International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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Conserving Biological and Cultural Diversity in Drylands -
Best Practice Examples from East Africa and South America

Rainer W. Bussmann

The University of Texas at Austin, Section of Integrative Biology, Austin, United States


Scientists widely agree that species extinction has heavily accelerated in the last decades. The majority of the world’s scientific efforts have been concentrated on tropical forest, while the biologically and culturally diverse drylands have been neglected. A grave problem for the conservation of diversity is the still very fragmentary knowledge of the ecology of most species.
Attempts of sustainable management and conservation must integrate local communities and their traditional knowledge. Management decisions need to include the high importance of natural resources in providing building materials, food and medicines for rural as well as urbanized communities. The traditional use of resources, particularly of non-timber products like medicinal plants, has deep roots not only in indigenous communities, but is practiced in a wide section of society. The use of medicinal herbs is often an economically inevitable alternative to expensive western medicine. The base knowledge of this traditional use is passed from one generation to the next. Especially the medical use represents a highly dynamic, always evolving process, where new knowledge is constantly being obtained, and linked to traditional practices.
An increased emphasis is being placed en possible economic benefits especially of the medicinal use of natural products instead of pure timber harvesting – an approach particularly appealing to countries with difficult economic conditions. Examples from Eastern Africa and South America are used to show the effects of an integrated approach to conserve biological and cultural diversity.