Development of biometric sampling systems and optimal harvesting methods for medicinal tree bark in Southern Africa

This is a three year research project focused on the development of guidelines for sustainable harvesting of medicinal tree bark funded by the UK Department for International Development.

Project details

Project Title

Developing biometric sampling systems and optimal harvesting methods for medicinal tree bark in southern Africa

Project Summary

There is considerable medicinal plant trade in southern Africa centred around large urban centres particularly the wholesale herb market in Durban. The shift from subsistence use to the commercial trade of medicinal plants has led to an increased intensity and frequency of medicinal plant harvesting from wild populations and habitats. The bark of many different forest and woodland tree species are harvested as medicines though a relatively small number of species are in high demand. The cultivation of medicinal plants remains rather underdeveloped and there are increasing reports of scarcity in many popular species. This is particularly acute in the Republic of South Africa (RSA) where the small and fragmented indigenous forests are under intense pressure to supply urban demand for medicinal bark. However, demand is not limited to RSA. During the project preparation workshop it was discovered that there is trade in medicinal bark from as far as Malawi to RSA and moderate demand for bark close to urban areas in Zambia.

The intense and frequent harvesting of bark from species with a high market demand frequently results in ring-barking of trees. The trees subsequently die and uncontrolled harvesting of bark may thus result in:

  • The local extirpation of the species

  • Compromised ecological processes in the forest

  • A reduction in forest incomes for owners, collectors, traders and traditional doctors

  • The loss of useful medicines and

  • Compromised health security of the general population

There is clearly a need for the institution of sustainable management of medicinal bark. In common with all sustainable management if natural resources, this will require biological knowledge as well as socio-economic incentives and institutional facilitation to become a reality. This project concentrates on developing an understanding of the biology of the trees harvested for bark continuing and adding to the work started under the RSA Commercial Products from the Wild project. The intention is to develop methods for determining sustainable harvesting regimes and to present these in the form of manuals and training materials for use by those responsible for managing forests.

The main project outputs are:
1. Protocols for the efficient inventory of medicinal bark resources in natural forest developed and tested
2. Best practice bark harvesting techniques developed for trees with different bark anatomy and ecophysiological profiles
3. Bark yield models developed for different harvesting systems
4. Preparation, testing and dissemination of project results

This document is an output from a project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for the benefit of developing countries. The views expressed are not necessarily those of DFID. R8305 - Forestry Research Programme.


Please contact Wild Resources Limited if you would like further information about this project.