13. Medicines from the forest.
SPORE, 37, 1992,. p.5
The medicines in the United States show that 38% contained one or more products of plant origin as the therapeutic agent. Not all plant-derived drugs originated in the tropics but many did so and tropical forests are the richest potential source of new medical agents.
In Ghana, for example, more than 800 woody plants and many other herbaceous species are known for their medical properties. In Asia and the Pacific it is estimated that over 4% of indigenous flora has been utilized in traditional medicine. Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly the Amazon forests, are widely recognized for their contributions to human health in the past and their potential for future discoveries.
Over half of all plant species are natives of tropical forests.
It is estimated that half of the tropical forests have been cleared already. Destruction continues at 25 to 30 million hectares per year and the majority of plant species are vanishing before they have been recorded or investigated. The fund of knowledge carried by the forest dwellers who are displaced is also being lost.
New strategies must be developed to safeguard them.
The best hope for saving the remaining forests, the potential medicines that they contain and the peoples who know most about them may be in developing what has been termed "chemical prospecting". This permits commercial organizations to collect and identify plant materials with potential for medical uses in exchange for proper remuneration to the host country.
A similar strategy is to develop "extractive reserves" for sustainable development of forests where forest dwellers would collect rubber, nuts, coca, palm products and medicinal plants for sale. Brazil already has some such reserves and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) supports a project in Cameroon in collaboration with the Cameroons Centre for the Study of Medicinal Plants. In eleven villages local people helped researchers investigate the plants of the surrounding forest, leading to a collection of hundreds of herbal remedies.
A UK company acts as a broker to find potential buyers for medicinal plants on behalf of tropical countries and has supplied major pharmaceutical companies with plant material from Africa and Asia.
To-date the main focus of activities appears to be in Central and South America and parts of Asia.
1174 92 - 7/88
Tropics, Caribbean, study, protein production, legumes, trees and shrubs, livestock production, CTA
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