Knowledge for Development

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

Author:

Date: 28/09/2011

Introduction:

V. H. Heywood; Centre for Plant Diversity & Systematics, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, UK; 2011

This 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.

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