Medicinal Plants and Local Communities (MPLC) in Africa: Promotion
of local communities’ strategies for the conservation of medicinal-plant
genetic resources in Africa.
In Africa more than 80 per cent of the continent's population relies
on plant and animal based medicine to meet its health care requirements.
For the most part the plants and animals used in traditional medicine are
collected from the wild, and in many cases, demand exceeds supply. As Africa's
population grows, demand for traditional medicines will increase and pressure
on natural resources will become greater than ever. Throughout Africa,
many health-oriented ministries are now encouraging the use of local medicinal
plants, and have established departments of traditional pharmacopoeia within
the ministries to implement this policy.
The goal of the Medicinal Plants and Local Communities (MPLC) project
is to promote the conservation of bio-diversity by helping local communities
to make the best possible use of their own knowledge of plants. The project
fosters the protection, cultivation and sustainable use of medicinal plants
by encouraging communities to act on the basis of their own knowledge and
for their own benefit. The project seeks over the long term to help local
communities appreciate the need for using biological resources in a sustainable
way, to reinforce indigenous know-how, and to develop tools and methodologies
which enable them to benefit from their own knowledge and practices.
Through a combination of participatory research and development action
involving local communities, project workers first learn about the local
communities’ own solutions for conserving medicinal plants and for putting
them to safe and effective use for traditional health care. Appropriate
incentives then provide further encouragement of community efforts to safeguard
bio-diversity at the village level. Economic incentives include seed funds,
the promotion of income-generating activities, and help with marketing.
Social incentives include technical assistance and training, information
and consciousness-raising related to conservation, the provision of equipment,
and technical and scientific advice and assistance. Institutional incentives
include guarantees of full property rights, and the establishment of local
committees and associations for purposes of monitoring and planning.
MPLC is the outcome of a long series of consultations, initiated in
April 1995, between the Environmental Liaison Centre International (ELCI),
the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the government of
the Netherlands, community-based organizations, and traditional practitioners.
MEDICINAL PLANTS; TRADITIONAL MEDICINE; PLANT PROTECTION
South Africa, Central African Republic, Republic of Guinea, Malawi,
Kenya, Côte d’ Ivoire
Plants continue to provide most of the rural population of Africa with
ingredients for traditional medicines. Throughout the continent for many
generations, small plots of land near the homesteads have been used as
home gardens. Because these gardens serve a family’s own needs, they contain
a whole range of plants that provide food and medicine.
Africa has a history of conserving bio-diversity in medicinal plants for
at least two reasons: traditional practices surrounding their use reflect
local knowledge and wisdom, and the plants are readily available and relatively
cheap—being either easy to gather in the wild, or simple to cultivate in
Herbalists have preserved traditional knowledge and practices of herbal
medicine, often using it in combination with spiritual powers. Certain
families keep their recipes secret.
The project stemmed from the idea that medicinal plants deserve special
attention because they are of great direct and indirect value. They are
used widely to prevent and treat common ailments, but their conservation
also means that the indigenous knowledge associated with their unique properties
and correct application will be preserved.
STAKEHOLDERS AND BENEFICIARIES
The fact that income can be generated from medicinal plants and traditional
medicines helps to sustain the practice of cultivating them.
Recognition for the value of traditional medicine and medicinal plants
will foster sustainable methods of propagation and cultivation.
Traditional knowledge and practices pertaining to medicinal plants will
be preserved as herbal medicines are increasingly used to complement other
forms of community health care.
The project, which has a total budget of USD 940,500, has multiple donors:
IDRC, UNEP-GEF, USAID, UNCTAD-Biotrade initiative, UNDP, government of
the Netherlands, and DANIDA. Its main participants are researchers, traditional
healers, and members of local communities.
There are basically three groups of beneficiaries:
Various groups of stakeholders can also be identified:
Local communities benefit directly from the various training activities
designed to upgrade their skills and knowledge. They also gain valuable
knowledge and experience as they take part in the various project activities.
Universities and NGOs benefit in that the project strengthens institutional
capabilities by offering opportunities to take part in workshops, in research
projects, and in efforts to prepare materials for information and extension
purposes. The NGOs also benefit from the improved information services
resulting from these efforts.
The project helps provide eight ministries with good reasons for making
certain policy choices in the areas of indigenous knowledge, medicinal
plants, traditional medicine, and biodiversity.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Local and national governments have a stake in ensuring that biodiversity
is sustainably managed, and in reducing its loss.
All the agencies conducting the project, both governmental and non-governmental,
have a special interest in the project’s success and impact.
Community beneficiaries have a lot to gain from sustainable methods of
earning a living, which means preserving resources for future use while
at the same time meeting current needs.
Vulnerable groups such as women and the poor benefit from interventions
affecting genetic resources and traditional knowledge. Among other things,
their labour is needed to cultivate the plants.
The project documents the knowledge of local communities and traditional
healers, enabling others to learn from them.
Indigenous knowledge and practices relating to medicinal plants and traditional
medicines are validated and promoted.
Scientists, traditional healers, researchers, and modern health professionals
work together as partners.
Local, traditional communities are encouraged to conserve medicinal plants
and to use them in a sustainable way.
Modern and indigenous knowledge are combined.
IT IS CONSIDERED SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE:
Preparing local communities for participation in the project is a time-consuming
process. The complexity of their cultures and soco-economic circumstances
must be understood, and their languages must be learned.
Traditional healers are often uncooperative, not wanting to reveal their
secret knowledge of medicinal plants and traditional medicines.
POTENTIAL FOR REPLICATION
NGOs, the scientific community, educators, media representatives, and local
communities have all played an active part in discussing key issues and
in building support and consensus for the project.
Project workers have established links with similar projects and programmes
in other countries in order to exchange information and research results,
and to share their experiences using different methodologies.
The project has encouraged networking and enhanced communication between
the various parties concerned with the conservation and sustainable use
of medicinal plants.
The project has been a catalyst, setting off a process by which traditional
healers are establishing their own co-operatives for producing, processing
and marketing their herbal remedies on a commercial basis, thus increasing
their own earnings.
A working document has been written about the contribution that African
traditional knowledge makes to the conservation of biological diversity.
Traditional methods of conservation are being discussed, and the practices
of local communities are being documented. Studies are also being made
of cultural diversity in the utilization of plant resources, and of the
factors influencing the loss of bio-diversity.
In each country involved in the project a centre for training, demonstrating
medicinal plants and their healing properties has been established to serve
as a reference point for the project activities.
An inventory of useful medicinal plants has been carried out in local communities
with the aim of identifying interesting plants for purposes of cultivation
and integration into local, small-scale farming systems.
Medicinal home gardens are being established, and at the national level,
home nurseries are being established for growing medicinal plants.
Local communities are being encouraged to establish special gardens for
herbs. These community gardens are providing rural families with extra
Botanical gardens have been established at 15 schools; each of them contains
between 100 and 300 medicinal plants.
The project has encouraged healers and even farmers to plant medicinal
trees using an integrated agroforestry method that is consistent with the
scarcity of land. Rare medicinal trees are also being introduced into several
gardens at the national level.
Encouraging sustainable, acceptable alternatives for modern pharmaceutical
products relieves pressure on the formal health care system.
Traditional healers are becoming more aware of the vulnerability of medicinal
The governments of the countries involved in the project have officialy
recognized traditional medicines, and have begun to promote their use as
a means of achieving better health for the entire nation.
The practice would be rather easy to replicate as long as the necessary
adaptations were made. Two conditions must also be met:
Traditional healers must be willing to collaborate and become partners
in the project.
Enough time must be spent preparing the local communities for the project
so that they will fully endorse its objectives.
Two regional workshops on medicinal plants and traditional medicines
in Africa were organized: one for Anglophone African countries and one
for Francophone countries. The proceedings have been published by the Environment
Liaison Centre International (ELCI) and the International Development Research
Centre (IDRC), both in Nairobi, Kenya.
For more information please contact Ernest Rukangira (address below)
or Dr. Serge Dubé at CRDI/IDRC - P.O. Box 62084 - Nairobi, Kenya
From January 1997 until at least December 2001.
940,500.00 (=191,243.73 p/year)
SOURCES OF FUNDING:
DGIS - (Ministry of Foreign Affairs - The Netherlands)
Environment Liaison Centre International
E-mail address: email@example.com
Telephone: (254-2)576114/25, 562022
Organization that provided this information:
Environment Liaison Centre International
NGO Working Group on Indigenous Knowledge and Biodiversity
Medicinal Plants and Local Communities Programme
P.O. Box 72461
Telephone: 254-2-576114 / 562022 / 576125
International Development Research Centre
250 Albert Street
K1G 3H9 Ottawa, Ontario
Telephone: 236-6163 x 2114
Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Secretariat for Environment and Sustainable Development
2, Asiatisk Plads
Dk-1448 Copenhagen K