FEATURE-Nigeria’s vanishing forests spell trouble for traditional medicine

* Herbalists say plants are becoming rare

* Deforestation and climate change are cited as key factors

* Experts call for curbs on gathering from forests

Adebayo Abdulrahman OYO, Nigeria, Oct 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As a practitioner of herbal medicine in southwestern Nigeria, Egunbei Yinusa has spent his life treating patients, using herbs and plants long abundant and easy to find.

But when the traditional healer set out from his home in Oyo state last July in search of the root of the rare purple plant – which is used to treat sexually transmitted infections – he returned five hours later empty-handed. “I haven’t seen (it) in about two years,” said Yinusa, who is in his sixties and learned the practice from his father when he was a teenager.

Other medicinal plants, such as Cynthula prostrate, locally known as sawrapep and used to treat asthma, are also much rarer. “Now we have to go deep into the forest to get them,” said Yinusa, explaining that deforestation around Oyo town has made it more difficult to find Sawarepepe.

In the past decade, Nigeria’s traditional medicinal plants have become increasingly scarce, according to practitioners and researchers, as forest loss, over-harvesting and more extreme weather associated with climate change endanger important species. This is not only a threat to the careers of traditional herbalists, including Yinusa, and the health of their patients – but to the country’s heritage and culture.

According to Nigeria’s Ministry of Health, traditional medicine is the main source of healthcare for 80% of the population – particularly in rural areas – and the World Health Organization (WHO) says the proportion is similar across sub-Saharan Africa. Many Nigerians either cannot afford or are unable to access modern health services – which are often hampered by a lack of staff and funding – so at a community level they rely heavily on traditional medicine.

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But a growing shortage of medicinal plants is increasing the cost of traditional health care for the public – while concerns about the quality of alternative solutions are growing. “It’s a slippery slope … price increases (mean) many people can’t afford it, which is slowly reducing the accessibility of health care,” said Adelodun Majekobaje, a doctoral researcher at US-based Louisiana State University.

“(And) when a particular medicinal plant is unavailable, traditional doctors will go for an alternative that they haven’t actually tried to see if it’s effective, thereby making herbal medicines less effective,” the forest science expert added. Deforestation

In Osogbo town in Osun State – just east of Oyo – another traditional practitioner, Hossein Azulo, said he has been struggling to find the right plants in recent years. There is “increasing difficulty in getting herbs. There are some that I still struggle to get in the city,” says the 32-year-old, who has practiced traditional medicine for a decade and, like Inusa, learned the trade from him. Family.

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“I now have to travel to get something, or reach outside herb collectors, and that wasn’t the case before,” he added. Nigeria has over 8,000 plant species with potential medicinal benefits, and according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 15 plant species in the country are listed as critically endangered, 18 endangered and 146 endangered.

Adeniyi Jayeola, a professor of botany at the University of Ibadan in Oyo State, says the main reason behind this is massive deforestation driven by industrial development, followed by other drivers including the effects of climate change. Between 2001 and 2021, Nigeria lost 1.14 million hectares (2.8 million acres) of tree cover, equivalent to an 11% decline since 2000, according to Global Forest Watch, a monitoring and data platform.

In 2018, the Nigerian government said the country had lost 96% of its original forests to deforestation. But the problem facing medicinal plants is more worrisome than such data, Jola said.

“Even the forests that still exist may no longer have many medicinal plants due to habitat fragmentation, which is now very common across the continent,” he said, explaining that some plants cannot thrive in damaged forests. Call for regulation

Several traditional medicine practitioners said that the cost of herbal treatment for them has gone up due to the shortage of plants and the rising cost of paying people across the value chain – from collectors to distributors. “Although we try not to increase the cost of medicine and treatment because we believe we are helping people … there is a very significant change in prices,” said Yinusa, adding that the increase has averaged 50-100% over the past four years.

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To address the shortage, Shaba Meikudi, president of the National Association of Traditional Medicine Practitioners, said building new botanical gardens could ensure that “we can gradually wipe out these medicinal plants”. Nigeria has 34 botanical gardens – mostly managed by universities and state agencies – to protect plant species.

However, Jayola, who also runs the University of Ibadan’s botanical garden – one of the oldest in Nigeria – said they were inadequate to deal with the shortage of medicinal plants, and called for the introduction of “idle gardens”. Such gardens will be designed strictly for commercial purposes and used to grow endangered medicinal plants for traditional practitioners to buy, Joyola said, adding that such gardens have proven effective in South Africa.

The academic called on the Nigerian government to regulate the collection of plants to protect biodiversity. “If you go to the forest, you will see trees dying because some practitioners have wrongly uprooted them,” Jayola said.

“Unless there are mechanisms that guide this process, the medicinal benefits of some plants will lead to their demise.” Originally published by:


(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)


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