Calculating the Economic Value of Rainforest Preservation: Botanical Ethnomedicines

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Rainforest pharmacopeia in Madagascar provides high value for current local and prospective global uses

Christopher D. Golden, B. J. Rodolph Rasolofoniaina, E. J. Gasta Anjaranirina, Lilien Nicolas, Laurent Ravaoliny, and Claire Kremen
PLoS One
2012;7(7)
PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3407148
Makira Protected Area in Madagascar
Makira Protected Area in Madagascar (Source: Code REDD)

Researchers at Harvard University Center for the Environment, Madagascar Health and Environmental Research, University of California and Maroantsetra District Public Hospital calculated the economic value of botanical ethnomedicines in a rainforest region of Madagascar, the Makira Protected Area ([Code REDD] [Ministère de l’Environnement et des Forêts]).

From the introduction:

“The Malagasy’s use of ethnomedicines is not formalized into a traditional system of medicine with codified pharmacopeias (like Ayurvedic or Chinese ethnomedicine) but is transmitted by oral means and learned through participatory approaches. The majority of medicinal treatments fall into this category but a small fraction of treatments are reserved for the truly specialized spiritual healer, called ombiasa. The repertoire of medicines found in Madagascar is highly complex with a diverse range of species and treatment types. Providing a detailed monetary valuation of this ecosystem provisioning service will lend perspective to public health specialists, conservation planners, natural resource managers, and development agencies regarding the local importance of this service. Here we compare the value of this service to potential bioprospecting revenue and the UN-sponsored REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program to better understand the latent value of this ethnoknowledge and provide further evidence for supporting tropical forest conservation.”

The authors found that the great majority (>90%) of people living in the Makira rainforest area use botanical ethnomedicines, accessing them on average once a week. By matching the treated illnesses with a Western medicine counterpart when possible, the team calculated mean benefits of ethnomedicines per year at approximately USD 5.40–7.90 per person, USD 30.20–44.30 per household, and between USD 756,050–1,110,220 for all residents. Regarding potential value of the Makira rainforest area through the lens of commercial pharmaceutical development, based on a calculation of 1 to 18 potentially novel drugs derived from ethnomedicines used in the area, and using current average sales value of novel FDA-approved pharmaceuticals, the authors estimate that the protected area “could hold between $316 million to almost $6 billion of untapped revenue within its botanical diversity.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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