Uprooting spree

Published: Wednesday 30 April 2003

South Africa's indigenous forests are severely threatened by gatherers of medicinal plants who pay scant attention to conservation practices. Michael Peter, director of the country's Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), says that commercial harvesters -- and not traditional herbalists -- are to blame for the damage to the nation's forests.

He accuses the former of not honouring "traditional methodology" in their haste to reap profits. Peter confesses that there "probably isn't an indigenous forest in South Africa, with the exception of those in our national parks, that isn't utilised (by gatherers) to some extent".

South Africa's forests cover about 530,000 hectares, or, 0.4 per cent of the country. The wooded lands are also threatened by activities such as road-building, illegal logging and unsustainable firewood gathering. But the medicinal plant trade is considered to be the single largest reason for the degradation of indigenous forests. Encroachers clearing forests to make way for agriculture lands is another problem. DWAF complains it does not have the necessary means to safeguard South Africa's widely distributed forests.

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