The use of indigenous trees by local communities within and surrounding the Thukela Biosphere Reserve, with an emphasis on the woodcarving industry.
In the past, protected natural areas have excluded local communities from the land and denied them access to valuable natural resources. However, it is becoming accepted practice to ensure that neighbouring communities benefit from the conservation of these areas. In accordance with their neighbour relations programme, the Natal Parks Board initiated a study to establish the need for indigenous wood in the region of the Thukela Biosphere Reserve (TBR), particularly for the woodcarving industry, and to determine sustainable methods and levels of harvesting. Part of this study was to determine the socio-economic issues surrounding the woodcarving industry and other users of indigenous trees, and these are addressed in this thesis. A multidisciplinary approach was adopted to address as many aspects of natural resource use as possible. The principle of sustainable development was employed to explore the nature of the often complex relationships between local communities and protected areas, and local communities and natural resource use. This principle calls for the integration of social, economic and ecological issues, with special attention to the notions of futurity, equity and the environment. The biosphere reserve is considered to be an appropriate vehicle for achieving sustainable development and the sustainable utilisation of resources, both internationally and in the South African context. However, in practice there are many obstacles to overcome as was observed in the case of the TBR, where security of land tenure and the associated control of and access to natural resources are a source of major conflict in the area. In view of this conflict, a flexible and sensitive methodology that promoted rapport-building was selected, namely Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA). Mainly verbal RRA techniques were used to gather information on the use of and demand for indigenous trees by the local communities residing within and surrounding the TBR. This information included species names, species uses, estimations of quantities harvested, perceptions of the resource base, conservation practices and harvesting techniques, economic relations, constraints, and relationships between the resource manager and the resource user. Indigenous trees were found to be an important resource for fuel, construction, medicine, carving, and to a limited degree, food, to local people living within and surrounding the TBR. The predominant uses of wood were for fuel and construction materials. Access to these resources varied, depending on the area or farm where people resided. People living in degraded areas outside of the TBR experienced great difficulty in harvesting wood for fuel or building, and either harvested it illegally off privately-owned land or purchased it at great cost. Generally, it was found that on farms where there were very few families present, residents were allowed greater access to wood compared to those living on farms where many families resided. There were also specialist users living in the area, namely traditional healers and woodcarvers. Limited information was collected on the medicinal use of trees. However, the preliminary data suggests that there is a great need for this resource. It was found that there are very few woodcarvers present in the study area. As the carving industry was the original focus of the study, detailed information was collected from these men. It was found that carved products are largely produced for local markets and included traditional weapons and traditional household implements such as meat trays and spoons. Carvers were finding it increasingly difficult to access wood, and the income they derived from this trade was supplementary. Although it is not perceived possible that the indigenous wood requirements of all local people in the area can be met by the resources within the TBR on an ongoing basis, management of bush encroachment may increase the supply of firewood and construction materials, especially to those farm residents who were experiencing difficulty in this regard at the time of the study. Through partnerships with more specialist users of indigenous trees such as woodcarvers and traditional healers, access to these resources too may be improved. Although more detailed and participative research is needed before substantiated management plans can be formulated, it is hoped that through this study a foundation will be laid to direct future research efforts, dispel misunderstandings, and be part of the effort required to ensure sustainable development of natural resources.