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close this bookMedicinal Plants: Rescuing a Global Heritage (WB, 1997, 80 p.)
close this folder1. The global background
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View the documentEconomic issues
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View the documentRegulatory issues
View the documentSocial issues
View the documentConservation Issues
View the documentAgricultural issues
View the documentForestry issues
View the documentVeterinary issues
View the documentThe international research base

Veterinary issues

The need to conserve and protect the world's medicinal plants is required not only for man but also for his domesticated animals. In fact all biota, wild and domesticated, within the global ecosystem probably depends at least in part on plants that sustain health.

It has of course long been known that certain plants cause farm stock to be sterile or to abort. Those conditions cause great economic losses in terms of milk, meat and progeny.

Only now, however, are veterinary scientists beginning to study this with conviction and deep interest. The wild species of the Animal Kingdom, no doubt utilized the medicinal powers of plants long before humans appeared on the scene. But herdsmen quickly learned about the value of these species. Centuries of observation and experience have resulted in a rich storehouse of ethnoveterinary knowledge and technique among stockculture peoples. Today, for those cultures where stockraising forms a vital part of their livelihood plants are a primary source of prevention and control of livestock diseases. It is thought that the percentage of animals dependent on medicinal plants is greater than the figure of 80 percent that is given for humans. In some traditional medical systems, human and animal healing are not differentiated. The herbal treatments often overlap and might be administered by the same persons.

Delivering veterinary services to pastoralists can be as difficult as delivering public health and other basic services and far, more complex than for settled peoples. Nonetheless, as traditional medicine is experiencing a revival in human medicine so is the veterinary sector, During the past decade, FAO has commissioned a number of reports on the status of veterinary medicine in Asian countries. All found that ethnoveterinary practices could be usefully incorporated in animal-health services.

Globally, veterinary medicine has followed the industrial countries prejudice for technology over traditional knowledge and self-sufficiency. Happily, the revival traditional medicine is experiencing is occurring in both human and veterinary medicine.

Box 2: The Use of Plants in Animal Medicine

There are many known uses of medicinal plants in the healthcare of livestock in developing countries. A sampling includes:

· In France farmers hang henbane (Hyoscymus niger) in sheep pens to combat sheep pox.
· In Uganda, farmers hang amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) in chicken houses to provide vitamin A, often found lacking in scratch feed.
· Researchers in Guatemala tested 84 of the most commonly used plants for gastrointestinal disease in farm animals and found that 40 percent inhibited one or more of the five main bacterial pathogens.
· In Mexico, the traditional therapy for a bloated cow is to tie a branch of the pirule tree (Polakowskia tacacco) in her mouth. The bitter taste provokes salivation, which helps to buffer the stomach, while the physical presence of the plant encourages chewing, thus assisting in the release of stomach gas.