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Jakob Bandusya, local plant resource expert from Uganda, holding People and Plants brochure in which he is pictured
(Photo: AB Cunningham).


Traditional ecological knowledge... Biodiversity conservation... Access to genetic resources... Community development... Intellectual property rights. These are the keywords that spark many debates on the role of local people in the management and conservation of the world’s natural areas and biological resources. Although this dialogue is typically carried on in universities, scholarly journals and policy centers, the most exciting inputs come from people who are working in the field, and whose efforts do not always receive the publicity they deserve.  

How can we ensure that innovative developments in remote areas reach the far corners of the world? We hope that one avenue will be this Handbook, produced by People and Plants, a joint initiative of WWF-International, UNESCO and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.    

Our main objective is the democratization of knowledge: ensuring that men and women of all cultures, social ranks and professions have access to information. Information is power, and is often hoarded by a powerful few who perceive it as a resource in short supply. We aim to break such monopolies, sharing advice among friends and colleagues throughout the world who are seeking to achieve sound management of biological resources while contributing to biodiversity conservation and community development. They have taken on a task which is not easy, particularly in areas where requesting land and resource rights is politically sensitive, where raising the standard of living implies a heavy impact on plant and animal resources, or where there is a conflict between biodiversity conservation and the needs of local people. A free and direct flow of information between colleagues can inspire new approaches in field projects. It can also keep politicians and academics, who play a key role in designing policies on access to land and resources, in touch with local realities.    

  Who is in our audience? We will ensure that the Handbook reaches the network of non-governmental organizations, community promoters, protected area managers, project coordinators a  nd other field-oriented people that we have developed during the course of the People and Plants Initiative. Getting the Handbook into the hands of policy-makers is another goal. We ask our readers the favor of passing this and future issues along to any colleagues who would like to join our network and have access to the Handbook.    
  For our first issue, we present a general introduction to sources of information - international programs, professional societies, networks, resource centers, journals and newsletters - which may not be known to everyone who receives the Handbook. In future issues, we will address specific subjects such as joint forest management, community education, ethics, research methodology, extractivism and agroforestry systems.    

  Each issue will begin with an editorial - a concise overview of the subject, including a discussion of its relevance to resource management, conservation and development. Turn the page, and you will find letters to the editor and a table of contents, followed by short descriptions of organizations, networks, publications and other sources of information and inspiration. Wherever possible, we add a little flavor to the Handbook by including excerpts, facts and graphics from suitable sources. In giving the addresses of key contact persons for each item, we hope to promote personal communication between people who are on similar paths of discovery and experimentation. All issues carry a viewpoints and issues section that presents important lessons to be drawn from the subject at hand. Suggestions for further reading and communication are found in the multimedia center, which highlights books, publishing houses, Internet Web sites and other media tips. The plants scattered in photographs, textures and backgrounds throughout each issue are described in the ethnobotanical portraits section, which also contains short notes on projects and profiles of colleagues. On the last page you will find acknowledgements and information on future issues of the Handbook. Each issue will be accompanied by a one page supplement that contains a cumulative index, list of acronyms and register of the contributors who are identified by their initials in the Handbook.    

  Whereas more and more  publications are being brought to you in living color and unique formats, we are bucking the trend by printing in black and white, and using standard-sized paper. This allows us to produce the Handbook economically, and you to reproduce it by photocopying. We hope to show that seeing  the world in shades of gray can be just as accurate and beautiful as all the colors of the rainbow.    

  Although the voices of both American and British speakers of English (and many other nationalities) are heard on the pages of the Handbook, we have opted for American English spellings and usage. But you will note that we have left British spellings in titles and excerpts, just as we found them.    

  We welcome your input on the design, content and scope of the People and Plants Handbook. We cannot include all relevant information in each issue, but we would like to request that you keep us informed of new developments and organizations that we may have missed. And speaking of keeping in touch, our addresses, fax, telephones and e-mail are listed on the facing page. We look forward to hearing from you.    

- Gary J. Martin, Handbook editor 


Sun-drying of sal leaves (Shorea robusta, Dipterocarpaceae) in West Bengal, India. 

 Leaves of paper: Letters to the Editor

The People and Plants Handbook is like a baton in a relay race. It is to be passed from one person to another, ensuring that we share our knowledge and contacts with others. Although we try to provide a range of information in short articles and notes in the main body of the Handbook, we cannot hope to mention all the organizations, services and data sources related to our interests. Our choice of what to include is biased inevitably by our existing knowledge and networks. The letters to the editor section provides a space for our colleagues to talk about their own work and viewpoints, attracting correspondents of like mind and expanding the breadth of information that we present.  

Why call the letters section ‘leaves of paper’? In part, because we like the botanical metaphor, used in many languages, of considering a sheet of paper as synonymous with a leaf (for example, feuilles in French and hojas in Spanish). And also because it gives us yet another opportunity to draw attention - on the ‘leaves’ of the Handbook - to the diverse uses of plants around the world, including the sal leaves pictured to the right.    

  Over the last year, as we began preparing the first issues of the Handbook, we heard from many individuals who offered their perspectives and a helping hand. As a way of launching the letters to the editor section, we are printing a few of these messages. As with other items, we give the full contact of our correspondents (with their permission) to encourage as much direct communication as possible between colleagues. In the future, we will print additional letters from our readers, particularly those who provide insights on subjects covered in back, current and coming issues (see page 24). To help us stay in touch and build our Handbook networking database, please remember to send your complete address, phone, fax and e-mail, and a brief description of your current projects. Don’t forget to include the country and city codes for all telephone numbers. We take the liberty to edit the letters for the sake of clarity and brevity, but seek to leave the style, content, enthusiasm or criticism intact. Feel free to send us a baton, so that we may pass it along to others.     - GJM 


1 August 1995

Greetings from WWF-India. Mr. Samar Singh has passed on to me papers related to the People and Plants Initiative. Having gone through some of the documents, I find that this initiative would be a very useful concept in relation to WWF-India’s programme activities.    

WWF-India’s Community Biodiversity Conservation Movement (CBCM) programme was launched in 1989 essentially to involve local communities in the conservation of biological diversity. It provides for small, intense and clearly focused projects by field based NGOs, institutions or other bodies having the capacity to create the conditions for enhancing community-based conservation of biodiversity. We have undertaken several projects in the past on wild plant conservation and we have supported many grassroots organizations in various regions of the country to promote knowledge-based studies on medicinal plants. We have recently brought out a small booklet on CBCM programme activities and case studies.    

I take this opportunity to establish a link with your programme activities and trust that we may be able to interact more frequently in the future on possible areas of cooperation. I shall be glad to be on your mailing list and look forward to receiving a copy of the People and Plants Handbook. 

Prakash Rao, Senior Program Officer, CBCM, WWF India,  P.O. Box 3058, 172-B, Lodi Estate,  Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi - 110 003, India;  Tel. +91.11.4627586, Fax +91.11.4626837  .

10 August 1995

I am very interested in the work of People and Plants. We have also done a lot of work on these aspects, but the results are all in Chinese. We have established a non-governmental organization, The Natural Conservation Research Centre of East Asia, in Zhuang Autonomous Region of Guangxi. The Centre can arrange these kinds of research activities.    

Wang Xianpu, Institute of Botany, The Chinese Academy of Sciences, 141 Xizhimenwai Da Jie, Beijing 100044, China  .

20 September 1995

We learned about your People and Plants Handbook through the newsletter Connect. We are a group working with the indigenous tribal mass in the Eastern Himalayan foothills and the flood-affected plains of river Bramhaputra. We are also involved in biodiversity conservation through community participation. I would therefore like to know as to how we can help you in your efforts.    

Sathyasree, Project Coordinator, Rural Volunteers Centre,  Aakajan 787 059, Silapathar, Dhemaji, Assam, India .

5 April 1995     

Your idea for the Handbook sounds like a good one and includes many of the areas which need greater illumination in a broad, accessible sense. You ask for organizations and programs. I have a suspicion that the best of what goes on in terms of community development and plants is done by people who do not publish and who do not belong to high profile organizations. That in backyards all over the world, folks are figuring out solutions and saving their personally favorite plants. It may be interesting if, besides programs, you offer case studies, nitty-gritty examples - how are people working with plants and people, and what is working?    

Patricia Shanley, 151 Grant Street,  Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922, USA; Fax +1.908.7715524 .

3 May 1995    

It is vitally important that the Handbook is not too Eurocentric. In this part of the world ethnobotany, economic botany, pharmaceuticals, trade agreements, etc. are not always favoured words, and there are some very fundamental issues on ownership and rights which cannot be glossed over. This comment may seem a hard line but the issues are very real for many Pacific people, and have the potential to topple governments.

 David Given, David Given & Associates, 101 Jeffreys Road, Christchurch, New Zealand; Tel./Fax +64.3.3516069,  e-mail : givend@lincoln.ac.nz


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