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Understanding local knowledge and perceptions about invasive alien plants : a case study of the upper Illovu working for water project.

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For decades, South Africa has been heavily infested by invasive alien plants. As a result there is concern over the increasing rate at which the alien plants are replacing indigenous vegetation. Another concern regarding the invasive alien plants is the indirect stress they pose on the environment due to their excessive water consumption. As a result of this, government of South Africa, through the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Acts (43 of 1983) and other environmental legislation, mandates and encourages the removal of invasive alien plants from the landscapes of South Africa. The need for removal of these invasive alien plants led to the formation of the Working for Water Programme (WfW), which is based on a novel approach to environmental management. It contends that the invasion of ecosystems by invasive alien plants could have detrimental effects on water yields from catchment areas, and that employing people to deal with the problem could both protect this vital resource and provide employment and upliftment in poor rural communities. It has been suggested that the supply of information to the public about invasive alien plants is generally poor, to the extent that many people are the causal agents of these plants entering their communities (McNeely 1999). If this lack of awareness is the case, then understanding the drivers of local knowledge which will feed into public awareness is essential to change public perceptions and values surrounding invasive alien plants. It is important to understand local knowledge in order to determine gaps in information transfer and enable them to make decisions that are grounded in local cultural interpretations of place and their environment (Ebohon et al 2000). It is also important to ii understand what the local communities know and what they need to know about these invasive alien plants. This study is premised on developing an understanding of local knowledge and perceptions about invasive alien plants. The assumption is that those involved in the programme would display positive values towards the environment. It is also assumed that those involved in the programme have developed their local/traditional knowledge of invasive alien plants through the educational component of WfW programme. A case study approach of Upper Illovu Working for Water project was adopted. The research was carried out by means of questionnaire interviews. The respondents were drawn from Indaleni community in Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal. Thirty respondents were interviewed and this was inclusive of the field workers, contractors, project manager and people who were not involved in the project but from the same community. Those not involved in the project were used as a control group. Five objectives were utilized to investigate the aim of this study. They were to: a) Determine the respondents’ relationship to, and perceptions of the Upper Illovu WfW project b) Establish the respondents’ understanding and perceptions about the levels of invasive alien plants in the area c) Determine the respondents’ knowledge and perceptions pertaining to prevention of the spread of invasive alien plants iii d) Establish the respondents’ competencies in controlling and managing invasive alien plants and e) Establish the respondents’ perceptions about the project’s ability to deliver on its objectives. The results of this study indicate that most of the respondents were aware of the Upper IIlovu WfW project and its ecological and social upliftment objectives. The pattern of the responses was such that those that did not participate in the project (control group) were for the most part not sure about their responses. Although those who participated in the project displayed better knowledge of issues concerning invasive alien plants, there were many occasions when they failed to provide some responses without being prompted – given clues or examples. To conclude, there was, therefore, a significant knowledge gap about invasive alien plants and information pertaining to them between the two groups. The implications are that those involved with the project must have received some form of information through public awareness about invasive alien plants. That is their traditional knowledge about these invasive plants has been developed by the education from the programme, WfW. But most importantly, the programme remains a key for economic reasons from the perspective of the participants. The need for constant improvement and development of local knowledge regarding these invasive alien plants is important in dealing with their spread and management of their effects on the environment.


Thesis (M.Env.Dev.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2010.


Alien plants--Control--KwaZulu-Natal--Citizen participation., Alien plants--KwaZulu-Natal--Environmental aspects., Invasive plants--Control--KwaZulu-Natal--Citizen participation., Alien plants--KwaZulu-Natal--Identification., Theses--Environmental science.