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Helping communities worldwide

MGU-the Useful Plants Project (UPP) aims to increase the capacity of local communities to store and propagate plant species that are most useful to their well-being.
Traditional healer being interviewed by a lady
Interview with a traditional healer during a workshop in Tharaka, Kenya, November 2007 (Photo T. Ulian)

The Useful Plants Project began in June 2007 and has grown from a proposal made to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank by a philanthropist based in Spain. The name MGU reflects the generous support provided by this philanthropist for the work of the Useful Plants Project.

The project is managed by Kew’s Seed Conservation Department (SCD) through the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership in Botswana, Kenya, Mali, Mexico and South Africa. Many inhabitants of these countries depend directly on natural vegetation for everyday needs such as food, medicine, fuel and building materials. Plants are faced with a range of threats that include climate change, over-exploitation, shortage of water, habitat loss and invasion of exotic species.

The Useful Plants Project will help communities become better equipped to face such challenges by improving their livelihoods and using the surrounding resources in a more sustainable way.

In the participating countries, the main activities of the project include:


African baobab tree with people stood in front to show enormous size
The African baobab (Adansonia digitata), widely used by local communities in Africa as a source of water, food and medicine (Photo T. Ulian, RBG Kew).
  • Identification of target species - through research and by engaging with local communities, plants that are most useful to people are identified and prioritised.
  • Seed collection and conservation - seeds are conserved in the countries where they are collected with duplicates stored at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. This means that there is always a reserve of seeds available to regenerate these plants in the future.
  • Plant propagation and support for in situ (on-site) conservation - The conservation capabilities of local communities are enhanced through training and improvement of local facilities. Research is carried out to support the conservation and sustainable use of the most important useful plants.


  • International UPP Coordinator: Dr. Tiziana Ulian
  • UPP Scientific Coordinator: Dr. Efisio Mattana
  • UPP Project Officer: Alex Hudson