Conclusions conservation of medicinal plants habitats and indigenous technical knowledge

In conclusion we can surmise that in general the two major threats to medicinal plants are: first, the loss of habitat (through land use conversion, agricultural expansion and so on) which results in the loss of both known and unknown species; and second, the overexploitation of known species as a result in increased demand. Related to these two is the associated loss of indigenous knowledge and expertise. To what extent are these processes underway in Ghana?

The review of Ghanaian case studies has revealed various degrees of adherence to this generally accepted paradigm of species loss. First, there is a continuing loss of natural habitat, and especially moist tropical forest, ongoing in Ghana (IUCN, 1988, summarises the likely impact on species diversity and catalogues endangered species). Second, the review has exposed conflicting reports of overexploitation of medicinal plant species. Scarcity at present is likely to be localised, but conditions exist which make overexploitation of certain species a possibility in the near future. Third, and in this respect Ghana is better off than many countries, there is only sporadic evidence that indigenous technical knowledge is being lost, but again there are indications that this could happen unless state support for traditional healing continues.

There may well be a danger of over-romanticising the role of indigenous technical knowledge systems and traditional resource management regimes (see Brandon and Wells, 1992). In many tropical countries massive improvements in infant mortality and life expectancy have resulted from the introduction of scientific medical practices such as child immunisation. Indigenous property regimes are not necessarily more egalitarian or equitable, some are feudal in nature. Experience has proved that many compounds found in herbal medicines have powerful pharmaceutical properties (Schultes, 1991). Indeed, traditional knowledge has been sought by prospectors from multinational drug companies as a first lead to promising plant compounds, to the extent that herbalists are becoming suspicious of inquiries from outsiders about their remedies. Traditional medicine undoubtedly brings health benefits to many rural people, a large proportion of whom do not have access to biomedical services.

Can the production and consumption of plant medicines be compatible with a development strategy based on sustainable livelihoods? Plotkin (1991) describes the ideal situation as one where the establishment of local pharmaceutical firms would create jobs, reduce unemployment, reduce import expenditures, generate foreign exchange, encourage documentation of traditional ethnomedical lore and be on the basis of conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants and their habitats. One attempt to implement such a policy may be the initiative by the Costa Rican government in setting up INBio, a national institution to catalogue all genetic material indigenous to the country and effectively hold patents on any developments resulting from that material (see Aylward, this volume). Juma (1989) maintains that a National Gene Bank, if effectively linked into a network of community-based activities, could serve as custodians of material for local users. For such an initiative to be successful, a national inventory of genetic resources is necessary. Lin Compton et al. (cited in Brokensha, 1989:183) propose a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre for Ghana, which would 'recognise, record and preserve important and usually overlooked national resources'. There are no details of how such an institution would be established, but it certainly merits serious consideration.

This study has highlighted the importance of medicinal plants to populations of developing countries, and their prospective role in primary health care. In addition, under favourable circumstances, medicinal plants could be useful components of a development strategy which enhances sustainable rural livelihoods. Economists argue that people will be motivated to conserve resources only when they are able to profit from their sustainable use, and thus benefit from their conservation. This is only possible if property rights are well-defined and are secure. The people who benefit from the conservation, those who profit from the exploitation, and those who hold guaranteed rights must be the same.


Abbiw, D. (1990). Useful Plants of Ghana. London: Intermediate Technology

Development Group and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, p. 118. Amanor, K.S. (1992). The New Frontier: Ecological Management and Pioneer

Settlement in the Asesewa District. Draft, Geneva: UNRISD. Anyinam, C. (1987). Availability, accessability, acceptability and adaptability: four attributes of African ethno-medicine. Social Science and Medicine, 25: 803-11. Ayensu, E.S. (1978). Medicinal Plants in West Africa. Michigan: Reference Publications Inc.

Balick, M.J. and Mendelsohn, R. (1992). Assessing the economic value of traditional medicines from tropical rain forests. Conservation Biology, 6:


Barbee, E.L. (1986). Biomedical resistance to ethnomedicine in Botswana. Social Science and Medicine, 22: 75-80.

Bird, C. (1991). Medicines from the rainforest. New Scientist, 17 August, 34-9.

Brandon, K. and Wells, M. (1992). Planning for people and parks: design dilemmas. World Development 20: 557-70.

Brokensha, D. (1966). Social Change at Larteh, Ghana. Oxford: Clarenden Press.

Brokensha, D. (1989). Local management systems and sustainability. In: Gladwin, C. and Truman, K. (eds.). Food and Farm: Current Debates and Policies. Monographs in Economic Anthropology, No. 7. Society of Economic Anthropology. London: University Press of America, chap. X, pp. 178-98.

Chandrakanth, M.G. and Romm, J. (1991). Sacred forests, secular forest policies and people's actions. Natural Resources Journal, 31: 741-56.

Cheru, F. (1992). Structural adjustment, primary resource trade and sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa. World Development, 20: 497-512.

Cooper, D., Vellve, R., and Hobbelink, H. (1992). Growing Diversity: Genetic Resources and Local Food Security. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Cunningham, A.B. (1991). Development of a conservation policy on commercially exploited medicinal plants: a case study from Southern Africa. In: Akerele, O., Heywood, V., and Synge, H. (eds) The Conservation of Medicinal Plants. Proceedings of an International Consultation, 21-27 March 1988. Chiang Mai, Thailand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 337-58.

Dalziel, J.M. (1937). The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa. London: Crown Agents.

Dorm-Adzobu, C., Ampadu-Agyei, O., and Veit, P. (1991). Religious Beliefs and Environmental Protection: The Malshegu Grove in Northern Ghana. The Ground Up Case Study Series No. 4. Nairobi: African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and World Resources Institute.

Edwards, S.D. (1986). Traditional and modern medicine in South Africa: a research study. Social Science and Medicine, 22: 1273-6.

Etkin, N. (1981). A Hausa Herbal Pharmacopoeia: biomedical evaluation of commonly used plant medicines. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 4: 75-98.

Falconer, J. (1990). The Major Significance of'Minor' Forest Products: The Local Use and Value of Forest in the West African Humid Zone, Koppell, C.R.S. (ed.). Report for FAO, Rome.

Falconer, J., Wilson, E., Asante, P., Larty, J., Acqual, S.D., Grover, E.K., Beeks, C., Neitiah, S., Ossan, K., and Lamptey, M. (1992). Non Timber Forest Products in Southern Ghana. Draft Report to Overseas Development Administration, London.

Farnsworth, N.R. and Soejarto, D.D. (1985). Potential consequence of plant extinction in the United States on the current and future availability of prescription drugs. Economic Botany, 39: 231-40.

Fink, H.E. (1990). Religion, Disease and Healing in Ghana: A Case Study of Traditional Dormaa Medicine. Munich: Trickster Wissenschaft.

Fortmann, L. and Bruce, J.W. (1988). Whose Trees? Proprietary Dimensions of Forestry. Boulder and London: Westview Press.

Fosu, G.B. (1981). Disease classification in rural Ghana: framework and implications for health behaviour. Social Science and Medicine, 15B: 471-82.

Gort, E. (1989). Changing traditional medicine in rural Swaziland: the effects of the global system. Social Science and Medicine, 29: 1099-104.

Hall, J.B. and Swaine, M.D. (1976). Classification and ecology of closed-canopy forest in Ghana. Journal of Ecology, 64: 913-51.

Hirschmann, G.S. and de Arias, A.R. (1990). A survey of medicinal plants of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 29: 159-72.

Irvine, F.R. (1961). Woody Plants of Ghana. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

IUCN (World Conservation Union) (1988). Ghana: Conservation of Biological Diversity. Cambridge: World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Joshi, A.R. and Edington, J.M. (1990). The use of medicinal plants by two village communities in the central development region of Nepal. Economic Botany, 44: 71-83.

Juma, C. (1989). The Gene Hunters: Biotechnology and the Scrabble for Seeds. London: Zed Books Ltd.

Mackenzie, F. (1992). Development from within? The struggle to survive. In: Taylor, D.R.F. and Mackenzie, F. Development from Within: Survival in Rural Africa. London: Routledge, pp. 1-32.

Maclean, U. and Fyfe, C. (1987). African Medicine in the Modern World.

Proceedings of a seminar held at the Centre for African Studies, University of Edinburgh, December 1986. Seminar Proceedings No. 27, Centre for African Studies, University of Edinburgh.

McNeely, J.A. (1988). Economics and Biodiversity: Developing and Using Economic Incentives to Conserve Biological Resources. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

Oldfield, M. (1984). The Value of Conserving Genetic Resources. Sunerland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates Inc.

Oppong, A.C. (1989). Healers in transition. Social Science and Medicine, 28: 605-12.

Osemeobo, G.L. (1992). Land use issues on wild plant conservation in Nigeria. Journal of Environmental Management, 36: 17-26.

Peters, C.M., Gentry, A.H., and Mendelsohn, R.O. (1989). Valuation of an Amazonian rainforest. Nature, 339: 655-6.

Plotkin, M.J. (1991). Traditional knowledge of medicinal plants: the search for new jungle medicines. In: Akerele, O., Heywood, V., and Synge, H. (eds) The Conservation of Medicinal Plants. Proceedings of an International Consultation, 21-7 March 1988, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 53-64.

Prescott-Allen, R. and Prescott-Allen, C. (1982). What's Wildlife Worth? Economic Contributions of Wild Animals and Plants to Developing Countries. London: Earthscan.

Principe, P.P. (1991). Valuing the biodiversity of medicinal plants. In: Akerele, O., Heywood, V., and Synge, H. (eds) The Conservation of Medicinal Plants. Proceedings of an International Consultation, 21-7 March 1988, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 79-124.

Redclift, M. (1992). A framework for improving environmental management: beyond the market mechanism. World Development, 20: 255-9.

Richards, P. (1985). Indigenous Agricultural Revolution: Ecology and Food Production in West Africa. London: Unwin Hyman.

Romanucci-Ross, L., Moerman, D.F., and Tancredi, L.R. (eds) (1983). The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method. New York: Praeger Press.

Ruitenbeek, H.J. (1990). Economic Analysis of Tropical Forest Initiatives: Examples from West Africa. Godalming, UK: World Wildlife Fund, p. 33.

Schultes, R.E. (1991). The reason for ethnobotanical conservation. In: Akerele, O.,

Heywood, V., and Synge, H. (eds) The Conservation of Medicinal Plants. Proceedings of an International Consultation, 21-7 March 1988, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 65-78.

Shepherd, G. (1991). The communal management of forest in the semi-arid and sub-humid regions of Africa: past practice and prospects for the future. Development Policy Review, 9: 151-76.

Swanson, T.M. (1992). Economics of a biodiversity convention. Ambio, 21: 250-7.

Swift, J. (1992). Local customary institutions as the basis for natural resource management among Boran pastoralists in Northern Kenya. IDS Bulletin, 22: 34-7.

Twumasi, P.A. and Warren, D.M. (1986). The professionalisation of indigenous medicine: a comparative study of Ghana and Zambia. In: Last, M. and Chavunduka, G.L. (eds) The Professionalisation of African Medicine. Manchester: Manchester University Press, in association with International African Institute.

Van der Geest, S. (1985). Integration or fatal embrace? The uneasy relationship between indigenous and Western medicine. Curare, 8: 9-14.

Warren, D.M. (1987). The expanding role of indigenous healers in Ghana's national health delivery system. In: Maclean, U. and Fyfe, C. (eds) African Medicine in the Modern World. Proceedings of a seminar held at the Centre for African Studies, University of Edinburgh, December 1986. Seminar Proceedings No. 27, Centre for African Studies, University of Edinburgh, pp. 73-86.

Warren, D.M., Bova, G.S., Tregoning, M.A., and Kliewer, M. (1982). Ghanaian national policy toward indigenous healers. Social Science and Medicine, 16: 1873-81.

Wilbert, W. (1987). The pneumatic theory of female Warao herbalists. Social Science and Medicine, 25: 1139—46.

Wolffers, I. (1989). Traditional practitioners' behavioral adaptations to changing patients' demands in Sri Lanka. Social Science and Medicine, 29: 1111-19.

Wondergem, P., Senah, K.A., and Glover, E.K. (1989). Herbal Drugs in Primary Health Care. Ghana: An Assessment of the Relevance of Herbal Drugs in PHC and Some Suggestions for Strengthening PHC. Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, October 1989.

World Bank (1992). World Development Report, 1992. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

World Health Organization (1978). The Promotion and Development of Traditional Medicine. Technical Report Series 622. Geneva: WHO.

World Resources Institute (1992). World Resources 1992-93. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Continue reading here: Introduction

Was this article helpful?

+4 -1