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People and Plants Initiative

  It might be a little presumptuous to give our Initiative such a high profile, but we thought you would like to know more about who is responsible for publishing the handbook. Our series of methods manuals and working papers will be featured in coming issues, so you haven’t heard the last from us.    -GJM

Mount Kerinci  dominates the northern part of the Kerinci valley. The great diversity of forest types in Kerinci Seblat National Park is related to the wide variation in altitude, from 300 to 3805m above sea level (Photos: T. Thomas).

The People and Plants Initiative was started in July 1992 by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG, Kew). Through the initiative, these organizations seek to promote the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable and equitable use of plant resources by providing support to ethnobotanists from developing countries.   

  Field activities concentrate on  biosphere reserves, World Heritage sites and other protected areas where the organizations are active. People and Plants coordinators offer training workshops in which participants gain expertise in ethnobotanical methods drawn from various academic disciplines and discuss ethical issues concerning the exploitation of botanical resources in developing countries. On visits to specific field projects, the coordinators assist in developing inventories of useful plants, documenting local ecological knowledge and appraising the impact of harvesting specific plant resources in and around protected areas. Work is carried out jointly by teams of local people, park personnel, researchers and university students as a way of building local expertise and reinforcing the interaction between communities, national scientific institutions, non-governmental organizations and conservation agencies. The Initiative also provides participants with scientific and popular literature, including working papers and practical methods manuals on ethnobotany, resource harvesting and related topics. 
These agroforest gardens are principally commercial, though products for home consumption are also available; the fruits, leguminous seeds, cloves and coffee produced are destined for sale. Timber is kept to meet the needs of the family but the surplus may be bought by small commercial enterprises. In the understorey, the dead branches are collected for firewood; coffee leaves are gathered to make a very popular drink, kawa.  

Cinnamon trees are felled before the bark is collected

These predominately fruit producing agoforest systems were probably the first types of perennial agroforest systems with a multi-layered structure established in Kerinci. According to oral history, they already existed at the beginning of the century when the Dutch arrived in the region. They are a farmer’s response to land constraints and to the difficulties of managing fragile soils.’  

From: Aumeeruddy, Y. 1994. Local Representations and Management of Agroforests on the Periphery of Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia. People and Plants working paper #3. UNESCO, Paris. 


  •  Alan Hamilton, Plants Conservation Officer, WWF, Panda House, Weyside Park,  Catteshall Lane, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1XR, UK;  Tel. +44.1483.426444, Fax +44.1483.426409    
  • Pierre Lasserre,  Director, Division of Ecological Sciences,  Man and the Biosphere Programme, UNESCO, 7 place de Fontenoy, 75732 Paris CEDEX 07 SP, France; Fax +33.1.40659897  
  • Hew Prendergast, Centre for Economic Botany, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AE, UK;  Tel. +44.181.3325706, Fax +44.181.3325278     


Biodiversity Support Program

    Janis Alcorn, well known to many ethnobotanists for her work on Huastec Maya ethnobotany in Mexico, has been with the Biodiversity Support Program since 1991. She and other BSP colleagues have supported numerous projects that focus on local management of plant and animal resources.    -GJM      

The Biodiversity Support Program (BSP) was initiated in 1988 with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The program has three partners, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the World Resources Institute. Its mission is to promote efforts to conserve biological diversity while enhancing human livelihoods in developing countries, through improved conservation and use of biological resources.   

The Program seeks to achieve this by analyzing critical conservation issues and disseminating the results to field practitioners, donors, NGOs and others. The reports which have been produced from these assessments so far include: Designing Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (Michael Brown & Barbara Wyckoff-Baird, 1992), Sustainable Harvest of Non-timber Plant Resources in Tropical Moist Forest: an Ecological Primer (Charles M. Peters, 1994) and Conserving Biodiversity in Africa (Jim Webster, 1994). The BSP has  established the African Biodiversity Consultative Group, whose members provide advice on conservation activities within the continent, and the Biodiversity Conservation Network (BCN), which supports projects that use enterprise-based approaches to conservation.  

  ‘One of the most basic and rarely questioned assumptions underlying much of the current interest in non-timber tropical forest resources is that the commercial harvesting of these commodities has little or no ecological impact on a tropical forest. This ubiquitous idea has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers, on television and radio shows ... and even on the back of cereal boxes and ice cream cartons. Unfortunately, this assumption is both untenable and potentially dangerous. If intensive resource extraction is the only activity planned within a tropical forest, there is a very high probability that these resources will be gradually depleted over time. The basic tenets of forest ecology tell us this. So does the long history of forest exploitation in the tropics. Regardless of the species, land tenure or marketing system involved, collectors cannot simply harvest commercial quantities of fruits, nuts, latexes and oil seeds year after year and then expect the forest to magically replenish these stocks. As elsewhere, there is no free lunch in a tropical forest.’ 

From: Peters, C.M. 1994. Sustainable Harvest of Non-timber Plant Resources in Tropical Moist Forest: An Ecological Primer. Biodiversity Support Program, Washington DC 


  • Janis Alcorn,  The Biodiversity Support Program,  c/o WWF, 1250 24th Street, NW  Washington, DC 20037, USA; Tel. +1.202.8618313, Fax +1.202.8618324  


International Plant Genetic Resources Institute

  Pablo Eyzaguirre, an anthropologist who has extensive experience in Africa and Latin America, joined IPGRI in 1995. He is responsible for ‘ethnobotany and human aspects of plant genetic resources conservation’ within the Institute’s genetic diversity group. Among other projects, he is working with Paul Quek, IPGRI’s documentation and information specialist, to create a computerized information system for recording indigenous knowledge and ethnobotanical data on plant genetic resources.     -GJM  

    The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) is an independent institution of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). It is the successor to the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR). The Institute has four major objectives. First, to assist countries, particularly in the developing world, in assessing and meeting their needs for the conservation of plant genetic resources and to strengthen links to users of those resources. Second, to build international collaboration in the conservation and use of plant genetic resources, mainly through the support of networks on both a crop and a geographical basis. Third, to develop and promote improved strategies and technologies for the conservation of plant genetic resources. Finally, to provide an information service to inform the world’s genetic resources community of both practical and scientific developments in the field. In this role, IPGRI produces a range of publications, including Geneflow and the quarterly Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter. IPGRI has its headquarters in Rome and eight regional offices around the world. 

  ‘In the past, research has often ignored bamboo and rattan in favour of higher value tropical timber. Yet bamboo and rattan provide diverse employment opportunities, a myriad of products, and have more uses than any ... multipurpose tree species in the world. At least 2.5 billion people depend on or use bamboo; it has so many uses - from building material to food - that it is often called ‘green gold’. Rattan, or climbing palm, is the source of cane for furniture and weaving. Together bamboo and rattan earn global revenues exceeding US$11 thousand million. Virtually all rattans and many bamboos are collected from the wild. Concerns about overexploitation and the destruction of tropical forest habitats have led to more focused research on bamboo and rattan use and development. IPGRI, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) and FAO are combining genetic resources activities with research on socio-economic and production aspects.’  

From: Anon. 1994. Keeping Faith with the Future: Forests and their Genetic Resources. IPGRI, Rome. 

Agroforests are economically important for villagers.  In Sumatra, they provide up to 80% of village income  and enhance the living standards of the majority of the households.


Fauna and Flora International

  FFI is a long established conservation organization which has recently expanded its work on plants,  and is engaged in various international initiatives. It changed its name in June 1995 to reflect this new orientation.     -ACH

  Fauna and Flora International  (FFI), formerly the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society - FFPS) was set up in 1903, and today has members in over 100 countries. The word flora was added to the society’s name in 1979, and since then it has become increasingly involved with botanical projects. Much of this work falls within the society’s Species in Trade Programme. The objective of this program is to reduce damage to wild populations of species that are threatened by trade. It seeks to achieve this through: promoting cultivation or alternative methods of sustainable production; lobbying to regulate, reduce or eliminate trade; and lobbying for effective legislation. Botanical projects within this program are the Indigenous Propagation Project (IPP), carried out in collaboration with Dogal Hayati Koruma Dernegi (DHKD) and WWF; the Salep Project; Carnivorous Plant Project; and the Sound Wood Project. Salep is the Turkish word for a drink made from orchids, for which there is an extensive trade in wild-collected plants. FFI is investigating this trade to try and find ways to control the collection of orchids, and to find alternatives from which to make salep. Similar work is being conducted on carnivorous plants, popular plants for horticulture and, within the Sound Wood Project, on ebonies and rosewoods, which are highly prized for making furniture and musical instruments. The Society’s lobbying activities are conducted through a variety of national and international fora, especially CITES and the Forest Stewardship Council. FFI also organizes meetings and provides advice and information to individuals and other organizations.  

  ‘Over the last two centuries the name ‘mahogany’ has been applied to the wood of possibly as many as a hundred tree species, spread over four continents and from unrelated botanical families. ‘True’ mahoganies are species from the genus Swietenia and come from forests of Central and South America with a seasonal dry period. They have been given names such as Brazilian mahogany, Honduras mahogany and Cuban mahogany depending on their country of origin.  

  From the African continent species of the genus Khaya are also given the name mahogany, as are species of Entandrophragma, which are more accurately known by common names such as sapele, utile or sipo. From South East Asia comes a mixture of woods referred to as Philippine mahogany or again more accurately by a variety of different names including lauan and meranti. They mostly belong to the genera Shorea and Parashorea. Some Australian Eucalyptus timber is also called mahogany ... What all these timbers have in common is not easy to see, apart from a tendency to a reddish colour, straight grain and a high resin content.’  

From: Read, M. 1990. Mahogany: Forests or Furniture? FFI, Cambridge. 


  •  Mike Read,  Fauna and Flora International,  Great Eastern House, Tenison Road,  Cambridge CB1 2DT, UK;  Tel. +44.1223.461471,  Fax +44.1223.461481  


  Every year millions of cyclamen,snowdrops, snowflakes, anemones and other bulbs are harvested from Turkey’s rich natural bulb fields and exported to the Netherlands, the centre of the world’s bulb trade, for packaging and distribution.


International Development Research Centre

  IDRC has supported a number of projects on applied ethnobotany in various developing countries. Among their recent publications, books about traditional environmental knowledge and intellectual property rights are of particular interest to ethnobotanists.    -GJM   

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a public corporation created in 1970 to support technical and policy research, designed to adapt science and technology to the needs of developing countries. IDRC’s research programs fall under five core themes: biodiversity; integration of environmental, social and economic policies; food systems under stress; information and communication; and technology, society and the environment. Within these themes, emphasis is given to the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

 The Centre provides funding for projects proposed and managed by developing country researchers affiliated with universities, governments and non-governmental organizations. In this regard, a pamphlet, How to apply for IDRC funding, is available that contains comprehensive guidelines for writing a research proposal.  

  Although the Centre’s funds are provided by the Parliament of Canada, IDRC’s policies are set by an international Board of Governors. The Centre has its Headquarters in Ottawa, Canada and seven regional offices in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. IDRC also has a site on the World Wide Web which contains detailed information about current initiatives.    

  ‘The Marovo Project was initiated by the Marovo people. This logically influences the approaches chosen to document traditional knowledge. For one, it is important that all scientific work be closely integrated with ‘local ways’ so as not to be perceived as something external to Marovo. A high degree of local influence over the research process is taken for granted by most Marovo people involved with the Project. This decisive approach ... has often evolved into a deep appreciation of a unique form of close partnership in research. Marovo villagers show a preparedness to ‘take charge’ of the visiting investigator, not just by providing food and housing according to customary hospitality but also by guiding the day-to-day work of the visitor, thereby influencing the research process itself ... (This) requires the willingness of the visitor to eat local food, to engage in conversations on a great variety of topics, and listen, learn, and teach.  

From: Baines, G. and E. Hviding. 1992. Traditional Environmental Knowledge from the Marovo Area of the Solomon Islands. Pages 91-110 in Martha Johnson, editor, Lore: Capturing Traditional Environmental Knowledge. IDRC, Ottawa.


  • Chusa Gines,  Chief Scientist for Biodiversity,  Programs Branch, Head Office, IDRC, PO Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario,  Canada K1G 3H9;  Tel. +1.613.2366163,  Fax +1.613.2387230, e-mail cgines@idrc.ca Cable RECENTRE OTTAWA,  Internet FTP Server ftp.idrc.ca World Wide Web site http://www.idrc.ca/ 


International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development 

  Located in Kathmandu, ICIMOD was inaugurated in 1983. UNESCO was one of the four founding sponsors, heralding more recent cooperation to promote sustainable and equitable use of plant resources in the region, through a three year regional project supported by Danish funds administered by UNESCO.     -MH

The primary objectives of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development are to help promote economically and environmentally sound development in mountain ecosystems, and to improve the living standards of peoples living in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas. The countries which fall within this region are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal and Pakistan. ICIMOD operates as an information network and resource center, and offers training opportunities and consultancy services in resource management. The information center includes an extensive library, bibliographic and contacts databases, and a publications unit. A range of materials is published by the Centre including newsletters, discussion papers, proceedings and workshop reports. ICIMOD seeks to build capacity in collaborating institutions through training, development of facilities and co-sponsoring activities. The Centre regularly hosts seminars and conferences for national, regional and international audiences. Workshops are an important part of the Centre’s work for the exchange of knowledge and experiences in fields such as community forestry, rehabilitation of degraded lands and remote sensing applications for resource management. Ethnobotany and research into indigenous knowledge systems are being further developed with the establishment in 1995 of a joint program between ICIMOD and UNESCO.  

  ‘Mountain ecosystems in the Himalayas have long been neglected because of their inaccessibility and economic deprivation. Understanding how mountain people conceptualise their ecosystem is particularly useful when combined with studies of resource use patterns, appropriation systems, decision making, and so on. Basically, the mountain economies of the region are characterised by self-sufficient and self-reliant systems that are agroforestry-based and have extremely diversified land use, bioresources and human cultures’  

From: Shengji, P. 1995. Ethnobotany and sustainable use of plant resources. ICIMOD Newsletter 23:7. ICIMOD, Kathmandu. 


  • Egbert Pelinck  or Pei Shengji,  ICIMOD,  PO Box 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal; Tel. +977.1.525313, Fax +977.1.524509 or 524317,  Telex 2439 ICIMOD NP, e-mail icimod@mos.com.np        


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