Open Access
Tavenner, Kathleen Anne
Graduate Program:
Rural Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 03, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Dr. Carolyn Sachs, Dissertation Advisor
  • Dr. Carolyn Sachs, Committee Chair
  • Dr. Ann Tickamyer, Committee Member
  • Dr. A.E. Luloff, Committee Member
  • Dr. Robert Crane , Outside Member
  • Feminist Political Ecology
  • Traditional Ecological Knowledge
  • Biodiversity Conservation
  • Forest Foods
  • South Africa
For over 100 years, the communities adjacent to the Dwesa and Cwebe Forests in South Africa have been caught in a conflict over natural resources. Residents were forcibly removed from the area for decades by colonial and apartheid-era governments. After being declared a Nature Reserve in 1978, locals were fenced out, losing all access to natural resources. Although the communities won a land-claim battle in 2001, the current management of the reserve still reflects a “fortress conservation” model, where local people are prohibited from harvesting natural resources, including indigenous vegetables. Remarkably, the knowledge associated with these foods endures, primarily through the stories, actions, and resistance of local women. Using a feminist political ecology framework to illustrate the gendered power dynamics that mediate the knowledge, valuation, and use of indigenous vegetables, (known locally as imifino), this study describes how women’s everyday practices, traditions, and resistance strategies are being deployed to promote indigenous vegetable (imifino) consumption from both the protected area site as well as in homestead gardens. Analyzing how these local struggles are connected to the wider political discourse on biodiversity conservation sheds light on how formal management rules and regulations interplay with, and are negotiated on a daily basis by protected area community members. Results of the study indicate that a co-management structure that takes women’s knowledge into account could encourage the sustainable use of these resources and consequently, help maintain the indigenous knowledge associated with indigenous vegetables (imifino). A mixed methods approach was taken to gather a holistic picture of the knowledge and practices surrounding these indigenous vegetables. A variety of qualitative and visual methods including participant observation, key informant interviews, facilitated group discussions, free-listing of species, forest walks, community history mapping, and participatory photography were chosen to gain in-depth understanding of indigenous knowledge, community challenges, and everyday strategies of adaptation and resistance to current reserve management. A household survey of 80 homesteads in Southern Hobeni Village was used to provide information on the different varieties of imifino grown in homestead gardens (igadi) as well as intra-household data on the gendered labor dynamics for cultivating these varieties.