Social Impacts

Invasive species are a major threat to the livelihoods of the people who live in the areas they colonize. Through disrupting ecosystems, invasive plants, insects and diseases impair many of the things humans need to sustain a good quality of life – including food and shelter, health, security and social interaction.

Women cutting back the weed Opuntia in Kenya
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Social impacts

Invasive plants can diminish or restrict access to the natural resources people in the developing world need to sustain a livelihood, leading to decreased incomes, reduced wellbeing and rising poverty. Sometimes communities are forced to change their livelihoods, adapting to use materials from invasive species when native resources are no longer available.

Communities' food supply at risk

The vast majority of rural communities are dependent on crop and/or pasture production. 

A decline in crop yields caused by invasive pests, or the destruction of land used for grazing livestock due to non-native plant growth, results in lower food security – exacerbating hunger and malnutrition.

Harsher living conditions

Living conditions can become harsher when lands are invaded, for instance through decreased availability of water, lack of access to recreational activities, and the need to spend more time and effort finding and collecting vital resources. Pathways and tracks can become blocked by invasive plants, making it difficult to access areas or important facilities such as health centres.

Some farmers and their families have to abandon their land when it becomes impossible to cultivate. The need to compete for limited resources can result in conflict between communities, or force people to move to new, less favourable areas.

Health problems

Invasive species cause a variety of health problems, such as dermatitis, as well as contributing to the spread of disease. Floating mats of water hyacinth, for example, are a habitat for mosquitoes. They also threaten the growth of traditional medicinal plants that 80% of the world’s rural populations still depend on for their primary healthcare (WHO, 1978).

Impact on women and children

With most weeding in developing countries still done by hand, the lack of funds to employ the necessary labour means that women and children often do the back-breaking work involved in controlling invasives. This can have an impact on children’s education if they spend less time in school to work in the fields. 

Stories related to this content

George Achilla

George Achilla


George is a smallholder farmer in Kikopey, Kenya. Around his village he grows crops to feed himself, his family and to sell at the local market. He also has a few sheep, goats and cows.




Meet Peace. She tells the story of 500 million smallholder farmers around the world whose lives are being affected by the spread of invasive species. While she is a fictional character, her experiences are based on real stories from those living in the worst hit areas. 

Species with most impact



Parthenium hysterophorus

Parthenium is native to South America. It was accidentally introduced to several countries and has become a severe threat in Australia, Asia and Africa. It can grow almost anywhere and spreads rapidly. 



Mikania micrantha

Mikania (Mikania micrantha) is a fast growing vine which is commonly referred to as the ‘mile-a-minute weed.’ It was introduced to parts of Asia in the early 20th century, where it quickly became a problem.

Further reading

Visit our online resource of research and full text articles and journals
Invasive Species Compendium

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