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Bark stripping of the baobab (Adansonia digitata Bombacaceae) for making bark mats and hats for sale in Zimbabwe. AB Cunningham

Africa Regional Programme

The long-term goal of this regional programme of the People and Plants Initiative is to achieve sustained plant resource-sharing among poor rural communities around sites of high conservation value and high land-use conflict in Africa. Two of our main activities are aimed at providing the "tools" to achieve this long-term goal : first, to enhance capacity in selected African countries (primarily Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) for work with local communities on conservation and development issues related to the use of wild plant resources. This strengthens African capacity for cross-disciplinary ethnobotanical research related to resource management and rural development. Secondly, through the example of local initiatives, help shape national policies on conservation and use of harvested plant products.

This may involve the resolution of resource conflicts, for example through resource-sharing agreements or the provision of appropriate development alternatives. The strong partnership between UNESCO and WWF in our overall programme is exemplified within the Africa programme, where the two Regional Co-ordinators, Dr Robert Hoeft (UNESCO) and Dr Tony Cunningham (WWF) work closely together, co-ordinating activities and in many cases, co-funding or co-supervising training courses or research students. We believe that a strong geographic and thematic focus gives strength (and more depth) to the programme. We have also taken a clear decision to avoid duplication of effort. For this reason, we work with existing national programmes (such as the WWF Regional offices in East and Southern Africa) on topics which have been identified as local (or national) priorities. In the second Phase of our programme (1996-2000), our work focuses on three major themes : bark use (Zimbabwe), woodcarving (Kenya, southern Uganda, Zimbabwe) and multiple-use as a conflict resolution tool between the local community and key forest conservation areas (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, Udzungwa Mountains in Tanzania, coastal forests in Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar, and montane forests on Mt. Kenya).

Drum making has important economic and cultural benefits, but commercial scale production has depleted large trees in lowland forests in southern Uganda. AB Cunningham
We currently fund three Msc studies in East Africa on the woodcarving theme with a fourth MSc to be funded this year in Zimbabwe. Two of these studies are being done in Uganda, where swamp forest species are carved to make drums and other musical instruments. One of these studies, by Aisa Samula, is on the dynamics of trade, income, species and volumes of timber involved and the other, by Patrick Omeja, is on the impact of this activity on drum carving species. Both link to the Uganda Forest Department pilot project on collaborative forest management at Mpanga Forest. The third MSc, by Simon Choge, registered at the University of Natal (South Africa) and doing fieldwork in Kenya, focuses on a key policy and local livelihoods issue : the price/volume for different woodcarving species, relating this to stumpage fees, alternative wood sources and cultivation.

The Africa programme produces videos to illustrate research projects and the methods used to better understand and resolve specific conflicts between people and plants conservation. These videos bring several benefits to the programme. First, they demonstrate the value of applied ethnobotany to a much wider audience. Secondly, they enable young African researchers to talk (through the video medium) to foresters, protected area managers, resource users or other young researchers in developing countries. Thirdly, the videos are produced at ten times less cost than by a professional company, with better control to ensure factual content. Fourthly, they introduce others to written material (manuals, key publications) by suggesting extra reading at the end of the video. Finally, the use of video to show applied ethnobotanical projects reaches many more people than publications, so forms a useful tool in influencing people’s opinions on issues.

Workshops, training courses and studies funded through this programme all have practical, positive outcomes which can benefit rural farmers and conservation. There is a high potential, for example, of cultivating Prunus africana – a medicinal species which was the focus work we funded during our first Phase – in the highlands of East Africa (Kenya, Uganda) and West Africa (Cameroon). At present, at least 3500 small scale farmers already do so. Annual world demand of 3200 tons of this species could be met by 75 000 small-scale farmers cultivating this species in agroforestry systems. Considering the high (200-300 people/km2) population density of many African highland areas this is not an unrealistic goal. The Warburgia salutaris cultivation project in Zimbabwe has similar potential, but in response to local markets - particularly in the area of eastern Zimbabwe where it is locally extinct.

Measuring the thickness of Prunus africana (Rosaceae) bark in Cameroon. AB Cunningham

We have been supporting networking across the language "divide" of English, French and Portuguese speaking Africa by supporting the formation of an African ethnobotany network through AETFAT (l'Association pour l'Etude Taxonomique de la Flore d'Afrique Tropicale; the Association for the Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa). This is a pan-African botany network which has been in existence for over 30 years but, until 1997, had no associated ethnobotany network. Through its Bulletins and meetings every 3 years, it assists in disseminating information on ethical issues or past or current projects and literature and ideally, coordination for fund raising.

The African Ethnobotany Network


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