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Leif Petersen

Dr Leif Petersen

DST/NRF Research Fellow

+27 (0)21 761 2993

Student Focus:

Informal economy, micro-entrepreneurship, wild resource harvesting, street trade


Leif is a PostDoctoral Scholar at PLAAS supported by the National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence (Food Security), and Founding Director of Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF) NPC, Cape Town. Leif is a social entrepreneur and social ecologist with a range of research and personal interests pertaining to people and the environment, informal economy business culture and practice. Leif has worked on a researcher and consultancy basis throughout southern and eastern Africa and Asia-Pacific for a wide variety of clientele including the EU, USAID, WWF-SA, and the Southern African Wildlife College before jointly founding the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF) in 2010, serving as its Managing Director until 2015. SLF seeks to seek to enhance pro-poor economic development and the emergence of sustainable livelihoods on the African continent through research, engagement and promoting innovation in programmes working with local communities at the grassroots level.

Leif completed his PhD in the field of Integrative Systems in 2013 with the Department of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management at the University of Queensland, documenting Cape Town’s informal economy of natural resources and traditional medicines. He has published on a wide range of topics pertaining to wild medicine trade, informal economy spatiality, value chains and the unlicensed liquor trade. Outside of the office Leif busies himself with the captaincy of the Mighty Galjoens – South Africa’s national fistball squad which attained 14th place in the World Championships in Argentina in November 2015, hiking, surfing and commuting.


PhD (Integrative Systems) Department of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management. University of Queensland, Australia (2013).


  1. Charman, A.J.E., Petersen, L.M., 2015. Chapter 4. A Transnational Space of Business: The Informal Economy of Ivory Park, Johannesburg. Mean Streets. Migration, Xenophobia and Informality in South Africa. Southern African Migration Programme, the African Centre for Cities, International Development Research Centre.
  2. Charman, A.J.E., Petersen, L.M & T. Govender, 2015. Street trade in Ivory Park, in Mortenbock, P. and H. Mooshammer. Informal Market Worlds: The architecture of economic pressure. NAI010 Publishers.
  3. Charman, A. J., Petersen, L., Piper, L., Liedeman, R., & Legg, T. 2015. Small area census approach to measure the township informal economy in South Africa. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1558689815572024.
  4. Petersen, L. M., Charman, A. J., Moll, E. J., Collins, R. J., & Hockings, M. T. 2014. Bush Doctors and Wild Medicine: The Scale of Trade in Cape Town's Informal Economy of Wild-Harvested Medicine and Traditional Healing. Society & Natural Resources. 27 (3):315-336.
  5. Petersen. L. M., Moll, E. J., Hockings, M. T. and Collins, R. J. 2014. Implementing value chain analysis to investigate drivers and sustainability of Cape Town's informal economy of wild-harvested traditional medicine. Local Environment, 20 9: 1040-1061. doi:10.1080/13549839.2014.887667
  6. Charman A. J. E., Petersen L. M. and Govender T. 2014. Shebeens as spaces and places of informality, enterprise, drinking and sociability. South African Geographical Journal, 96 1: 31-49. doi:10.1080/03736245.2014.896281
  7. Charman, AJE, Herrick, C and Petersen, LM 2014. Formalising urban informality: micro-enterprise and the regulation of liquor in Cape Town. Journal of Modern African Studies, 52 4: 623-646. doi:10.1017/S0022278X14000615
  8. Charman, A., Petersen, L., and Piper, L. 2013. Enforced informalisation: The case of liquor retailers in South Africa. Development Southern Africa (4–5): 580–595.
  9. Petersen, L.M. 2013. Cape Town’s informal economy of wild harvested resources and traditional medicine. PhD (Integrative Systems). University of Queensland.
  10. Petersen, L.M., Moll, E.J., Collins, R. & Hockings, M.T. 2012. Development of a compendium of local, wild-harvested species used in the informal economy trade, Cape Town, South Africa. Ecology and Society. 17(2):26.
  11. Charman, A., Petersen, L., and Piper, L. 2012. From local survivalism to foreign entrepreneurship: the transformation of the spaza sector in Delft, Cape Town. Transformation, 78.
  12. Petersen, L. M. & Charman AJE, 2010. ‘Case study: understanding the local economic impact of the closure of shebeens in the Western Cape as a consequence of the new Western Cape Liquor Act, 2008’, SEDA The Small Business Monitor Volume 6, Number 1.