Research Nugget

Navigating Complexity: Moringa's presence and perceptions in South Africa

Moringa is a fast-growing, drought-tolerant tree with versatile uses in food, medicine, cosmetics, and agriculture. Despite being an alien species to South Africa, its production has increased due to its adaptability and popularity among communities. However, its presence in South Africa has sparked debates and conflicts. Although it benefits local communities, it is also listed as a potential threat under the Species Under Surveillance for Possible Eradication or Containment Targets (SUSPECT) under the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEM: BA) of South Africa, which raises concerns among stakeholders, including environmental policymakers, farmers, rural communities, and Government bodies.

A research study co-funded by the NRF applied system thinking to address complex and conflicting issues linked to Moringa’s production and its overall economic, ecological, legal, and social status in South Africa. The researchers presented a helpful diagram that connects Moringa’s presence in South Africa to laws, the environment, and society, which can guide discussions as what to do about Moringa in the country.

The investigation results showed that Moringa’s status in South Africa is complex because different groups see it differently. Some Government agencies, such as the DEA, view Moringa as a potentially invasive species, while other departments, such as DAFF and DST, support its cultivation. They believe that listing Moringa as a potential problem under NEM: BA creates uncertainty and that this decision was only based on its environmental impact rather than on how it fits into the bigger picture.

The researchers concluded the study with a recommendation for the construction of a system thinking approach, such as a Causal Loop Diagram (CLD), to comprehend the complexity of Moringa production in South Africa and its impacts; utilise the CLD to highlight feedback mechanisms; recognise the interplay of socio-cultural, governmental, environmental, and economic factors; and emphasise the interconnectedness of variables to prevent conflicts and enable policymakers to address root causes rather than symptoms. The aim is to develop intervention strategies informed by the CLD to manage Moringa cultivation and potential spread effectively.

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