KABALE, UGANDA – Provia Kanyomozi’s career as an herbalist and medical practitioner in the southwestern Ugandan district of Kabale was in danger.
Kanyomozi inherited her profession from her mother. As a child, she gathered wild plants and herbs from the region’s lush highlands that her mother used in her practice.
But as the population grew in Kabale, she saw more and more forest become farmland.
“The reason for this was because the land had come under cultivation for food crops,” she says.
As a result, traditional practitioners faced threats to their professions.
“Our profession as hereditary traditional medical practitioners was endangered,” she says, “because most of the medicinal plants that form the raw materials for our work could no longer be found.”
At times, Kanyomozi says she needed to travel as far as 40 miles to gather the herbs needed for her practice.
“Since all of the plants grew in the wild at the mercy of nature, we had no way of ensuring their preservation,” she says.
As the forest disappeared, herbalists feared they would lose their indigenous knowledge with it, she says .
But their situation changed three years ago, when a researcher interested in the identification, conservation and domestication of rare medicinal plants arrived in the area, Kanyomozi says.
Anke Weisheit is the natural resources management specialist at Excel Hort Consult Ltd., an agribusiness company headquartered in Uganda. The company works with local communities to enhance agriculture and to improve food security and conservation.
In 2010, Weisheit arrived in Kabale with her colleague, Pamela Mbabazi, an associate professor at Mbarara University of Science and Technology.
Mbabazi managed to mobilize a number of practitioners, Kanyomozi says. During meetings with them, Weisheit saw that they had to gather most of their herbs from far away, and there was never any certainty of where they could obtain them next.
“Weisheit recommended to us the idea of domestication of the plants, and we immediately saw the benefits of this approach,” Kanyomozi says.
To strengthen their strategy, the traditional healers united. They formally launched Bunyonyi Batambi Kweterana Group in April 2010. The name of the group means Bunyonyi Healers Association in the Rukiga language and pays homage to the nearby Lake Bunyonyi.
Kanyomozi, now the chairwoman of Bunyonyi Batambi Kweterana Group, says that so far, the project been a success.
“Our gardens of the medicinal plants near our homes are getting bigger and better,” Kanyomozi says. “In a few years, we will be assured of the availability of most of the plants we use.”
As the herbs grow, so has interest in traditional healing methods.
“Although many of us have inherited the profession, we now train others who may be interested,” Kanyomozi says.
Soon after beginning the project with Weisheit, the community became acquainted with other conservation programs too.
Agricultural development, population growth and urbanization are fueling deforestation in Uganda. To tackle deforestation and its effects, one local organization is training communities in Kabale on