Project MGU* – the Useful Plants Project, aims to enhance the ex situconservation of native useful plants for human well-being by building the capacity of local communities to successfully conserve and use these species sustainably.

Many communities 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 communities
  • research to enable conservation and sustainable use of plants
  • Supporting in situ conservation of useful plants

On thousand four hundred and eighty taxa have been identified through research and by engaging local communities. Seven hundred and three seed collections of 622 useful plant species have been collected and conserved in the country with duplicates stored in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. These have been tested and germinated while 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. Twenty-six useful plants gardens have been established and 15 plant nurseries enhanced in the local communities.

Three hundred and seventy-one species have been propagated in the 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 these species has been compiled in leaflets, booklets, technical information sheets and posters which have been disseminated in countries 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.

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

The Project Partners in South Africa include:

  • Lowveld National Botanical Garden – 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)
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