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Saem Majnep, Kalam ethnobiologist, during a visit to Australian National University in 1996. (Photo: Andrew Pawley).


In the markets of Marrakech, Morocco - near where I currently live - there are seemingly endless stalls and stores of medicinal and aromatic plants. As I walk in this section of the Medina, or old part of Marrakech, I often stop to talk with the herb vendors, who have a wealth of knowledge about the origin, preparation and use of the various botanicals. Occasionally, one of them will bring out a medicinal plant book, written in French, which gives names and uses that passing tourists can understand. But for the most part, they talk of what they have learned in Arabic from their fathers and grandfathers or of knowledge gleaned from Berber farmers in the Atlas mountains.

We imagine this lore has been passed down from generation to generation since before the Medieval period, the golden days of science and pharmacy in North Africa. When, amidst the curious tourists, a Moroccan comes seeking a remedy, it is this oral tradition that the vendors tap, not the knowledge of books written by foreigners.

Although we often say that unwritten knowledge is vulnerable to being lost, local wisdom has a habit of persisting in the villages, old towns, markets and other places where people continue to put it into practice. One of the plants I discovered in the souk (traditional market) of Marrakech is feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), a medicinal herb whose native range extends from southeast Europe to the Caucasus. In Morocco, it is known as chajrat maryam, which translates as Miriam’s tree. Ayad Benjdoudou, a Marrakech herb vendor, told me that it is prepared as a tea for reducing fever and alleviating stomach-aches.

Among the Mixe and other indigenous peoples of the northern Sierra of Oaxaca, Mexico – where I had first seen feverfew – it is known in Spanish as Santa María, Saint Mary. It is one example of the large number of plant species that crossed the Atlantic with Spanish explorers and immigrants after the encounter of Europeans and Native Americans at the end of the 15th century. José Rivera Reyes, a plant expert from the Mixe community of Totontepec, told me that it is used locally for fever and stomach problems. Although it would take further historical and linguistic research to know if feverfew represents a case of truly similar names and uses for the same plant in distant parts of the world, it is a symbol for me of the transmission through time and space of not only plant resources, but also the knowledge linked to them. Both José and Ayad had learned of the plant and its uses not through books, but by being immersed in the stream of spoken knowledge that flows through their communities.

Yet Tanacetum parthenium is far from being absent from the literate tradition. A look into most modern herbals will tell you that feverfew is a popular medicinal, recommended as a stomach tonic and to relieve indigestion, and recognized as a traditional remedy for fever. Looking into sources from the Middle Ages in Europe, we find feverfew mentioned as a stomach-ache cure in Matthaéus Platéarius’(1) Liber de Simplici Medicina (Book of Medicinal Simples) and other works.

The existence of these two parallel and often interconnected ways of transmitting knowledge brings us to a dilemma when we seek to return information gathered in ethnobotanical studies. Do we give it back in pamphlets, posters and guidebooks, or do we rely on new and old forms of communication that stimulate continued oral transmission? Those of us educated in a Western or other literate tradition must ask ourselves to what extent our interest in recording oral knowledge is for our own benefit (intellectual, career, or even monetary) rather than out of concern for the cultural survival of local peoples. We come from a tradition of herbals and pharmacopeia, while people from other cultures learn about plants through story-telling, oral tradition and word-of-mouth.

There are many reasons for avoiding the written word when returning results to communities. We must consider the ethical implications of such an effort, a topic taken up in Issue 2 of the People and Plants Handbook. Committing orally transmitted wisdom to paper puts indigenous knowledge on a silver platter for all to see and consume. Once this information is in the public domain, it is difficult for local people to control its use by other communities, scientists, governments and commercial enterprises. Legal instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity promise protection of genetic resources and intellectual property rights at national and international levels, but refusing to share information remains one of the important forms of community control over local knowledge.

We could argue that much of what communities know about plants is no secret at all, since many food, timber, ornamental and even medicinal species are widely used, and well documented in the scientific literature. Even if traditional resource rights are not an issue, there are other questions that must be asked about creating local plant manuals.

First, are they the best way to communicate results in non-literate or semi-literate communities? Trish Shanley(2) notes ‘written give-back of results to many rural Amazonian communities is an ineffective mechanism for the transmission of information’. She and her colleagues held interactive workshops in which participants created posters, plays, songs and games to bring home their knowledge of non-timber forest products. In addition, they put together a booklet of ‘recipes without words’, illustrations on the use of Amazonian medicinal plants designed for non-literate people. Other researchers have attempted to put plant lore into practice, encouraging the cultivation of useful plants in community gardens, reforestation with native species and recovery of traditional modes of plant use, all activities which encourage people to remember the merits of local plants. Technologically oriented colleagues are experimenting with video, computerized databases with imbedded images, geographical information systems and other multimedia approaches to ensuring continuity of traditional knowledge.

Second, are local plant manuals a priority for community members? Anthropologists often discover that plants are popular and non-controversial subjects for conversation, especially when compared to topics such as kinship, religious beliefs and local politics. But when it comes time for local people to decide on priorities for community development, they usually put land tenure, health care, access to clean water and education at the top of the list. Written documents - in the form of local herbals to improve primary medical care and botanical texts to enrich natural history curricula - can help attain some of these goals, but they cannot replace land titles, health clinics, water systems and schools.

Finally, will the manuals transform the knowledge they are designed to transmit, and affect non-written modes of communication? As the anthropologist Jack Goody(3) notes, ‘... Writing is not simply added to speech as another dimension: it alters the nature of verbal communication’. Some of this alteration can be positive, if it involves critical review of what is being communicated and enrichment with perspectives of a wide spectrum of community members. The danger arises when a written work captures only a meager part of oral knowledge, represents only one of many opinions that exist in the community or introduces plants and cultural knowledge from outside the region. Then the contact between local people and outsiders can generate a partial, invented culture which persists, modifying traditions over time.

A historical example of this is found in De Materia Medica, a treatise on medicinal plants written by Dioscorides, a military physician born in Asia Minor in the 1st century AD. For one and a half thousand years, physicians and scholars from across Europe relied heavily on this herbal, often trying unsuccessfully to match local floras to the approximately 600 Mediterranean species described by Dioscorides. As anthropologist Scott Atran(4) has summarized, ‘the practice of copying descriptions and illustrations of living kinds from previous sources superseded actual field experience in the schools of late antiquity. Well into the Renaissance, scholastic naturalists took it for granted that the local flora and fauna of northern and central Europe could be fully categorized under the Mediterranean plant and animal types found in ancient works. Herbals and bestiaries of the time were far removed from any empirical base.’ The best way to guarantee accuracy in local plant manuals and avoid fossilization of knowledge is to ensure that any information recorded is as detailed as possible, and that community members are committed to a process of continually reflecting on what has been written. Plant manuals must undergo the same process of revision, adaptation and empirical verification that is an essential part of oral tradition.

Despite these cautions, I remain convinced of the merits of creating local plant manuals. Once the ethical, intellectual and practical issues have been addressed, we find that many communities are enthusiastic about recording their knowledge. In India, for example, there is a grassroots movement to create community biodiversity registers and seedbanks. The Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (see page 12), Navdanya (to be described in a future issue of the Handbook) and other Indian non-governmental organizations promote community registers that document local resources and knowledge, serving the needs of subsistence farmers and not the interests of non-local commercial enterprises. In the Solomon Islands, speakers of various local languages, including Savo, Roviana, and Areare, are embarking on a project to create vernacular botanical dictionaries for their communities. This process of local documentation of traditional knowledge is being coordinated by Barry Evans of the WWF South Pacific Programme, who is organizing similar initiatives in Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian and Polynesian countries.

After centuries of transmitting traditional ecological knowledge orally, why is there a sudden urgency to write it down? The trend towards documentation is partly a reaction to the rapid decline in the diverse languages, environments and cultures that have contributed to building the rich empirical knowledge of nature we find around the world. In a working conference on endangered languages, knowledge and environments, held at the University of California, Berkeley in October 1996, participants called attention to the overlap between cultural, linguistic and biological diversity – where we find one, we tend to find the others. Although opinions vary on what are the causes of this correlation, close collaboration between local people and researchers could play a part in ensuring continued diversity in the future. Luisa Maffi(5), organizer of the conference, called attention to the existence of ‘... patterns of cultural and linguistic resistance and knowledge persistence, as well as efforts to revitalize languages and cultures that had gone extinct, with a special focus on maintaining, recovering and applying knowledge about traditional resource management practices’.

Increasing interaction between community-oriented scientists and local people is already behind many efforts to record traditional ecological knowledge. When they work with outside researchers on plant resources, community members discover herbals produced in other parts of the world and become interested in creating similar materials for themselves. This is particularly the case when some members of the community have studied in secondary schools and universities, because formal education makes them aware of the power of literacy and of the lack of written materials that represent their own culture. Responding to this interest, many community organizations are supporting the production of works on natural history. For example, the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) – which represents Kadazan Dusun people in Sabah, Malaysia – supports efforts to document local knowledge of plant and animals. Joseph Pairin Kitingan(6), KDCA president, has written that ‘... the Kadazan Dusun language must live within the souls of the ... people themselves through speaking, writing and reading the language’, a sentiment he further expresses in the following poem:

Lose your language and you’ll lose your culture,
Lose your culture and you’ll lose your identity;
Lose your language and you’ll lose mutual understanding,
Lose your mutual understanding and you’ll lose harmony, mutual support and peace;
Lose your peace and you’ll lose your brotherhood,
Lose your brotherhood and you’ll lose your mutual destiny.

It is understandable that losing control of their destiny ranks high among the concerns of local people. With the trend towards globalization of culture, economy and politics – grounded in literacy and dominated by a few international languages – they find their spoken words have decreasing influence in the modern world. In government schools, oral traditions and ecological knowledge are supplanted by national curricula. In legal fights for land tenure and access to resources, unrecorded knowledge carries no weight. Environmental and social impact assessments, requested by governments and companies eager to proceed with economic development, are carried out by consultants who do not have community benefits in mind. These assessments rarely assess impact from a local perspective.

By committing oral knowledge to paper, local people find a presence in educational, legal and development fora. In addition, written accounts of traditional culture form part of an appeal to the general public to respect and recognize the value of local traditions. This is one of the goals of the KeKoLdi Wak Ka Koneke Association of Limón Province, Costa Rica, winner of the Schultes Award at the 1996 Society for Economic Botany (SEB) meeting. As Trish Flaster(7) reports, the Association and the Bribri and Cabecar peoples it represents were commended by the Healing Forest Conservancy ‘... for their exemplary work in defending their forests, their traditional lifestyle and for educating the public about their use of medicinal plants and world view through their published text, Taking Care of Sibo’s Gifts’.

This is just one of several works that are setting a new standard for recording ethnobotanical knowledge. The recent appearance of the first volume of Medical Ethnobiology of the Highland Maya of Chiapas, Mexico, written by Elois Ann and Brent Berlin(8) in collaboration with Maya field investigators and Mexican scientists, points to a new sophistication in understanding indigenous views of human anatomy, illness and use of medicinal plants. From the other hemisphere, we find the works of Glenn Wightman(9) and his Australian colleagues, who come from both scientific and Aboriginal communities. Their book Traditional Aboriginal Medicine in the Northern Territories of Australia, which draws on studies carried out in over forty-five communities, provides monographs of 167 plants, animals and minerals used as remedies. We are waiting eagerly for the completion of Kalam Plant Lore, a book about wild plants of the forests and grasslands of the New Guinea highlands, being produced through the collaboration of linguistic anthropologist Andrew Pawley and the Kalam natural historian Saem Majnep, assisted by botanist Rhys Gardner. It will complement the highly acclaimed Birds of My Kalam Country, the result of a collaboration between Saem Majnep(10) and the late New Zealand ethnobiologist, Ralph Bulmer.

The spirit of collaboration found in these works is evident throughout this issue of the Handbook, which we hope will be a rich source of ideas for returning results of ethnobotanical studies and ensuring they are applied to conservation and development efforts that benefit communities. For additional perspectives on these vital subjects, please look into the two new Handbook sections we are inaugurating with this issue. In Advice from the Field, you will find short articles by Patricia Shanley and her colleagues and by Andrew Pawley on recording and returning data from ethnobotanical studies. Interviews are dialogues with innovators in the field, featuring Glenn Wightman and Mark Plotkin in this issue.

Recent news of support for the People and Plants Initiative from the European Commission (EC) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, in addition to sponsorship by the ODA/WWF Joint Funding Scheme announced in mid-1996, means that we have high hopes of producing the Handbook for another four years. With continued institutional support by WWF, UNESCO and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – and occasional co-sponsorship by institutions such as IPGRI – we expect to produce additional issues in coming years. To achieve this goal we need your help, so please keep sending your advice and perspectives on the subjects we propose for coming years. /GJM

  1. Platéarius, M. 1986. Le Livre des Simples Médecines. Translated and adapted by G. Malandrin. Paris, Editions Ozalid et Textes Cardinoux, Bibliothèque Nationale.
  2. See Advice from the Field, page 33
  3. See Viewpoints, page 23.
  4. Atran, S. 1990. Cognitive Foundations of Natural History. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  5. Maffi, L. 1997. Report on the working conference ‘Endangered Languages, Endangered Knowledge, Endangered Environments’. University of California at Berkeley, 25 - 27 October 1996.
  6. Kitingan, J.P. 1995. Introduction. In Lasimbang, R., C. Miller and J. Miller, editors, Kadazan Dusun Malay English Dictionary. Kota Kinabalu, Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association.
  7. Flaster, P. 1996. Society Business. Plants & People. Society for Economic Botany Newsletter 10:7.
  8. See People and Plants Bookshelf, Multimedia Center, page 24.
  9. Aboriginal Communities of the Northern Territory. 1993. Traditional Aboriginal Medicines in the Northern Territory of Australia. Darwin, Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory of Australia.
  10. Majnep, S. and R. Bulmer. 1977. Birds of My Kalam Country. Auckland, Auckland and Oxford University Presses.


Speaking of Jargon

Applied ethnobotany, advocacy ethnobotany. Two terms for an approach – often promoted in collaborative projects between local people and researchers – that seeks to have ethnobotanical studies support rather than undermine community development and biodiversity conservation. Many ethnobotanists have been compelled to apply the results of their research when they realize that the objects of their studies – cultural knowledge, languages, local people and biodiversity – are threatened by environmental destruction and rapid social and economic change. This change in consciousness is endorsed by indigenous, human rights and environmental groups who claim that science is not apolitical and that scientists must be accountable to the general public.

Biophilia. Bio- refers to life and -philia to love; when put together they form biophilia, which means the love of living things. Some conservationists – such as S.R. Kellert and E.O. Wilson, who edited a book on the subject – hypothesize that biophilia is an innate or acquired sensibility in people that explains why we are attracted to protecting plants, animals and nature in general.

Endemic. When used for biological organisms, endemic describes an organism that grows or lives in a specific area and has a restricted distribution. Broad endemics inhabit a large region (such as the Amazon), whereas narrow endemics are confined to small areas, sometimes only a few square kilometers in size. When using the term endemic to describe an organism, it is best to define the region the which the species grows, such as ‘Phormium tenax grows in wetlands and is endemic to New Zealand’. It contrasts with cosmopolitan, which refers to species with a worldwide distribution. Conservation biologists are particularly interested in endemic species, because they are particularly vulnerable to becoming endangered.

Lexicographer, lexicography, lexicon, lexeme, lexical item. These are all words related to dictionaries, their contents and the people who make them. A lexicon is a book that contains words of a language, arranged alphabetically, and their definitions – what we commonly call a dictionary. It is also used to mean the vocabulary used by speakers of a language. A lexicographer is simply someone who makes or edits a lexicon, or dictionary. He or she practices the art of lexicography, the editing or making of a dictionary. Lexeme or lexical item, simply defined, are words – parts of a lexicon. Lexeme was formerly used by many ethnobiologists to refer to the names of plants, animals and other things: a primary lexeme is a name like ‘owl’, and a secondary lexeme refers to names like ‘barn owl’. Most researchers now prefer to use primary and secondary name instead of primary and secondary lexeme, because name is a more common term than lexeme in the lexicon of most English speakers.

Ambrose Bierce, an American journalist who was born in the 19th century, was famous for his witty definitions. The following entries are taken from: Bierce, A. 1967. The Enlarged Devil’s Dictionary. London, Penguin.

Dictionary. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic.

Education. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding.

Interpreter. One who enables two persons of different languages to understand each other by repeating to each what it would have been to the interpreter’s advantage for the other to have said.

Lexicographer. A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods.

Linguist. A person more learned in the languages of others than wise in his own.

Lore. Learning – particularly that sort which is not derived from a regular course of instruction but comes of the reading of occult books, or by nature. This latter is commonly designated folk-lore and embraces popularly myths and superstitions.



Handbook Description

This issue is part of a Handbook that collates information on local knowledge and management of biological resources, conservation and community development. It is intended to encourage exchanges between colleagues and help them obtain information from around the world. The Handbook is designed especially for people who work in the field: park managers, foresters, cultural promoters, and members of non-governmental, governmental or indigenous organizations.

Argan, written above in Arabic, is the Moroccan name of Argania spinosa (Sapotaceae), an endemic tree of Morocco and Algeria. Oil pressed from its seeds is used in local cuisine, cosmetics and medicine. From: Sijelmassi, A. 1996. Les Plantes Médicinales du Maroc. Casablanca, Editions le Fennec.
By reporting on field-based initiatives and current affairs, we aim to have an impact on the actions of researchers and policy-makers as well.

Please send us comments on the writing style, content and layout of the Handbook, and suggestions of new subjects that could appear in future issues. We would appreciate receiving any pamphlets, posters, popular articles, drawings or other materials that illustrate the objectives and results of programs and projects in which you are involved. We also request slides and descriptions of people, plants and projects for the Ethnobotanical Portraits section you will find on pages 36 and 37 of this issue.

If you wish to reference this issue of the Handbook, we suggest the following citation: Martin, G.J. and A.L. Hoare, editors. 1997. Issue 3. Returning Results: Community and Environmental Education. In: G.J. Martin, general editor, People and Plants Handbook: Sources for Applying Ethnobotany to Conservation and Community Development. Paris, UNESCO.

When writing to the individuals cited in this issue, please tell them you ‘saw it in the People and Plants Handbook’. Letting them know where you found information about their organization, publication or project will help us strengthen our efforts and our network.

Gary J. Martin, General Editor, PPH
40008 Marrakesh - Medina
Fax +212.4.301511
email :
Alison L. Hoore, Associate Editor, PPH
Centre for Economic Botany
Royal Botanic Garden, Kew
Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AE, UK;
Fax +44.181.3325768
email :


Leaves of paper : letters to the editor

24 January 1997

One of my efforts that may be of interest to readers of the Handbook is the production of an information system for local communities to give them access to resources and information that are often hard to obtain. I am working with computer staff and students at Stanford University to design a Web site called the Forest Community Source.When the site is ready, it will provide both local communities and people who are supporting their efforts the opportunity to contribute to a database of information sources, both on and off the Web. I am exploring a variety of ways to make this information database accessible to communities without Internet access and computers. Then communities working to combine forest conservation and development will be able to exchange information and to access useful resources easily.My experience working with local groups is that there is a desperate need to integrate ethnobiology with other aspects of community development, and that this is a tremendous challenge. Training ends up being of no use if it cannot be integrated into community life, and sustained over the long term. My hope is that this information source will help provide materials, contacts and an opportunity to exchange experiences that will strengthen these efforts.

Dominique Irvine, 632 Dorchester Road, San Mateo, California 94402-1024, USA; Fax +1.415.4018757, e-mail nickie@leland.stanford.edu

16 March 1995

I do a lot of my educational work as a writer; primarily I work with the interview format as a way of presenting the information as it is given to me by the guardians of Puerto Rican botanical traditions. The idea is to present, respectfully and elegantly, a mirror of the knowledge of everyday people who once learned that their traditional ways are ‘backwards’ or simply manifestations of their ‘ignorance’. The best example I have of this in print right now is ¡Hasta los baños te curan! Remedios caseros y mucho más de Puerto Rico [Even baths cure! Household remedies and much more from Puerto Rico].

When this book first came out I was eager to present the information in a different format, so I made up 23 short radio programs each on a theme: healthy hair and skin, kidney and urinary tract problems, traditional remedies to ease childbirth, digestive health and others.

Bundles of pandanus leaves (Pandanus sp., Pandanaceae), used for weaving mats, on sale in the Suva, Fiji Market.
During each program, I mentioned the source (people and town) of all information used and was careful, whenever I had the information, to include ecological facts such as the status of – and threats to – the plants mentioned.

My work has included a number of presentations at local elementary (primary) schools. This, besides raising awareness about the value of the plants that surround these kids, is great for self esteem among the poorer kids who normally don’t talk in class but whose grandparents and great grandparents know all about plants. Teachers have commented that certain kids who were super verbal during my class ‘have never spoken before without having been called on!'

I also offer a 15-18 hour course offered at different colleges through the Continuing Education component of the University of Puerto Rico. These courses attract an interesting array of people. My focus is on: 1) teaching awareness of the value of Puerto Rico’s botanical tradition; 2) identifying local plants and teaching plant identification skills; 3) familiarizing students with traditional techniques for creating remedies: teas, syrups, baths, medicinal soaps, tinctures, etc.; and 4) teaching methods for gathering useful botanical information in the field. The students receive their grade based on this last part, which is indeed the most important. I include a sheet describing the work to be done in the field based on the students’ own needs, for example, a health condition that they have not been able to treat satisfactorily through conventional means.

I am eager to begin the community garden project of my dreams. I hope to spend a good amount of time gaining practical experience using some of the traditional agricultural practices I’m now learning about. I hope that in some way my public education activities can contribute to work of the readers of the People and Plants Handbook.

Maria Benedetti, Calle Vista Alegre #314, Sector Broadway, Mayagúez 00680, Puerto Rico; Tel. +1.809.8342134, Fax +1.809.2652880.

14 October 1996

As part of my work in a medicinal plant garden near Los Tuxtlas in Veracruz, I have made an inventory of 194 species of plants used as medicine by rural communities of Catemaco municipality. The people that live in this beautiful area have a deep knowledge of their natural resources, especially those in the tropical forest. At present, we are working on a database of local medicinal plants, and need to add chemical and pharmacological data to our information on local usage. In our botanical garden there is a cultural center, which in Mexico is called a Casa de Cultura. We are preparing environmental education courses and various public lectures. One of the objectives of the garden is to return to communities information obtained from traditional medicine specialists, because there is a danger that this valuable knowledge will be lost. For this reason, we plan to publish a guide on the medicinal plants used here, and offer access to our database on these resources.I hope that you can put me into contact with people who can assist me.

Adrian Garrido Vargas, A.P. 566, C.P. 91000 Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico; Tel./Fax. +52.294.125748

24 January 1997

The Rain Forest Interpretation Centre is a new conservation educational facility situated on the edge of Sepilok Virgin Jungle Reserve at Sandakan, east Sabah, Malaysia. It offers a wide range of information and exhibits on tropical rain forests; their distribution, importance, and rate and effects of their destruction.The Centre aims to make people more aware of the significance of the rain forest and the far-reaching consequences of its destruction, in terms of impact on the diversity of plant life, animal life and changes to traditional societies. Throughout the exhibition the need for conservation is stressed and various examples of rain forest conservation that exist in Sabah are given, such as permanent forest estates, national and state parks, ex-situ conservation and the practice of sustainable forest management.The exhibition and facilities at the Centre (which include a botanical nature trail) are aimed largely at an audience of school groups, undergraduates and local nature clubs.

Lawrence A. Sibuat, Forest Research Centre, Forestry Department, P.O. Box 1407, 90008 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia; Tel. +60.89.531523, Fax +60.89.531068

21 October 1996

Two years ago I received a pamphlet about your activities, and I recently heard that you would like to know about similar activities that PEMASKY (Programa de Ecología para el Manejo de Areas Silvestres Kuna Yala, or Ecological Program for Managing Kuna Yala Wild Areas) is carrying out with Kuna indigenous communities.Five years ago, PEMASKY began a research program to compile data by itself. Recently, one of our activities – focused on the use of medicinal plants and production of an interpretive manual for a trail called Inaigar path – has received outside support. This 120-page book, which includes a summary of Kuna cosmovision as well as drawings and information on the use of many plants, will be published by the University of Panama Press at the end of this year.A related activity – still without financial support – that we are considering is the demarcation of 2 hectares of natural forest, in which trees of 10 cm diameter and above will be marked, and their names and uses recorded. One of the reasons for doing this is that many Kuna curers, who are mostly elderly people, never leave behind any documentation of their knowledge when they pass away. All of their mental library is carried away in their minds, and we are losing valuable information that the world will never know unless we document it today for future generations.

Rutilio Paredes Martínez, Ethnobotanical Researcher, PEMASKY, Apartado Postal 2012, Paraíso, Ancon, Panama; Tel. +507.2257603, Fax +507.2235833

18 September 1996

Forest Tropical Action Program (Programa de Acción Forestal Tropical, PROAFT, Asociación Civil) is a non-governmental organization established in 1992 to promote the launching, funding and technical assistance of community projects that slow deforestation in tropical zones, find sustainable management alternatives for natural resources and improve people’s standard of living. For us it is important to have access to the People and Plants Handbook, because it represents an opportunity to communicate easily with people and organizations around the world that are working on the same subject, but in many different ways. I think one of the most interesting challenges for the Handbook is to involve people who are working directly in the field, and relate their experiences and constraints in developing community projects.

Silvia del Amo Rodriguez, Executive Director, PROAFT, Progreso 5, Colonia del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04110 Mexico, D.F. Mexico; Tel. +52.5.6583112, Fax +52.5.6586324, e-mail proaft@laneta.apc.org

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