An Investigation into the Trade of Medicinal Plants by Muthi Shops and Street Vendors in the Limpopo Province, South Africa
A study of the role played by muthi shops and street vendors on the trade of indigenous medicinal plants of the Limpopo Province was undertaken in order to develop strategies that will prevent further loss of wild population. This study further investigated the conservation status and in situ availability of targeted medicinal plants, as well as suitable methods to replace wild collections with cultivated ones. Existing environmental legislation was interrogated to ascertain its effectiveness in practice.
Nearly 231 medicinal plants were traded at the 16 investigated muthi shops and street vendors, accounting for a calculated 0.96 tonnes of plant material traded annually. Roots were the most preferred item traded. Open access communal lands are the main supply source for muthi markets, coupled with the destructive harvesting methods and involvement of unscrupulous middlemen in collecting medicinal material possesses a serious impact on the survival of medicinal plants. The above factors have already led to a significant decline in the availability of some species in the Limpopo Province.
The cultivation of the eight most frequently encountered medicinal species was investigated. Cultivation information provided by indigenous nurseries indicates that medicinal plant species can be cultivated.
Efforts to protect species through national and provincial legislation have been ineffective. Environmental laws were totally unknown by all of muthi traders interviewed. Unregulated exploitation of medicinal plants continued regardless of the fact that environmental compliance officers are aware of legislative protection given to specific species and plants in general.
Failure to stabilize the status of medicinal plants in Limpopo Province will have not only negative effect on the Province environment, but also on the overall health status of the majority of people living in Limpopo Province.