LOCAL ECOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE OF INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES OPUNTIA FICUS-INDICA IN THREE LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES IN THE EASTERN CAPE PROVINCE, SOUTH AFRICALuleka Mdweshu and Alfred Maroyi
Opuntia ficus-indica is a succulent plant species that originated from Mexico and introduced in South Africa in the eighteenth century. Opuntia ficus-indica is now categorized as invasive in South Africa but the species has both commercial and non-market uses. This study evaluated the local ecological knowledge about O. ficus-indica in Makana, Ngqushwa and Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipalities in the Eastern Cape province in South Africa. Data on the local ecological knowledge on the biology, use values and management of O. ficus-indica in the study area were gathered through community focus group discussions and household surveys using semi-structured questionnaires between June 2018 and August 2019 with a sample of 150 participants selected via snowball-sampling technique. The importance of O. ficus-indica as a useful plant species was ubiquitously perceived, with all respondents reporting its contribution towards their livelihood needs and more than three quarters (88.0%) using the species on a regular basis. Majority of the respondents (41.0%) regarded O. ficus-indica as an important source of cash income while about a third (33.0%) regarded the species as an important source of food products and nutrition. Interviews with respondents revealed that O. ficus-indica is currently being harvested from the wild with 73.3% of the respondents reporting that the abundance of the species was decreasing. The positive socio-economic contributions of O. ficus-indica need to be taken into account when assessing the costs resulting from invasions caused by alien plant species.