Knowledge for Development

Relevant publications

Ethnopharmacology, food production, nutrition and biodiversity conservation: Towards a sustainable future for indigenous peoples

V. H. Heywood; Centre for Plant Diversity & Systematics, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, UK; 2011This paper aims to provide a perspective of ethnopharmacology that explicitly extends the range of disciplines it covers so as to embrace food and nutrition and biodiversity, both wild and domesticated, and places it in the context of the dramatic changes to our planet during a period of rapid global change and the impacts that these changes are having on human health and nutrition and on its resource base.Ethnopharmacology, biodiversity, agriculture, food and nutrition are inextricably linked but suffer from compartmentalization and a lack of communication which have to be overcome if progress is to be made. Fortunately, a convergence of interest between the agricultural biodiversity and the biodiversity conservation sectors has emerged in recent years and there is an increased appreciation of the need to adopt a wider approach to human nutrition than the conventional agricultural model allows; there is also a greater awareness of the important role played by diversity of crops, especially local species, and consumption of wild species in achieving balanced nutrition. Ethnopharmacologists need to take much more cognizance of the fate of the resource base – the plants, animals and microorganisms – and of the actions being undertaken under the auspices of treaties, such as the Conservation on Biological Diversity and its Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, to counter its degradation and loss.Although it has been suggested that the 'golden days' of ethnopharmacology may be over, it is proposed that by embracing the challenges of broadening the remit so as to include the health aspects of wild biodiversity employed in nutrition, a new 'golden age' beckons. The paper concludes with some suggestions for action.


Women’s Knowledge: Traditional Medicine and Nature (Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues)

The book Women’s Knowledge: Traditional Medicine and Nature was launched at the International Workshop on Bioprocessing, Policy and Practice: Conservation and use of Medicinal plants of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Indian Ocean and Madagascar (20-22 April, 2011 - Ebène, Mauritius).The Islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues (Indian Ocean) have their own unique medical traditions. These medical traditions have emerged from multiple origins through a process of creolisation, but they are also closely tied to the natural world in which they have adapted and evolved. They thus provide a key to understanding the wider societies, which are engaged in a constant dialectic between tradition and modernity. Beginning at the end of the Seventeenth Century, these islands were gradually populated by populations originating from Europe, Madagascar, Africa, India, China, even Polynesia and Australia. The interchange between the medical traditions originating from each of these places has given rise to a common knowledge, transmitted largely by women.This book brings to our attention the knowledge of medicinal plants and medical practices of these women, with special focus on childbirth. It also considers the place of medicinal knowledge within these evolving societies who are actively confronting the threats and opportunities that globalization poses to local identities.


Pharmaceuticals and industrial crops

Agricultural biotechnology is entering a new age. No longer are researchers concentrating only on inserting genes that result in plants with traits like herbicide tolerance and insect resistance that make crops cheaper or easier for farmers to grow. Now they are inserting genes to create plants that contain drugs and industrial chemicals – in essence turning the crops into biological factories. Pharmaceutical and industrial crops promise compelling benefits and pose obvious risks. They hold the potential to supply drugs that are otherwise unavailable or to bring existing drugs to market at lower prices.On the other hand, if genes find their way from pharma crops into food crops, we could wind up with drug-laced foodstuff. In the spring of 2003, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) convened an expert workshop on protecting the U.S. food and feed supply from contamination by crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. The experts who participated in that workshop wrote the technical reportA Growing Concern: Protecting the Food Supply in an Era of Pharmaceutical and Industrial Crops independently of UCS, which developed policy recommendations based on its own analysis of this report.


Evaluation of plant-derived products against pests and diseases of medicinal plants: A review

Medicinal plants are attacked regularly by insects, mites, nematodes, bacteria, fungi and viruses. Leaf and seed extracts in water (5-10%), seed cakes (250 kg/ha, crude oils (0.5-3%) or essential oils (3000 ppm) have been effectively used to control inter alia, the sap sucking pests, foliar diseases and root-knot nematodes. Traditional and commercial products, especially those derived from neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss.) leaf or kernel, are common in medicinal crops.Since use of plant products including allelochemicals resulted in reasonably effective, ecofriendly and cheaper pest and disease management, and crude extracts are easy to prepare, they may be integrated in crop protection strategies to enhance global exploration of medicinal plants.(Crop Protection, Volume 42, December 2012, Pages 202–209)


Traditional use of medicinal plants in south-central Zimbabwe: review and perspectives

Alfred Maroyi of the Department of Biodiversity at the University of Limpopo’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, South Africa compiles and assesses information on Zimbabwe’s  medicinal plants and their traditional uses. A total of 93 medicinal plant species which are used to treat 18 diseases and disorder categories are reviewed at this website together with    relevant data, such as scientific and vernacular names, ailments cured, proven properties, etc. Maroyi identifies several research gaps and according to him, ‘validating the correlations of the  ethno-medicinal uses, bioactive substances, biological and pharmacological effects’ is of special importance and should be  the primary task for future research.(Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine PDF 9:31, 2013)


Contending issues of Intellectual Property Rights protection and indigenous knowledge of pharmacology in SSA

This paper by Chika A. Ezeanya, Director of the African Institute for Research in Indigenous Solutions, Rwanda, explores the continued and increasing patenting and profiting from Africa’s indigenous pharmacopeia by western businesses. It calls for increased involvement of governments, civil society groups, concerned citizens and institutions in the protection of Africa’s indigenous pharmacology, and for the adoption of a culturally oriented and sensitive approach of indigenous medical heritage. Specifically, the ‘domain public payant’, documentation and sui generis (uniqueness in its own characteristics) options are discussed.   (The Journal of Pan African Studies, 10/2013)


A natural product library from African medicinal plants to help drug discovery

Fidele Ntie-Kang at the Department of Chemistry, University of Buea, Cameroon, and colleagues have explored a dataset, named AfroDB, of molecular compounds from African medicinal plants to assess their bioactivity and ‘drug-likeness’ (the similarity to known medicinal drugs). This study involved the virtual screening of the three dimensional structure of the compounds to calculate their physico-chemical properties. In addition, a series of descriptors have been used to predict the pharmacokinetic profile of these natural products (NPs). The availability of such structures and calculated properties within AfroDb will facilitate the drug discovery process from leads identified from African medicinal plants. This newly developed database could serve as a centralised and open continent-wide repository of natural products from African flora.   (PLoS ONE, 30/10/2013) from the same research team: ‘Cameroonian medicinal plants: a bioactivity versus ethnobotanical survey and chemotaxonomic classification’.  


Novel plant bio-resources: Applications in food, medicine and cosmetics

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is the editor of a book entitled Novel Plant Bioresources: Applications in Food, Medicine and Cosmetics, recently published by John Wiley & Son. The book serves as the definitive source of information on under-utilised plant species, and fills a key niche in the understanding of the relationship of human beings with under-utilised plants. After an introductory section which sets the scene with an overview of the historical and legislative importance of under-utilised plants, the main four parts of the book are dedicated to the diverse potential application of novel plant bioresources in food, medicine, ethno-veterinary medicine and cosmetics. Examples and contributors are drawn from Africa, Europe, the USA and Asia. The economic, social, and cultural aspects of under-utilised plant species are addressed, and the book provides a much needed boost to the on-going effort to focus attention on under-utilised plant species and conservation initiatives. By focusing on novel plants and the agenda for sustainable utilisation, Novel Plant Bioresources highlights key issues relevant to under-utilised plant genetic resources, and brings together international scholars on this important topic.   (Wiley-Blackwell, 04/2014)   


Review of African medicinal plants with anti-diabetic potentials

Researchers from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and the Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, produced a systematic review of all the in vivo anti-diabetic studies conducted between January 2000 and July 2013 on African plants to take a closer look at some relevant plants from the continent's sub-regions. The researchers found that plants of the Asteraceae and Lamiaceae families are the most investigated, and West Africa has the highest number of investigated plants. Although promising results were reported in many cases, only a few studies reported the partial characterisation of bioactive principles and mechanisms of action. The authors hope that government agencies, pharmaceutical industries, and the scientific community will investigate some of these plants in the future and explore avenues for commercialisation.   Recent research has dealt with the characterisation of bioactive principles. See our 'Herbs and medicinal plants' dossier:     (Planta Medica, 17/02/2014)