An urban forager looking for fruits on a Grewia occidentalis plant. The respondent has provided verbal consent for her photograph to be used for public demonstration of urban foraging.
Picture: Mallika Sardeshpande.

By Mallika Sardeshpande and Charlie Shackleton.

Read the full paper here.

Foraging for food, fibre, fuel, and other resources occurs around the world, but is more recently being observed and studied in cities, particularly in the Global North. Urban foraging can help people to supply and supplement their household economies, as well as satisfy their spiritual and social needs. Rapid urbanisation in the Global South is both a concern and an opportunity to harness urban foraging for biodiversity conservation, equitable development, and sustainable livelihoods.

We interviewed 80 urban foragers in four urban centres in the coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa, to find out the who, when, why, what, and where of urban foraging. This is a biome with high levels of biodiversity, foraging, human population density, and rate of urbanisation. The sample of interviewees ranged from 18 to 75 years of age, was predominantly female (66%), and comprised of six family members including two children on average.

Most of the respondents foraged in places within a five-kilometre radius of their homes, walking to these places, either with the specific intention of foraging, or during their transit between home and work. Most respondents said they foraged for the recreational and social satisfaction of the activity rather than any economic or material benefits. Respondents foraged in verges, vacant lots, and forests, but not in formal public gardens, although many said they would like to forage in designated foraging gardens.

We report 36 popular and abundant indigenous species of fruits that are foraged in this region, and suggest that greening for recreation and food consider planting these to enhance the cultural, provisioning, and supporting services of the ecosystems they are planted in. We also suggest ways in which existing environmental programmes and development planning could recognise, support, and encourage sustainable foraging to achieve positive and synergistic outcomes for humans and nature through foraging.