Conservation Biology

Friday, March 09, 2007


There is a great demand for traditional medicines in Kwazulu-Natal (1). The informal sector trading of indigenous plants products for medicines and other products of the plants is in the increase. Population growth, development, unemployment, inflow of large number of immigrants in search of work and few primary health resources lead to the increase usage of the native plants products for medicine (1). The use of traditional medicine is exacerbated by many values attached to the native plants such as women who are menstruating are not allowed to collect other plants as they will lose power.

Therefore, high demand for indigenous plants products results in a high intensity of harvesting of these plants. Sustainability of indigenous plants such as Siphonochilus aethiopicus (Isiphephetho in Zulu) and Boweia volubilis that are faced with extinction need to be encouraged (1). Medicinal plants need to be sustained because of the high rate of natural habitats destruction, shrunk and modification. Urbanization and commercial agriculture are the two main cause of habitat destruction. If not sustained, medicinal plants will become extinct, which means that plants which save lives will be lost.

In both urban and rural areas of Kwazulu-Natal, native plants are greatly utilized, because of the economic importance attached to them. These indigenous plants provide people with different goods such as building materials, fuel wood, traditional medicines and wild fruits (2). The importance of native plants products together with the needs for sustainable supply of the medicinal plants need to be sustained for future generation. People earning low wages in both rural and urban areas often use traditional medicines as a primary health care. The use of these traditional medicines is dominant in the province of KwaZulu-Natal because of the highest rate of poverty in the province (2).

Factors that encourage people to use traditional medicines include: prices which are low compared to western medicines, local availability, easy access to the traditional healers which tend to save the transport cost and other diseases which western medicines cannot cure such as Hlogwana in Nothern Sotho. Hlogwana occurs when the baby is born and the skull is not fully joint. The Government of National Unity (GNU) also recognizes the importance of traditional medicines (3). Another important factor which leads to the need for the sustainable use of the medicinal plants is their contribution in the economic growth of the province of Kwazulu-Natal. It is estimated that medicinal plants generate R62 million each year in Kwazulu-Natal which lead to the creation of jobs (1). The more the money is generated, the higher will be the number of the people employed in the gathering of medicinal plants. This is because medicinal plants are no longer found in abundance near the place where traditional healers work. The money is generated through the selling of the indigenous plants products such as roots, barks and other mixture of plants materials. Many trees are stripped of their bark for medicinal purposes.

The removal of large number of the trees results in negatively impacts, both ecologically and socially (1). This means that the majority of the people will lose medicines, and healers will lose their livelihoods. Medicinal plants are harvested from savanna, grassland and forests (1). In future, the remains of the above mentioned biomes will never meet the needs of the people. The majority of the medicinal products which are sold come from the biome of forest. The population of the wild plant species are in the decrease (3).

Planting the high number of wild plant species will lead to low unsustainable use of the indigenous plants. Programmes such as public awareness and permits to the traders need to be implemented. Conservation of medicinal plants for long term need to be sustained by the land owners. The supply and demand of the indigenous plants products were highly unknown in the past. The planting and usage of the medicinal plants has been undermined by both the agricultural sectors and formal health. Good management of the medicinal plant forests will lead to the sustainable benefits on both social and ecological perspectives.


1. Maender, M.; Maender, J; and Breen, C. 1996. Promoting the cultivation of
Indigenous plants for markets: experiences from Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.
[Online]. [Cited 2007 March 02]: Available from:

2. Karmann, M. and Lorbach, I. 1996. Utilization of non-timber tree products in
Dryland areas: Examples from Southern and Eastern Africa. [Online]. [Cited 2007
March 01]: Available from:

3. Botha, J. Witkowski, E. T. F. and Shackleton, M. C. 2004. Market profiles and trade in medicinal plants in the lowveld, South Africa. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 02]: Available from:

Peter Muvhali
Tell no: 012 8142133
Fax: 012 8423676


  • It is true Peter that people especially those with lack of sufficient fund to afford specialised doctors depend on traditional healers, it is not only in KZN where people are depending on traditional medicines even in provinces like Limpopo and Mpumalanga. The only problem is that as people are realising that they can financially survive through selling traditional medicine and also through practising traditional healing some tend to be forged healers and they and up killing patients by either giving them wrong medicine or toxic plants which are not suitable for consumption. This brings a criticism on the traditional healers. The issue of having a certificate of practicing traditional healing and permit allowing tree harvesting can be better recommendations which can help to sustain these useful plants.

    By Blogger Dianah Nangammbi, at March 09, 2007 3:02 PM  

  • Hi Peter!

    Some of the people,rich or poor visit the traditional healers because of the other disease that cannot be cured by the western medicine. Those diseases includes, Hlogwana, golomiwa, sesepedi, unfortunately we do not have their names in English. The mentioned disease can only be cured by tradional healer.

    By Blogger Maleka Evelyn, at March 12, 2007 4:29 PM  

  • Not each and everyone can become a sangoma or know how to use the plants. In our tradition after a child is born is taken to the sangoma, so that the sangoma can protect the kid from evil spirits, in our culture we call that "go thekga".this procedure is also performed also when you are old so that your things can go well and we even slaughter a goat/sheep for the ceremony. the use of trees by traditional healers won't stop, because lot of people depend on it.
    i watched this programme about traditional healers and there was a white lady who was a traditional healer. the lady explained how do they choose the trees, roots of a plant. they also dont take the whole plant because they want to allow the plant to grow, so that next time they can use it again.

    By Blogger Lethabo, at March 13, 2007 9:45 AM  

  • Hi Evelyn

    I was not aware that there are many diseases such as Golomiwa in Nothern Sotho(Sepedi)which cannot be cured by the Western medicine. I will be more than happy if any one can explain to me what the disease is all about and how the disease is cured traditionally.

    By Blogger peter, at March 13, 2007 9:55 AM  

  • Hi There

    It is good that they replant the plants and I was not aware of that, If all the sangoma can do that worldwide then they will be conserving the plant.

    By Blogger Maleka Evelyn, at March 13, 2007 9:59 AM  

  • Hi Peter

    The disease is experienced by men after sleeping with a woman who just done abortion. For the man to survive he must go to the traditional healer immediately and how they cure that I dont know but what I know is that it cant be cured by western medicine.

    By Blogger Maleka Evelyn, at March 13, 2007 10:05 AM  

  • Hi Peter

    On the fourth paragraph; you did mention that there are believes that some diseases such as Hlongwana, cannot be cured by Western medicine rather only traditional medicine can cure this disease. According to my understanding there are some cases where children are born with incomplete skull but they are treated using western medicine.I think the western and traditional medicine are more the same (They are made of plants).

    What do you think need to be done for those who over-utilise Indigenous plants for medicinal purpose whereas they are misleading people?

    By Blogger Lufuno, at March 13, 2007 10:08 AM  

  • Hi Lufuno

    I think more regulations need to be imposed by all spheres of government, National, Provincial and local to regulate medicinal plants for the future use by traditional healers. Leaders of the traditional healers need to encourage their healers to report any person who is practicing as a tradtional healer without their knowledge to be heavely punished. The punishment must include fine and jail term depending on the scale of the violation of the rules and regulation of the organization of the traditional healers. But this can only be achieved if there is incetinves such as money.

    By Blogger peter, at March 13, 2007 11:21 AM  

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