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Project MGU - the Useful Plants Project

Project MGU* - the Useful Plants Project, aims to enhance the ex situ conservation of native useful plants for human wellbeing by building the capacity of local communities to successfully conserve and use these species sustainably.
Community project nursery in Tharaka, Kenya (Photo: T. Ulian)

Many inhabitants in developing 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.

Since 2007 the project has been working with partners in Botswana, Kenya, Mali, Mexico and South Africa to conserve and sustainably use indigenous plants which are important to local communities. The main components of the project include:

  • Targeting and prioritising useful plants with local communities
  • Ex situ conservation of useful plants through seed banking
  • Propagation and conservation of useful plants in local communities
  • Research to enable conservation and sustainable use of plants
  • Sustainable use and income generation from useful plants
  • Supporting in situ conservation of useful plants

1,480 taxa have been identified through research and by engaging local communities. 703 seed collections of 622 useful plant species have been collected and conserved in country with duplicates stored in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. These have been tested and germinated and 282 propagation protocols have been developed. The capacity of 24 communities (37 local community groups) to conserve and use sustainably a wide range of plant species has been enhanced through training and the improvement of local facilities: 26 useful plants gardens have been established and 15 plant nurseries enhanced in the local communities. 371 species have been propagated in country and 263 (67,862 seedlings) of these have been planted in over 40 local community and school gardens involving more than 6,000 farmers and students.

Research has been carried out on 289 useful plant species and has included ethnobotanical, phytochemical, plant physiological and plant population studies, DNA profiling and in vitro propagation with over 27 students supervised. Information about the use, conservation and propagation of the species has been compiled in leaflets, booklets, technical information sheets and posters which have been disseminated in country in order to conserve the associated traditional knowledge and to safeguard it. In addition, the project has been successfully working with 39 schools in the villages and has led to the establishment of environmental clubs, school plant nurseries and gardens.

All the targets set for the first phase (2007-2010) were exceeded. During the second phase (2011-2014) the project worked to enhance the conservation of native useful plants in the communities, and to promote income generation through the sustainable use of plants or their products. Across all countries 37 species have been selected to generate income for local communities.

In the second phase, the project has also been scaled up by doubling the number of communities involved within the existing countries and by the inclusion of additional useful plants on the target list. The project has also been expanded into Burkina Faso and Malawi, where it has been linked to forestry activities. It has been supporting existing species reintroduction and reforestation programmes with 16 useful species now planted and monitored within woodlots, restoration plots and sacred forests.

*The name MGU reflects the generous support provided by the philanthropist who funds the work of the Useful Plants Project.

Project partners and collaborators

  • The Botswana College of Agriculture (BCA)
  • Communities of Tsetseng (south west), Pilikwe (north east Botswana) and Shaikarawe (north west Botswana)
  • Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI)
  • The National Museums of Kenya (NMK)
  • The Genebank of Kenya at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)
  • Community groups from the Tharaka (north east Kenya), Siaya and Nyamira districts (west Kenya)
  • Institut d’Economie Rurale (Rural Economics Institute, IER) in the Regional Centre in Sikasso
  • Département de la Médecine Traditionnelle (Traditional medicine department, DMT) of the Institut National de Recherche en Santé Publique (National Public Health Research Institute, INRSP)
  • Université de Bamako (University of Bamako)
  • Communities of Bla,Kadiolo, Katélé, Koutiala, Kokélé, Sesso, Sikasso (south east of Mali), Yanfolila, Bougouni (central of Mali), Bandiangara and Bankass (central east of Mali).
  • Facultad de Estudios Superiores Iztacala, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (FESI-UNAM)
  • Facultad de Ciencias, UNAM
  • Universidad de Alicante, Madrid, Spain
  • Communities of San Rafael Coxcatlán, San José Tilapa and Guadalupe Victoria (central-southern Mexico)
South Africa
  • Lowveld National Botanical Garden (Nelspruit) - South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).
  • The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA)
  • Mpumalanga Department of Education
  • Community groups/schools from the Lowveld region (Mpumalanga Province)