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Still Reliant on Nature

Traditional medicine is still used in many African communities in the present day. The blending of numerous herbs is usually a science not recorded in text books, but passed on from one traditional healer to another through either apprenticeships or informal training.

Although western medicine is available in most communities, there are still people who prefer to use traditional medicine for many reasons including religious beliefs and economic circumstances.

As mentioned above, traditional healers generally do not have any form of formal training. However the process of blending the medicine they use is quite complex in that it involves a variety of plant and animal species. For instance, there are traditional healers offering what they market as anti-venom for snakebites, such anti-venom is made from a concoction of herbs and parts of the snake itself. The point in the example is that traditional medical practitioners rely heavily on the environment and nature to produce medicines.

Talking with one traditional healer about the effects of resource depletion on his business unearthed interesting observations. The first constraint he raised is the distance he has to walk to gather herbs. Twenty years ago when he started practicing as a traditional healer, he did not have to travel far to get herbs.

Today he must walk to the most remote areas to get herbs because the plant species he needs have simply disappeared from systematic harvest by other traditional healers. He further stated that when he discovers a site rich with the requisite plants, he keeps it a secret from his colleagues because he fears it might suffer the same fate as other sites which are now short in supply. The same applies to animal species which have also disappeared because they were hunted for either their hide, or to use in the production of traditional medicine.

It would be a great initiative if the government of Swaziland would engage with traditional healers and herbalists in a bid to reach common ground as to what can be done to rehabilitate the wild lands that were once rich in plant and animal supply.

Furthermore, the government should educate traditional healers on sustainable use of natural resources. The consultation should also be inclusive of, and accessible to people who prefer to use traditional medicine. In particular, encouraging such users to contribute to transformation by exercising influence over their “doctors” to adopt sustainable methods when using natural resources.

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