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Less is often more: governance of a non-timber forest product, marula (Sclerocarya birrea subsp. caffra) in southern Africa

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Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are often seen as tools to promote rural development and biodiversity conservation but little attention has been given to the different policy approaches adopted for their governance, nor to the role played by customary law. Through the lens of one of the most revered and economically important trees in Africa, marula (Sclerocarya birrea), NTFP governance is explored in case studies across South Africa and Namibia. Results are presented from a study that examined the interface between statutory and customary rules and regulations governing marula conservation and use. The major finding is that less is often more when it comes to government regulation of marula, a result that resonates with other NTFP studies from around the world that indicate the need for state-led interventions to be purposely crafted to refl ect local circumstances and needs. Such interventions are also most effective when government and traditional authorities cooperate, authorities have legitimacy and sufficient capacity, and there is acceptance of the rules by user groups. It is suggested that state intervention may be least useful where traditional governance is strong, and with the exception of areas and cases in which customary law and traditional authority fall short and commercial pressures on species are significant, governments might do best by leaving well enough alone.

Keywords: Policy; commercialisation; customary law; marula; non-timber forest products

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Environmental Evaluation Unit, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa. 2: People and Plants International, 12 Laveta Place, Nyack, NY 10960, USA.

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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