Malaysia: 'Save knowledge of medicinal plants'

PROTECTING RIGHTS: Indigenous folk, who know the value of plants, risk losing out to foreigners due to no proper documentation
New Straits Times 30 Aug 12;

DOCUMENTING indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants is crucial for its existence, said state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

He added that while the communities in many parts of Sabah knew about the medicinal value of plants, this knowledge was not well documented.

"It may be lost as its custodians are passing away," he said in his speech at the launch of the Imbak Canyon Ethno- Forestry study and workshop on accessing and commercialising bio-diversity here yesterday.

The speech was read by his assistant, Datuk Elron Angin.

Masidi said the indigenous people had an understanding of the properties of plants and animals, the functioning of eco-system and the techniques for using and managing them that was particular and often detailed.

"So far, there has been little systematic ethno-botanical survey in this area."

With the advancement in science and technology, he said there was an increased interest in appropriating indigenous knowledge for scientific and commercial purposes.

"Some research and pharmaceutical companies are patenting, or claiming ownership, of traditional medicinal plants although indigenous people have used such plants for generations.

"In many cases, these companies do not recognise indigenous people's traditional ownership of such knowledge and deprive them of their fair share in the economic, medical or social benefits that accrue from the use of their traditional knowledge or practices."

He said the study and workshop was timely and would catapult Sabah into a leading position in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

"Traditional healers are very old and dwindling in number by the day.

"There is a danger of traditional knowledge disappearing soon.

"Advancement in science and technology has also made it easier for people to obtain medicine to treat their sicknesses.

"Hence, most of the younger generation are not interested in carrying on the tradition."

The ethno-forestry study is aimed at exploring and documenting indigenous knowledge and practice of the communities in the Imbak Canyon area.

The long-term project is being carried out under the Yayasan Sabah-Petronas Imbak Canyon Conservation Partnership.