Brazil

Brazil
Kew has a long history of collaboration with Brazil, both in Amazonia and the less familiar drylands of the Northeast. Long-term projects on Floras are now complemented by focused studies on the uses of plants for the benefit of local people, with PNE being Kew's premier project on sustainable development.


Flora of an Amazonian Forest

THE 'Projeto Flora e Vegetaceo da Amazonia Central' is a collaborative project between Kew and the Instituto Nacionol de Pesquisas da Amazonia, co-ordinated and funded by the ODA. The principal aim of the project is to produce an accurate listing and comprehensive flora of the Reserva Florestal Ducke - a 100 square kilometer area of virgin forest on the outskirts of Manaus. This forest is perhaps the most studied in Amazonian Brazil and contains over 2,000 species of plants. Prof. Ghillean Prance is the scientific head of the project and Dr Mike Hopkins is employed by ODA in the field. Scientists from botanical institutions in Brazil, the USA and Europe (including about ten botanists from Kew) are collaborating in producing the Flora. Unlike mony other projects, this study is being based more on the characteristics of living plants than preserved ones.

Research in Amazonia is ofen humpered by difficulties in identifying plants, especiaily as they are often without flowers or fruits. Specialists are few and overworked, and thus an important product of the Ducke project will be an identification guide to the plants occurring in the reserve. This will use simple and mainly visual clues towords identification, and it will be the first identification guide to a neotropical forest that is based primarily on vegetative characters.

Gustavia augusta in the Ducke reserve

Contact: Dr Mike Hopkins (email: mike@cr-am.rnp.br)


Hunting for Anti-Malarial Plants in the Amazon

IN THE FORESTS AND SAVANNAS of the northern Brazilian Amazon, William Milliken is searching for effective medicines for malaria, in collaboration with the University of Brasilia. Malaria is an increasing problem in tropical countries, where resistance to quinine-based medicines threatens to increase an already massive annual death toll.

This search, however, is not for new pharmaceutical products, but for a practical solution to a local problem. The Yanomami Indians, the largest surviving indigenous group in Brazilian Amazonia, were living in almost complete isolation until the late 1980s when thousonds of gold prospectors invaded their land. The prospectors introduced malaria, a disease which most Yanomami had never experienced and had no knowledge of how to treat with medicinal plants. Many people died and, although the problem is now more or less under control through the efforts of health teams, the situation remains serious.

Some indigenous groups in the region, such as the Maiongong, Macuxi, and Wai-Wai,have a longer history of contact with the outside world, and have discovered local plants to treat malaria. These plants are being recorded and studied by William in the field, and then tested for their effectiveness in Brazil and the UK. Preliminary results are encouraging, with a high proportion of locally recommended species showing antimalarial activity. Information on the most effective and least toxic plants will be passed back to the communities from where they were collected, and also to the Yanomami. The knowledge of local anti-molarial plants should help to reduce the Yanomami's dependence on pharmaceutical products and, since these are not always available, it may save lives.

In this way, ethnobotanical research can be used to help bridge the gaps between indigenous people and facilitate the transfer of vital knowledge between them.

Yanomami man with ceremonial feathers

Contact: William Milliken (0181 332 5783)

THIS PROJECT IS FUNDED BY THE BARING FOUNDATION AND THE ERNEST COOK TRUST.


Flora of the Pico Das Almas

THE FLORA of the Serra do Espinhaco hus been the subject of a long-term study by botanists from Kew, the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and other institutions in the region, and contributes to an exciting project on the 'Biodiversity of the Campos Rupestres of NE Brazil'. The Serra, a 2000m high massif of ancient Pre-Cambrian rocks which stretches over 1000 km through the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais, has an immensely rich and highly specialised flora, with unparalleled local endemism. Orchids, bromeliads, everlasting flowers of the Eriocaulaceae and striking Vellozia 'tree-lilies' are particularly prominent. The IUCN recently selected the region as a world Centre of Biodiversity.

Accounts have been published of several focal points of high diversity in the range: the Serra do Cipo and the Serra do Ambrosio in Minss Gerais by USP (with that of Grao Mogol nesring completion), and Mucuge in Bahia by Kew. These studies have detected plant distribution patterns that indicate the evolutionary history of the flora during Quaternary times. The latest Kew book is an account of the Pico das Almas, one of the highest peaks in Bahia, which hus been the subject of a series of joint visits by botanists from Brazil and Kew since 1974. The Flora, edited by Brian Stannard, provides keys and descriptions to the species found on the mountain (over 1,200 including over 75 recently described new species) and represents a colloboration by over 80 plant specialists from around the world. It will be important for the study of Brazilian montane flora, not only to biologists but also to all concerned with conserving the area.

An Orthophytum (Bromeliaceae) recorded from the Pico das Almas.

Contact: Brian Stannard (0181-332 5432)

Email: Brian Stannard


Plantas do Nordeste - Update Plantas do Nordeste (PNE) is a multi-disciplinary research programme, initiated by Kew, that contributes to the identification and sustainable use of the plant resources in the drylands of northeast Brazil. It began in 1992 with start-up funds from Shell and then a considerable grant from the Weston Family. PNE combines conservation and improvement of ecosystems with positive socio- economic benefits, and involves partnerships with local universities, and governmental and non-government organisations in Brazil.

Traditional medecine, tried and scientifically tested, enables the poor to have access to affordable treatment.

Contact: Karen Pipe-Wolferstan (0181-332 5710)

PNE is now established as an 'Association' with charitable and legal status in Brazil. It has developed strong links with CNPq, the National Council for Scientific & Technical Development, securing over 500,000 in the form of research and training grants. Funding to expand the information, dissemination and training elements of PNE is being sought from the British Government and 'Brazilianisation' of the programme is underway with a Brazilian general manager expected to be appointed by July 1995.

Two projects were started in 1994 with a focus on the biodiversity of the Chapada Diamantina mountain range in Bahia state and the 'Brejos' (upland relict forests) of Pernambuco state, with funds from the Rufford Foundation and Darwin Initiative respectively. The first eight economic botany projects will finish by the end of 1995; these are covering medicinal and forage plants, and involve identification, ethnobotany, applied research and sustainable management of these plant resources.

The knowledge gained from PNE research is now being passed to those who can benefit from it, through practical demonstrations within communities, 'hands- on' training, audio-visual aids and other information products. Future projects will build on past results and introduce new research related to apiculture and energy sources. Fund-raising is now a major priority if PNE is to continue to bring the benefits of practical research on plants to local people into the 21st century.


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