Indigenous Knowledge and Biodiversity Conservation: A Case Study of Medicinal Plants and Nyamwezi People in Tabora Region, Tanzania

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Addis Ababa University


This study was geared to obtaining and documenting indigenous knowledge used by Nyamwezi people in Tabora region (Tanzania) to conserve and utilise sustainably the diversity of medicinal plants. Tabora rural distllct in which this study was conducted is one of the districts occupied by Nyamwezi people. Four administrative wards were chosen randomly: Magiri, Ilolangulu, Igalula, and Ikongolo. The indigenous knowledge of this cultural group was thought to be impOt1ant due to the fact that Tabora region falls in the 'Miombo' woodland zone where about 60% of the plants are known to have medicinal value. Another factor was that human activities in Tabora are threatening plant survival today. The fact that indigenous knowledge of Nyamwezi was getting eroded with the biodiversity like that of other indigenous cultural groups elsewhere, made this study important. Three survey methods were employed during this study to collect data trom the field. Two participatory rural appraisal (PRA) tec1miques were used to collect indigenous knowledge related to conservation of medicinal plants and/or their habitats. PRA techniques used were open-ended conversation and intriguing practice and beliefs. Semistructured interview was used to obtain the commonly used medicinal plants and related aspects. This method was also employed to ascertain the household's therapy. Paired comparison was used to find out the activities considered most threatening to the diversity of medicinal plants and/or their habitats. It was found that Nyamwezi people host important indigenous knowledge/practice that can be blended with fonnal tec1miques to conserve biodiversity effectively. These include Nyamwezi people beliefs and taboos regarding the conservation and use of medicinal plants, handling and care of sacred groves (Mazimbu), home gardens and observing indigenous rules and regulations. Concerning household's treatment, it was observed that a large number of Nyamwezi people use both traditional and formal healing systems for their primary health care. There was highly significant difference (**p<O.OI, F=16.67,df=2,6) between the number of people using traditional healing system alone, those who use both treatment systems and those using fonnal/modem system only across the wards studied. Regarding medicinal plants and related aspccts, it wasJound that about 122 plant species falling in 49 families were being used to treat a total 'of thirty-eight diseases/conditions commonly found in Tabora, It was observed that roots were the most frequently used parts accounting for over 65% of all the prescrilltions. Sixty-four percent of the respondents noted that more time was needed to obtain 'medicinal plants now than it used , to be ten years ago indicating that some traditional herbal medicines are becoming less available. Tobacco cultivation was found to be the '[najor threat to medicinal plants and/or their habitats having been identified as the firs,t. threat by 21 % of the respondent households land as one of the three most dangerous 'activities by the majority of the respondents. Collection of medicinal plants was considyred safer, sustainable harvestil'g being one of the contributing factors. It was recorded 'that traditional practitioners were obtaining their material from almost every habitat except for some few plant species having restricted distribution. This study therefore ,recommends that; the Nyamwezi indigenous knOWledge/practice be blended with ronn.a l techniques to ensure sustainable use and conservation of their culturally important m9dicinal plants in particular and the biota in general. This implies that the local people"m1!st be part in the planning and implementation of conservation and development programs.