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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


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.


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 home gardens.
  • 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.
  • 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:

  • 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.
Various groups of stakeholders can also be identified:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 income.
  • 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 plants.
  • 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 - Sdube@idrc.or.ke

From January 1997 until at least December 2001.

940,500.00 (=191,243.73 p/year)


  • IDRC
  • DGIS - (Ministry of Foreign Affairs - The Netherlands)

Ernest Rukangira
Environment Liaison Centre International
E-mail address: erukangira@iconnect.co.ke
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
Fax: 254-2-562175
E-mail: erukangira@iconnect.co.ke

Cooperating organizations:

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

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