Building on our current award winning bicycle township tour in Masiphumelele, AWOL Tours has partnered with the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation  and Neville van Schalkwyk, a Rasta bushdoctor and community elder to develop a gardening township tour of Seawinds Community that includes a hands-on urban greening activity for participants. Since inception of the pilot project in 2012, consisting of an open-access streetgarden of 250 medicinal plants, the project has grown to include approximately 2,000 plants and resulted in ground-breaking engagement between Rasta bushdoctors and conservation stakeholders.

Research has shown that many plant and animal species of the biologically unique Cape Floral biome are under threat of overexploitation. With the support of AWOL Tours Leif Petersen, Director of the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation has spent the past three years cycling Cape Town’s townships to research the economic activity of informal harvest and trade of natural resources in Cape Town. The trade in traditional medicine alone is more than US $1.5 million per month, equalling over 1,100 tonnes of biological material per year. As Cape Town expands and poverty remains reality for many Capetonian’s it is likely that this industry will continue to grow, impacting on the biological and scenic beauty of the city.

 In a contribution to the sustainability of this important industry, the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation is pioneering the planting of culturally important medicinal plants in conjunction with local community gardeners in public open space in the Seawinds community. The initiative involves urban greening with culturally important indigenous species in low income communities – enhancing public open space and conservation involvement, but improving the availability of local medical plants for traditional healing purposes of local residents. The activity will further build on the conservation of biodiversity in protected areas such as the Table Mountain National Park.

We have recently completed two pilot tours with visitors from both Connecticut and Texas A&M Universities to refine and develop the tour and to build on the environmental aspects of the experience. The tour includes a visit the locally owned Hillview Community Nursery, where local Rasta and traditional herbalist Neville van Schalkwyk manages the plantings of indigenous culturally important medical plants on road side verges. Participants are able to support Neville’s community garden and Cape Town conservation by planting indigenous species as part of their tour experience.

To compliment the cultural aspects of the tour Neville does a typical Cape snoek braai as well as vegetables from his own garden.

vrygrond snoek braai on AWOL bicycle township tour

The much-used term ‘Eco-Tourism’ implies that both the user and the environment benefits from tourism activity. Yet, I’ve struggled with the concept of how nature benefits when us humans go hiking up Table Mountain or biking through the fynbos at Cape Point. The debate about what constitutes an ‘eco-friendly’ tour or ecotourism is longstanding, and the term is widely misused in the tourism industry. Now finally AWOL Tours has developed a ‘Eco-Township Tour‘ where the environment does benefit.

Guests on an AWOL Tour are now able to make a meaningful difference to the environment , be culturally sensitive and have an wonderful insight into the Cape Coloured culture whilst travelling through the township on a bicycle!