The cross-border trade for Phane into South Africa from Botswana and Zimbabwe is cumbersome, confusing, and debilitating for impoverished individuals who wish to enter the trade.

This is according to a study conducted by the University of Cape Town’s doctoral Graduate, Dr. James Sekonya. The study findings Sekonya show that this cross-border trade is regulated through legal, informal, and traditional rules, norms, and practices.

Phane harvesters, exporters, and traders have to navigate the constraints that result from the regulatory tools and take advantage of the gaps in the regulatory systems.


“Significantly, the unintended consequence of using different regulatory approaches simultaneously forced the harvesters, exporters, and traders to develop ways to adapt to the constraints and costs that were difficult to navigate,” he said.

According to the study, some actors resorted to varying levels of informality using their resources, and people complied with the regulations only where no alternatives existed, or they were guaranteed to gain more benefits. This strategy relied heavily on the concept of intervention of the actors.

“Nonetheless, influential, powerful, and wealthier actors were less constrained by the regulatory duplications and overlaps across the trade between Botswana and South Africa.”

For his Masters' Degree, Sekonya studied the impact of environmental change on mophane worm livelihoods in the Limpopo province, South Africa.

“It was during this research that I learned of the growing importation of mophane worms from Zimbabwe and Botswana. I decided to dig deeper on this phenomenon but from a governance angle which I expected to be more prominent given the international borders that actors must cross to facilitate the trade”.

Globally there is growing energy to farm edible insects because they offer alternative protein at much less carbon and water footprint as compared to conventional meat. However, commercialisation of these resources has the potential to spill over to the wild populations in contexts where commercial farming is not feasible.

Sekonya said he finds it fascinating that resources are not simply good to be utilised, but in using these, people create meaning which connects, enriches experiences, and gets intricately intertwined with identities.

In the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region mophane worms are one of the prominent resources which are intricately linked to people’s cultures and identities.

The goal of his research is to stimulate a debate and realisation that some of the strategies that are presently used to regulate mophane worms and many other similar resources may be the causal factors that drive the degradation of the same resources.’

“Of course, the wider social factors may exacerbate this. However, by solving wicked governance problems and continuously adapting the regulatory regimes to the changing ecological and social contexts we can then ensure that people’s livelihoods and wellbeing are secured,” he said.