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Madagascar: forest pharmacy under threat

September 16, 2009










Millions of years ago, Madagascar separated from the other continents and evolved separately. Today it has about 12,000 plants most of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Many of these plants have medicinal properties, but their habitat is under threat.

In the town of Tolear, people rely on herbs as the nearest hospital is far away. Traditional healers combine plants and a little bit of magic to cure patients.

“The forest helps us to cure all illnesses,” Dimbiraza, a traditional healer, told Reuters Africa Journal. “So we need to preserve the forest everywhere in the world, not just in Madagascar, in the world because the forest is nature. It’s our second God. There’s God up there and the forest is our second God.”

The forest around Tolear is like a huge natural pharmacy.

Malagasy companies such as Homeopharma manufacture plant products for sale at home and for export to Europe and the United States.

Claude Ratsimivony, the company’s chairman, says the market is seeing growth rates of 30 to 40 percent and there are still medicinal plants to be discovered.

“We still have not discovered everything. We know that there are about 12,000 species, but Madagascar is a country that is mysterious in the respect that it still guards the secrets of its traditional healers.”

But some of Madagascar’s plant secrets may be lost before they can even be found as forests are being cut down for charcoal and farming.

The government has initiated several conservation projects and wants to do more to preserve the plants that contribute to both modern and traditional medicine. It will be interesting to see if they can keep ahead of the slashers and burners.

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