The World Bank is calling for local plants with medicinal value, such as aloe, to be both protected and harnessed in Sub-Saharan Africa. The cultivation and promotion of multi-purpose medicinal plants (MPMPs) will have the dual purpose of generating badly needed income while protecting against desertification in the region.
A recent study commissioned by the bank claims that the global market for herbal medicines in 2004 stood at US$65bn. It goes on to claim that sub-Saharan dry lands could bring in an estimated US$650mn in revenues, if used to produce herbal treatments, improving economic conditions and rehabilitating degraded lands. The United Nations estimates that the lost income from lands abandoned to desert stands at roughly US$42bn per year.
In Africa approximately 80% of the population use traditional medicines (TM) to help meet some of their primary health needs. Herbal medicines are frequently used to treat conditions, such as fever resulting from malaria.
Meanwhile, the US health department has recently funded a research project to test the medical powers of indigenous South African plants. The ZAR29mn (US$4.38mn) project could lead to the registration of a number medicines used by traditional healers. Clinical trials have already begun on some plants believed to be useful in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.