the traders and healers.

Scilla natalensis is a popular bulb with little supply constraints yet and with large populations still extant within the province. This serves to provide a context for understanding the levels of trade in other popular species. Bulbous species can be expected to contribute to greater proportions of the trade (on a weight basis) given the high moisture content within bulbs, hence the top three masses are all bulb species. However, what is useful to note is that the volume of Boweia traded is approximately half that of Scilla natalensis, probably a result of both greater scarcity and less demand. In terms of the bark traded, it can be seen that 30% less Warburgia salutaris is traded relative to the two other popular barks, even though it is considered to be one of the most popular medicines. This can be ascribed to the scarcity of the plant within South Africa. Siphonochilus aethiopicus is traded in low volumes due to the scarcity of the plants and the relatively small mass of the products sold. The total mass of the nine popular species (2% of species traded) amounts to approximately 22% of the total tonnage traded in Durban every year.

The numbers of plants/units traded for the nine most popular species have been estimated and are listed in Table 5.6.

While there were considerable differences between species in the overall mass sold, it is interesting to note that in terms of the bulbs and succulents, the range in numbers sold was similar, that is, between 310 000 and 480 000 plants were used per year. For the trees, the range is between 1 400 and 2 100 trees used per year. Alepidea amatymbica rates as the highest number sold as, on average, four plants are sold in every transaction.

In terms of mass, the greatest quantity traded (Scilla natalensis) is some 51 times greater than the lowest quantity traded (Siphonochilus aethiopicus), while in terms of numbers, the greatest number sold (Alepidea amatymbica) is some 35 times more that the least numbers sold (again Siphonochilus aethiopicus).

Table 5.6: Number of plants and the units traded for the nine most popular species

Botanical name

Number of purchases made per year1

Equivalent plants used per year2

Plant material used

Curtisia dentata

548000

1494

Tree bark

Ocotea bullata

529000

1581

Tree bark

Warburgia salutaris

514000

1075

Tree bark

Haworthia limifolia

479000

479000

Whole plant

Alepidea amatymbica

455000

1820000

Herb root

Scilla natalensis

432000

432000

Bulb

Eucomis autumnalis

428000

428000

Bulb

Boweia volubilis

386000

386000

Bulb

Siphonochilus aethiopicus3

67142

52800

Rhizome

1 The number of purchases is based on the mean mass of plant material purchased per sale (either a part of a plant, a whole plant or many plants) at the time of the survey.

2 The equivalent plant numbers are based on the total annual market mass traded divided by; in the case of a bulb, root, rhizome or whole plant, the mean market mass per entire plant, and in the case of trees, by an assumed mass of 16 kg (dry weight) of harvested bark per tree. This assumption is based on average mass derived from bark harvested from three of the most popular bark species traded.

3 Siphonochilus aethiopicus is frequently sold in shops and healers' practices in pieces (at a mean mass of 6 g) due to high prices, while in the street markets it is usually sold whole (at a mean mass of 35.6 g). An average sale mass of 21 g is used to estimate the number of sales, while the average mass of whole plants is used to estimate the numbers of plants sold.

5.4 Description of producers

The current producers of material for the Durban markets are rural women, who harvest a wide range of plant material from mainly communal lands. There are no costs incurred in the cultivation of plants as only wild populations are harvested, although there are harvesting and transport costs. Women gathering plants for trade to the market came from a wide range of geographical locations. Of the 55 different areas identified as home locations, 24% lived within 100 km from Durban; 33% lived between 100 km to 200 km away from Durban; and 45% lived between 200 km to 500+ km away from Durban. The largest number of gatherers originated from distant localities in communal areas.

The general harvesting approach used is for individuals or groups of women to scout around in the various vegetation associations within their immediate vicinity. Gatherers interviewed indicated that they may be assisted by, on average, one (Ezimbuzini market) and 1.6 (Russel Street market) other people in harvesting activities. Any plants considered marketable, based on observations of the markets and/or from reports from associates, are collected. Marketability depends on both the species, the size of the plant and the time of month/year. Gatherers tend to concentrate their harvesting during the month and then market their products towards the end of the month. This harvesting approach results in a peak in marketing around the end of the month. The end of the year also produces a peak in trade, especially for live plants.

A range of basic implements is used to harvest material. Bark is harvested by using an axe or cane knife (machete). Bulbs and roots are dug up using a hoe, metal rod or similar metal instrument. During the winter months there are relatively fewer bulbs harvested due to the aerial plant parts dying back and the plants becoming less visible. The advent of summer and the development of leaves and flower heads, results in a reversal of this trend.

The plants are placed in woven plastic sacks and generally carried on their heads back to the homestead. Harvests are accumulated until quantities are large enough to warrant a journey to the market. Bark products are usually dried before being transported to the market. Little other processing takes place.

Many of the gatherers in KwaZulu-Natal travel to the Durban markets themselves, and there they can undertake some processing, depending on the species traded and the experience of the gatherers. The unprocessed products consisted of whole live plants such as Haworthia, Clivia, Gasteria, and numerous bulb species. Partially processed products consisted of sections or chunks of plant parts such as roots, tubers, branches, bark, and bulbs. Products with greater levels of processing consisted of unmixed chopped and ground bark. The most sophisticated processed products were special mixtures, such as 'ntelezi' and 'ubulawu', consisting of mixtures of chopped bark and bulbs and other plant parts.

In Durban it is estimated that there are approximately 7 500 gatherers selling material directly to healers. Healers reported that they have on average five gatherers collecting for their practices. In addition, some 670 gatherers traded their produce in the street markets. In total, over 8 000 gatherers harvest materials for the Durban market. Similarly, using Durban as a proxy for KwaZulu-Natal, it is estimated that there would be at least another 8 000 gatherers given that approximately half the population of KwaZulu-Natal resides in and around Durban [Development Bank of Southern Africa 1994].

The incomes earned by the rural gatherers are a very important household resource. In the Russel Street and Ezimbizini Street markets, the gatherers earned an average of US$ 98 (R 440) and US$ 67 (R 300) per month, respectively. While these amounts are only 56% and 38% of the minimum wage in South Africa (Wage Act, Act 5 of 1957), it nevertheless represents a significant income, as in most cases there are few alternative income sources in underdeveloped rural areas. The cash incomes are important, providing rural women with monies for consumer goods.

While individual gatherers are the major producers for the market there are two other groups which also harvest products for the market. There are entrepreneurs, which may hire casual labour to harvest bulk quantities of plants. Their general modus operandi is to transport gatherers into localities, which are known to have abundant supplies of valuable plants. Harvesting takes place, and the products are then transported back to the entrepreneurs' shop or practice. The other group of producers are the indigenous healers themselves. Many Durban healers reported that they would on occasion collect plant material themselves. This takes place in special cases when specific rituals have to be performed in the harvesting of the plants. However, the Durban healers reported that they would only do this once or twice a year. In rural areas, the healers are more active in collecting plants.

As mentioned in Section 5.2, there is a movement amongst healers to start growing medicinal plants for their own practices. While this activity is limited at present, the demand for assistance and plant resources is growing in both rural and urban areas. The information and learning opportunities provided by various organizations regarding the propagation potential of medicinal plants is leading to increasing numbers of healers starting to produce plants at their homesteads. The numbers involved are however unknown at present but appear relatively insignificant given the total quantity of plants used in the industry.

The present focus of production (or more aptly termed harvesting) are the communal areas. There is however active but illegal harvesting within protected areas, private commercial farms and forestry estates. During the course of research, several gatherers have indicated that they have intimate knowledge of selected plant populations within protected or private areas. These areas are likely to play an increasingly important role in production as the population of high value species declines in more accessible areas.

5.5 Competition between the suppliers

There is competition between the various plant collectors at both the source of plants and at the market. As there is little or no cultivation taking place, plant harvesters compete for available plant resources. This competition is exacerbated due to the most accessible plant resources being located in communal areas where property rights are not well defined. This situation leads to competition both within and between different groups, including resident gatherers, contracted gatherers (associated with outside entrepreneurs), and indigenous healers.

There is particular competition in the harvesting of high value species, such as those that are the focus of this survey. As these species are in greatest demand and fetch the highest prices, they are the most sought after trade items. Furthermore, the increasing shortage of high value species results in gatherers, healers and entrepreneurs travelling to more distant locations in order to obtain trade goods. For example, rural women in northern KwaZulu-Natal now travel into Mozambique to buy Warburgia salutaris bark as local stocks are depleted, creating competition between the Mozambican gatherers, who may be selling to South African or Mozambican buyers.

Apart from competing for plant resources to trade, there is also competition in the sale of plant material to buyers. This competition is associated with trading sites and with customer allegiance. Competition takes place within the street or open markets in Durban and rural markets where products are sold. The gatherers who sell on the streets are generally more mobile and therefore tend to trade more on the periphery of the market, while the more permanent traders have established and maintained their rights to a particular stall site. In order to compete with the more permanent traders, the gatherers may form a group which rotate their visits to the city thereby ensuring that one of the group is always at their market site, maintaining their preferred market position.

There is also competition between street traders and shop traders. Past legislation in South Africa severely limited informal street trading, resulting in the shop traders having a retail monopoly in the medicinal plant industry within urban areas. In the 1980s the shop traders were the main suppliers [Cunningham 1988]. However, this has now changed with the street traders becoming the dominant urban suppliers. The democratization of South Africa and the relaxation of laws limiting informal street trade has resulted in the shop traders losing an estimated 50% to 60% of the medicinal plant market to the street traders.

In order to avoid competition on the streets, some gatherers sell plants directly to shop traders and healers developing consumer allegiance for their products. For example, the Durban healers indicated that apart from buying on the street markets, they also had on average five gatherers collecting plants for them.


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