Health clinic gardens in North-West Province, South Africa, as complex social-ecological systems
Cornelius, Susanna Francina
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The world’s urban population (54%) is currently increasing. The fastest growth rates are expected to occur in urban areas of Africa and Asia. Since urban areas will continue to expand, ecological studies should also take social influences into consideration. Changes in social-ecological systems are often studied by using a resilience thinking approach. The diversity of biophysical and social factors can play an important role in maintaining resilience of a social-ecological system. Complex or “wicked” problems can occur at the interface of social and ecological systems which contain many interacting factors making it difficult to solve. Poverty, food and nutrition security and biodiversity loss are some of South Africa’s main “wicked” problems. Although food is available in most parts of South Africa, the nutrient content of the food consumed is not sufficient. Health clinics were established across South Africa (in urban and rural areas) to provide free health care, but their gardens may also have several advantages. The first aim of this study was to determine the plant species composition, floristic and functional diversity at each health clinic garden and to compare it to home/domestic gardens in the North-West Province as well as over the different local municipalities of the Bojanala District Municipality. The second aim was to determine the resource diversity (social and physical) of these gardens and to compare them over the different local municipalities. The third aim was to determine the perceptions of the different stakeholders on ecosystem services and disservices at health clinic gardens. A subset of best practice clinics was also identified which can contribute towards developing a management framework to ensure a more resilient system of health clinic gardens in South Africa. Results showed that health clinic gardens are similar to home/domestic gardens in the North-West Province regarding dominant families, dominant genera and species representation except for the greater diversity of exotic ornamental species and endangered species present in home/domestic gardens. No clear difference could be found between local municipalities according to plant species composition. There was greater physical and social resource diversity at Moses Kotane and Moretele Local municipalities than at Rustenburg (physical) and Madibeng (social) Local municipalities. Although the individual perceptions of the stakeholders differed according to their role at the clinic garden, results showed that food and sense of place (as well as the spiritual value of the garden) were overall perceived as the most important ecosystem services of clinic gardens. Damonsville, Leseding and Reagile clinics obtained the highest score in comparison with other health clinic gardens in the Bojanala District Municipality and are good examples of best practise regarding diversity of natural, social and physical resources as well as perceptions of ecosystem services. It is suggested that the health clinic gardens should be managed using a step-by-step approach, starting with the limitations at the best practice (highest ranking scores) health clinic gardens. Communication between all stakeholders involved at the clinic gardens as well as with the community is one of the key factors that can contribute to successful management of health clinic gardens.