PEOPLE AND PLANTS WORKING PAPER 1, MARCH 1993
African medicinal plants: setting priorities at the interface betweenconservation and primary healthcare
- A.B. CUNNINGHAM
Sustainable management of traditional medici-nal plant resources is important, not onlybecause of their value as a potential source of new drugs, but due to reliance on traditionalmedicinal plants for health. The vast majority(70-80%) of people in Africa consult traditionalmedical practitioners (TMPs) for healthcare.With few exceptions, traditional medicinalplants are gathered from the wild. Althoughreliance on TMPs may decline in the long termas alternative healthcare facilities becomeavailable, increasing demand for popular herbalmedicines is expected in the foreseeable future.Over the same period, certain vegetation typesthat were sources of supply of traditional med-icines will drastically decline due to forestclearance for agriculture, afforestation of mon-tane grasslands, uncontrolled burning and live-stock grazing. Exclusion from core conserva-tion areas adversely affects TMPs who previ-ously gathered medicinal plants in those sites.In addition, supplies of herbal medicines toTMPs are affected by competing resource usessuch as timber logging, commercial harvestingfor export and extraction of pharmaceuticals,and use for building materials and fuel. Thiscreates a growing demand for fewer resources,in some cases resulting in local disappearanceof favoured and effective sources of tradition-al medicine and reduced species diversity.The most vulnerable species are popular,slow growing or slow to reproduce, or specieswith specific habitat requirements and a limit-ed distribution. Although in theory, sustainableuse of bark, roots or whole plants used as herbalmedicines is possible, the high levels of moneyand manpower required for intensive manage-ment of slow growing species in multiple-species systems are unlikely to be found in mostAfrican countries. The cultivation of alterna-tive sources of supply of popular, high conser-vation priority species outside of core conser-vation areas is therefore essential. However,commercial cultivation of such species is not asimple solution and at present is unlikely to beprofitable due to the slow growth rates formosttree species and low prices paid for tra-ditional medicines. These slow growing speciesare a priority for
conservation and strictprotection in core conservation areas. By con-trast, the high price paid for some species doesmake them potential new crop plants for agro-forestry systems (e.g.
Warburgia salutaris,Garcinia kola, G. afzelii, G. epunctata)
or agri-cultural production
Pilot studies on these species areneeded.Priority areas for cooperative actionbetween healthcare professionals and conser-vationists are rapidly urbanizing regions witha high level of endemic taxa, particularly westAfrica (Guineo-Congolian region), specificallyCôte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria; east Africa(Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania); south-easternAfrica (South Africa, Swaziland). The mostthreatened vegetation types are Afro-montaneforest and coastal forests of the Zanzibar-Inhambane regional mosaic.
African medicinal plants
SETTING PRIORITIES AT THE INTERFACEBETWEEN CONSERVATION AND PRIMARY HEALTHCARE