Understanding the present and historic forest resource use of the Ntabamhlope indigenous state forest by rural communities.
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Ntabamhlophe indigenous state forest is the focus study area. It is one of the forests that are found along the Drakensberg mountain range in KwaZulu- Natal province in South Africa. It is a proclaimed forest of approximately 50ha in extent. The Ntabamhlophe indigenous state forest was formerly called Monk’s Cowl State Forest, (Monk’s Cowl State Forest - iNtabamhlophe) situated in central uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. This forest is located on communal land. In many parts of the world, indigenous forests face growing threats and pressures. Internationally this has resulted in approximately 9.4 million hectares being lost by 1990. Indigenous forests play an important role in ecosystem processes. They are associated with a range of products and processes that support the livelihood of millions of people around the world. Forests cover more than 3 000 km2 or 0.1% of the land surface of South Africa. Furthermore, due to the lack of appropriate management programmes, South Africa has contributed its share to indigenous forest loss. Approximately 76% (3240ha) of the Drakensberg Montane forest is formally protected South Africa’s geographical positioning is such that it has historically had a smaller extent of forests. The future of South Africa’s remaining indigenous forests depends partly on the values ascribed to them by local communities. The study objectives were, (i) to understand the values and perceptions of the community towards the existence and future management of the Ntabamhlophe indigenous state forest, and (ii) to determine the different types of forest products and resources used by the community and their values to the users (cultural, spiritual or economic values). To understand Ntabamhlophe community’s indigenous forest resource use, values and perceptions, a qualitative survey method was used. This was conducted by using focus group techniques. The use of focus groups provided an insight into qualitative data. The technique combined both wise counsel and focus group workshops. The use of this technique aimed at drawing upon respondents’ attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions. The questionnaire design was based on the structures of other studies, on user attitudes and values relating to forest resources. The study revealed that the community ascribes high values to the indigenous forest, however they do not have a proper forest management system in place. The following were regarded as the major threats facing Ntabamhlophe forest resources: crime, uncontrolled and excessive burning, uncontrolled harvesting of indigenous medicinal plant and fuelwood, deforestation (clearing forests for plantations, e.g. vegetable crops and Cannabis sativa). Illegal hunting, soil erosion, and inappropriate forest management systems (nonexistence) were all considered by community representatives as serious threats to the survival of this indigenous forest. The findings also revealed that there is a lack of capacity and skills, appropriate stakeholder representation and coherent community leadership to pursue Ntabamhlophe Mountain and forest conservation initiatives. Given the circumstances, there is an apparent lack of confidence on the part of the community to confirm their natural resource conservation priorities. The community representatives recommended that the current uncontrolled activities be prohibited. They also had a strong belief that the forest should be protected through a cooperative management system involving Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the Traditional Authority, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and Imbabazane Local Municipality. The focus group indicated that they had a very high future benefit expectation of activities such as education, water, cultural, biodiversity, spiritual upliftment, tourism, craft and free access (Table 6). They also indicated that gathering medicinal plants and fuelwood was very common. Educational benefit was regarded as the most important of all, followed by tourism and biodiversity conservation.
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