Informal Economy of Biodiversity
Project lead: Dr. Leif Petersen
Funded by The University of Queensland (Departments of Geography and Environmental Management Sciences, and Agriculture and Food Systems)
The principle aim of the project is to accurately document and understand Cape Town’s informal, cash driven economy of biodiversity. In addition, the project aims to better inform conservation project and local economic development programmes in selection of local biodiversity, and to better understand economic interventions and cultural responses
In brief, the globally unique biodiversity of protected areas of the City of Cape Town endures a high level of illicit biodiversity extraction (flora and fauna ‘poaching’). Illicit and informal harvesting takes place to serve the cash-based economy of the poor, which despite its sizeable anecdotal appearance exists on the fringes of mainstream South African society. Much of this harvesting takes place clandestinely and illegally, yet is underpinned by overriding harvester perspectives potentially at odds to nature conservation objectives. Ongoing SLF research has revealed the majority of resource harvesters come from livelihoods positions that include;
1. Asserted cultural rights to harvest: including cultural and traditional perspectives on resource utilisation.
2. The need for livelihood support and poverty alleviation: from subsistence harvesters such as fuelwood gathering to entrepreneurial, cash requirements – some of which border onto common law criminality.
Cape Town’s rising incidence of poverty (presently 38% of residents live below the poverty line) within an increasingly cash based economy combined with massive urbanisation has led to a rapidly growing informal industry based on the cultural, subsistence, and entrepreneurial harvest and consumption of biodiversity products. This has come at considerable and growing ecological cost. It is becoming apparent that conventional conservation management approaches (such as fines and fences) are struggling to limit the impact of illicit harvesting by informal economy actors. Furthermore, in the absence of profound widespread immediate economic or social change within the City it is unlikely that illicit harvesting will stop until local resources have been fully exploited and /or through longer term anthropogenic adaptation to urbanisation and western medicines.
The research takes place with semi-structured interviews and field observation with extensive conservation worker, law enforcement officials in all major conservation agencies, and field visits and interviews with more than 100 informal economy biodiversity utilisers including Cape Town resident sangomas, inyangas, Rastafarians, food, flower and fibre gatherers / retailers. The research is working in a variety of Cape Town informal settlements, reflective of the dynamics of community and poverty in the City.