HUNDREDS of KwaZulu-Natal women have gathered at iSimangaliso Wet Land Park in St Lucia for this year's incema harvesting
Incema is a grass that is used for making mats, baskets and other traditional artefacts.
Andretta Mthethwa, a single mother of four, yesterday told Sowetan that she had always been excited by the prospect of collecting natural resources such as incema.
"It is the only way of making money for me and my children. It is always good and it's a welcome income for us women who are not employed.
"I always look forward to this time of the year. I collect a lot so that I am kept busy and occupied throughout the year making baskets, mats and strings," Mthethwa said.
Most incema products are still used for cultural occasions but an increasing proportion is made for the booming tourist trade.
Busisiwe Mayendula, 47, said she had been able to pay for her children's education selling incema craft works.
The harvest usually lasts between two to three weeks. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife rangers are on standby to ensure the women's safety from dangerous animals such as hippos, rhinos and elephants. Park ecologists ensure that there's no over-harvesting in the area.
Wetland Authority chief executive Andrew Zaloumis said the harvesting was part of the authority's community-based programme, which benefits about 3500 households.
"iSimangaliso is one of a few remaining sites in South Africa where incema can still be harvested," said Zaloumis, adding that this annual harvest has been going on for decades now.
He said it was of great benefit for people in the province.