Development of Medicinal Plant Gardens in Aburi, Ghana
Volume 3 Number 3 - December 1999
Fiona Dennis & George Owusu-Afriyie
Botanic Gardens Conservation International was fortunate this year to win a U.K. National Lotteries Charities Board grant of £79,900 to support a new project in Ghana. This project is undertaken in collaboration with the Aburi Botanical Gardens in Eastern Ghana to promote the cultivation of medicinal plants in home gardens.
The greatest threats to the remaining forests in Ghana are agricultural encroachment and fire in drought years (WWF and IUCN, 1994 Centres of Plant Diversity Volume I). Two of Ghana's National Parks have been treated as a Centre of Plant Diversity site and probably represent the only area of Ghana with relatively undisturbed rain forest. As most plant species used in primary health care are collected from the wild, habitat destruction is seriously affecting their availability, as is collection pressure with severe strain being put on plant populations in the vicinity of urban centres. There is consequently an urgent need to encourage local people to cultivate medicinal plants for use in their community.
The use of medicinal plant species and the accumulated knowledge of traditional medicinal practice is threatened by habitat destruction and by the unsustainable harvesting of plants from the wild. The resulting shortages of plant material has been noted by collectors concerned at having to travel further for raw materials. This is a valuable indicator of the current status of medicinal plant species in the wild and is a critical warning sign that action needs to be taken now, to reduce pressure on these diminishing populations.
For several years, the Aburi Botanical Gardens have received requests for medicinal plants from the Garden as well as for seed and information on the cultivation of medicinal plant species. Religious groups have requested medicinal plant material from the Garden, for use in rituals and religious instruction, and schools regularly request information and samples of medicinal plant material for education.
The knowledge of herbal medicine is extensive and varies from one region of the country to another. It is hoped that this project will draw together a number of traditional healers to contribute their knowledge and experience. Their skills at identifying species and at monitoring their availability in the wild will be an invaluable asset to the project.
Plant conservation and sustainable utilisation is one and the same thing and it is critical that local people are involved and empowered to develop sustainable practices for growing and harvesting medicinal plants.
By encouraging villagers to cultivate and trade in medicinal plants, the project aims to increase access to preventative and primary health care. By promoting the sustainable use and cultivation of native medicinal plants, the project hopes to provide locally accessible and plentiful supplies of raw material and a means to develop small-scale commercial production. The project aims to reduce the harvesting pressure currently being exerted on wild native medicinal plants and directly benefit the rural people who can be assured that local natural resources will be available for future generations.
This project aims to complement on-going work in species conservation in Ghana and will reinforce a Darwin Initiative funded project of BGCI and the Aburi Botanical Gardens in partnership with the Legon University Herbarium, the Center for Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Services (CERGIS) at Legon University, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) in Cambridge, U.K. and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), U.K.
The Project Team
Mr Theodoplius Agbovie, the current Curator of the Gardens, has been appointed the full-time Project Coordinator in Ghana, and he is assisted by Miss Linda Afriyie Damankah. Miss Afriyie Damankah has already begun the compilation of a Ghanaian medicinal plant list. This has been used as a primary working list for the project's ethnobotanical survey, now underway. William Ofusu Hene, recently retired from the Medicinal Plant Research Centre at Mampong, (about 8km from the Gardens) has also joined the survey team. His expertise will greatly benefit the identification of traditional herbal preparations and the harvesting methods commonly used. The U.K. Project Coordinator, based in London, is Fiona Dennis of BGCI.
A Project Management Committee has been set up from which a Project Advisory Group can be identified. This group will consist of representatives from a number of different organisations and user groups such as traditional healers, church groups, local schools and local women's groups in Eastern Ghana.
Medicinal Plant Garden
The Project Coordinator (Ghana), working with garden staff and the Project Advisory Group, has started work on a model Medicinal Plant Garden at the Aburi Botanical Gardens. The land (136 acres) has been generously donated by Aburi Botanical Gardens within the Gardens for the creation of a model garden. This model Garden will be used to encourage local people and schools to set up their own medicinal plant and herb gardens.
The allotted land consists of mature trees and under-storey shrubs. This forest has suffered from the encroachment of local farmers in search of fuel wood, timber and medicinal plants and the accidental introduction of a number of alien palm and bamboo species. However, it is clear that the majority of target species for this project will be tree species and the existing mature trees within this plot are of great value. To date, the paths and boundaries of 100, one acre plots have been cut out of the bush. These have been mapped and numbered.
The model garden will use the existing mature trees for the overall structure of the garden and will increase the species diversity by under planting with species grown in the Gardens' nursery. Each significant plant will be identified and labelled. Interpretation plaques will be erected at appropriate sites throughout the garden.
The next step will be the plant diversity survey to identify exactly what the existing flora can contribute to the biodiversity of the garden. Following this activity the enrichment of this plant community will begin.
There will also be an extensive education programme in the garden. The Project Coordinators will work with local people to construct signs that inform visitors about the value of medicinal plants, the threat to them from over-collection and the conservation aims of the project.
The project will identify the species of plants most commonly used by local people in medicine. This will be carried out in collaboration with members of the Project Advisory Committee. A target list of plants for cultivation will be drawn up based upon their use and estimated availability in recent years. The project will establish protocols for propagation and cultivation to ensure wild species can be successfully brought into home cultivation.
Fiona Dennis (BGCI) visited the gardens in October 1999 and met the nursery staff of the project. A pro forma collecting sheet and nursery records book, including details on propagation methods and nursery conditions were drawn-up. This will ensure that the recording and monitoring of all species coming into, and being planted out into the model garden will be fully documented. Detailed records will enable a thorough analysis of the procedures required to successfully propagate and cultivate these species. This information will provide the basis upon which to write the training booklet.
Training Booklet and Workshops
In collaboration with the Project Management Committee, the project team will produce a training booklet. This booklet will illustrate the cultivation, propagation, harvesting, drying and storing of medicinal plants.
This booklet will used in the workshops and practicals which will be run as part of the project. These workshops will help local schools and communities set up their own gardens. The project will also provide seeds, polythene bags and fertilisers to help stimulate interest in the cultivation of medicinal plants.
The survey team have visited several villages and spoken to a number of traditional healers. From these visits they have been able to identify species, harvesting methods and traditional medicinal plant uses.
Three villages have already agreed to work within the project and establish co-operatives for the cultivation of medicinal plant species, both for use within the village and for small-scale commercial production. It is hoped that success with these villages will help to encourage surrounding villages to make a commitment to cultivation within the duration of this project.
By working with local people to develop best practices for the harvesting, drying and storage of medicinal plants, the project hopes to stimulate local trade both within and outside the town of Aburi, and to help increase people's economic independence. The gardens will also provide a clearing-house and central depository for large-scale harvests and will work closely with the Mampong Centre for Research into Traditional Medicine. This Centre, staffed by Western trained doctors carries out research into the uses, potency and commercial value of herbs and plants. The Research Centre is able to utilise a great deal of plant material and are keen to develop sustainable supply routes for many of their manufactured plant products. As part of the Ministry of Health, the Research Centre is also able to ensure that the plant medicines manufactured there, meet regulatory standards.
The project will aim to change attitudes and present an opportunity for responsible conservation at a local level. Not all species of medicinal plants identified during the project will be adaptable to cultivation, particularly tree species, however, the presentation of the conservation issues involved in destructive wild harvesting will highlight the need not only for cultivation, but for sustainable wild harvesting techniques.