Biodiversity and traditional medicine, same fight
In Benin, medicinal plants contribute to both employment and public health. That is why it is crucial to make sure that neither the knowledge nor the plants disappear.
Traditional medicine remains alive and kicking in Benin. Medicinal (wild) herbs are picked, sold and frequently used to treat diseases such as hypertension and all kinds of infections. Some of the herbs are also used in traditional cuisine.
The trade in medicinal plants is therefore an important economic sector in Benin. While growing, harvesting, wholesale, transport, processing and selling on local markets all provide employment, excessive harvesting of wild plants would not only seriously affect biodiversity, but also jeopardise the future of this flourishing sector.
Benin scientists - with Belgian support - therefore made an analysis of traditional medicine in their country. They discovered 202 plant species that are often used, but found out that some of the best-selling species have already become relatively rare. They also found that knowledge about medicinal herbs is mainly transmitted orally within families.
The researchers deem it important to deepen the knowledge of traditional medicine. They suggest an atlas should be created which shows the places where the plants were found, in addition to a magazine. Moreover, they believe every large municipality should have a botanical garden and the government should organise training courses for people who still hold traditional knowledge.
The researchers also want to learn how to multiply medicinal plants, especially those that are becoming increasingly rare. The sites where the herbs grow must be protected, while degraded forests can be enriched with medicinal plants. They also propose to provide a better framework for producers and traders in order to prevent the extinction of plant species, among other things. Finally, a national ethnobotanical observatory must closely monitor the entire value chain of medicinal herbs.
See also the original policy document (in French)
The research for this article was carried out with the support of CEBioS (= 'Capacities for Biodiversity and Sustainable Development'). This programme is financed by the Belgian Development Cooperation and is housed in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS). CEBioS supports a number of countries such as Benin, DR Congo, Burundi and Vietnam in the development of indicators to monitor their biodiversity. This should allow them to better report on their biodiversity within the UN Convention on Biodiversity.
Within CEBioS, ten people follow up on 'biodiversity and development', including support for research, information, awareness-raising, policy advice and publications on biodiversity and development in the South. CEBioS also organises short internship visits in Belgium and on-site workshops for institutions in developing countries. Besides, it makes the colonial archives of the former national parks accessible by digitising them.