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Established since 1963 

Losing plant knowledge 

Saturday, 4th. July, 1998 


KINABALU PARK: Rapid economic and cul-tural changes have threatened the disappear-ance of valuable traditional indigenous knowl-edge on plants, experts say. 

"Conserving Southeast Asia's forests and promoting these traditional knowledge are challenges that face us all, especially in these days of rapid economic and cultural changes," State Culture, Environment and Tourism Minister Datuk Wilfred Bumburing said Friday. 

He was closing the People and Plants Certificate Training Course on Applied Ethnobotany here which drew 30 participants from Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Kinabalu Park and Subic Bay in the Philippines were venues for the eight-week course organised by The People & Plants Initiative in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia, Unesco and the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. 

Bumburing's speech was delivered by the Ministry's Permanent Secretary Monica Chia who also presented certificates to the partici-pants from Vietnam. Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia. 

Describing Kinabalu Park's “mega biodiversity" as a “pot of gold", Bumburing said the State Government had developed a "Kinabalu Management Plan." 

"What we need now is the participation of everyone - from local communities right up to the management of Sabah Parks to implement and enforce the plan," he said. 

"The Park itself is a conducive environment for partnership between Sabah Parks and com-munity to conserve and manage Kinabalu Park for our generations," Bumburing added. 

People and Plants Initiative Regional Coordinator,  Dr. Gary J. Martin stressed that immediate measures are needed to check the loss of traditional knowledge of plants used by local communities in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. 

"People around the world -from both developing and developed countries are facing a similar crisis," be said. 

"Over a few generations we are losing the botanical knowledge that local communities have built up over many millennia," he pointed out. 

Dr Martin said in view of the serious situation, immediate action is needed to, promote local knowledge and cultures. 

"In academic institutions, we are failing to train enough qualified professionals who can seek solutions to these prob-lems in collaboration with gov-ernment agencies, local communities and the public," he said. 

Interestingly, he said: "What we have done in collabo-ration with Sabah Parks staff was to work with Dusun, com-munities around the Kinabalu Park area to document their important plants and convert that information into a manual." 

 The manual, written pri-marily in Dusun, comprises 40 medicinal plants. It would be distributed to communities as an educational tool to help vil-lage elders pass on some of their knowledge to younger generations, Dr Martin said. 

He added the activities of the Certificate Training Course had been supported by Projek Ethnobotam Kinabalu (PEK), an initiative of Sabah Parks especially aimed at document-ing the use of local plants. 

Part of, the training involved visits to a few vil-lages surrounding Mt Kinabalu, such as Melangkap Tomis, Kian Nulu, Kg Monggis and Kg Takutan. 

 Echoing the call of Dr Martin, a member of WWF Malaysia Board of Trustees, Datuk Dr Tengku Adlin said: "It is important not only to record cultural knowledge of the natural world but also to ensure such knowledge contin-ues to be a living tradition. To achieve this ambitious goal, we must train people from many different disciplines, regions and backgrounds," cit-ing the gathering of calibre par-ticipants from Southeast Asian and Pacific countries to explore and share innovative methods of documenting and promoting plant resources , as a positive sign of hope. 

Adlin pointed out that an important focus of the training course was the emphasis that the results and benefits of eth-nobotanical research are not hoarded by a few but returned to the communities at large. 

Meanwhile, Sabah Parks Deputy Director, Francis Liew, said the park's inventoring of plants used for medicine, food, construction materials and other purposes had been extended beyond the Mt Kinabalu area to Dusun and Murut villages near the Crocker Range Park, under the leadership of PEK coordi-nator, Ludin Apin. 

He said community collec-tors had recorded the local names and uses of more than 6,000 specimens of plants over the last six years. 

"The project has greatly enriched our understanding of Dusun  Ethnobotany  and strengthened the research capacity of Sabah Parks." 

He said these achievements prompted Sabah Parks to embark on a number of practi-cal development projects and environmental education programmes that focus on sharing the benefits and results of this study with the local communi-ties and the general public. 

One of the first outputs of this effort is the manual of Dusun medicinal plants in which Agnes Lee Agama and Sugarah Duaneh are instrumen-tal in its production," he said. 

"The text was written in both Dusun and Bahasa Malaysia, making it widely accessible to the Kadazandusun community while each plant is illustrated with a line drawing, skillfully executed by Juimin Duaneh a staff in PEK since its inception, “Liew said. 

'These brief examples show that Sabah Parks is very concerned about developing a viable ethnobotanical research programme and col-laborating with local communi-ties for mutual benefits,” he added 

Copyright 1998, Daily Express, Sabah, Malaysia. All Rights Reserved.

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