Herbanisation - medicinal gardens benefitting Cape Town communities

At only 27 years old, Andrew Reid is already making a great contribution to the conservation of the planet. As part of the ‘Inspiring a New Generation’ Stream of the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Andrew has been working closely with local communities in Cape Town to create an open-access medicinal street garden, easing illegal harvesting pressure on city nature reserves. His "Herbanisation" project has been highlighted as an Inspiring Protected Area Solution through the Panorama initiative.

Herbanisation planting team

Andrew states that he wanted to become involved in the project as he is really passionate about bringing plants and people together, as well as having people interact more with plants, particularly medicinal ones. He believes that enterprises like this can really make a difference to people’s lives, their health and their well-being.

What began as a small partnership in 2012 between the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation and Neville van Schalkwyk, an accomplished gardener and Rasta bushdoctor elder in Seawinds, the Herbanisation project is now considered to be a ground-breaking initiative which has encouraged engagement between bushdoctors (or bossie doktors), conservation bodies and local botanical societies. Neville van Schalkwyk, who identifies himself as an indigenous person and a bossie doktor, outlines the importance of this project as those in his profession sell herbs and wild-harvested medicines. He says that it is not simply a trade but a part of who he is, and Andrew and the team acknowledge that this practice forms the cornerstone of a local economic trade.

However, most of the plants utilised in this way are harvested illegally from city nature reserves, which causes conflict between bossie doktors, nature conservation authorities and the police. The amount of plants harvested in this way amounts to over 260 tonnes annually, which has a significant impact on the conservation of indigenous plant species. Unique biodiversity, as well as a cultural need for that biodiversity and the economic need for many citizens in the city, has resulted in the ‘Herbanisation’ project.

This project now boasts more than 1,600 plants, with a view to expand this number to 4,500 by mid-2015, and has encouraged many Seawinds residents and local healers to treat themselves, their families and their patients from plants harvested from the Herbanisation street gardens. The co-operation between communities, local healers and larger organisations was largely non-existent before this project, and stronger relations have been encouraged through experiential peace-building activities centred around garden planting and maintenance events.

Andrew notes that in Cape Town, local nature often equals economic survival. The article "The Bright Side of Indigenous Urbanization for Biodiversity" recognises the positive work done by the project, stating that “Developing a medicinal street garden in low income areas and strengthening biocultural ecosystem resilience built a communication and collaboration space for Rasta and conservation stakeholders. The gardens also add aesthetic, biodiversity, and direct use value to otherwise degraded residential streets” and also outlines the positive aspects of engaging local people in urban planning and implementation.

After securing funding from the Table Moutain Fund, a trust of WWF-South Africa, Andrew and the team were able to help the project move from a pilot scheme of 250 plants to a fully-fledged movement which now includes the employment of a number of locals working in the area. Andrew has already identified long-term goals for the project, including expanding to employ more Rasta bushdoctors, reach a total of 25,000 plants in the street gardens in Cape Town and even release a documentary series detailing the work which has been carried out.

He wants to actively encourage others to become involved too, by promoting the work of the project on social media, or even by establishing their own indigenous medical street gardens.

On 22nd April 2015, Andrew and his team took part in an ‘Earth Day’ planting event, which represented a major stepping stone in the building of relationships and collaborative action between medicinal plant stakeholders throughout Cape Town and the broader Western Cape. During the event, 28 bushdoctors and 5 conservation professionals, including representatives from the City of Cape Town and Cape Nature, gathered to discuss the Herbanisation concept, including initiatives such as the development of a set of urban re-vegetation guidelines for the City of Cape Town.

The Earth Day event reflected not only the wider aim of the Herbanisation project, but also demonstrated how successful it has already been in building effective partnership with bushdoctors and the wider community as well as supporting the conservation of medicinal plants.

Read the full Solution case study on the Panorama website

Work area: 
Protected Areas
Social Policy
East and Southern Africa
South Africa
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