From June 12th to June 17th, I was at a Medicinal Plants workshop hosted by ASNAPP-Zambia. The theme of the workshop specifically was Formulation of Sustainable and Quality Standard Natural Medicinal Plant Products. This workshop falls in with ANSAPPs involvement in the Partnership for Food Industry Development in Natural Products (PFID/NP). Professor Mazuru Gundiza from the University of South Africa facilitated the workshop. Prof. Gundiza is a chemist by training, and an expert on natural medicinal plants and medicines.
ANSAPP served as the host for the workshop, which was held at the Barn Motel, about 20 km east of Lusaka. All staff from ASNAPP was involved with the workshop in some form, and most was also participating in the workshop. My role was to take note of any discussions and/or questions that would arise during sessions that wasnt covered in the prepared course manual.
During the workshop, Participants learned various techniques of processing plant material into various products, specifically: Capsules, Creams, Tinctures, Ointments, Lotions, Salves, Decoctions, Inhalations, Infusions and Herbal teas. Also presented was an outline for a business plan such that participants could leave the workshop primed to start their own business.
The workshop covered a large amount of information, however, I felt that much of it wasnt presented in enough detail. The procedures for preparing some of the products are somewhat complex, and require more time to learn properly. The workshop, I felt was more of a stepping stone to allow would be entrepreneurs a place to start from to produce products from natural plants. However if a person were to seriously wish to create a business, they would be required to do further research and practice into the techniques presented.
I was in a unique position as I was able to take a fly on the wall place during the sessions. This was valuable as it allowed me to observe the proceedings and people. One aspect of people that I was observing was their attitudes specifically towards natural products. There were a number of people there who had already made natural products a business and were making money from it, and it seemed were there mainly to promote their own businesses and products. There were also those who genuinely believed in the power of natural medicines and really wanted to bring them to people who really needed them. Also present were those who wanted just to learn for themselves, and did not really intend to go into business, but rather just produce products for themselves. Out of all the attitudes I found the first, Make Money attitude the most disturbing, as none of the people seemed to have any plan, or desire to make these medicines available to those who desperately need them. An argument made against this was that these are natural remedies, that people are free to use, if they cant use them on their own, and need help, then they will have to pay for it. But the problem is the knowledge of these remedies is not as widespread as it may have been in previous generations. With conventional medicines being the mainstay of medical treatment, and natural medicines being rejected by doctors and clergy for many years as witchcraft. The teaching of these techniques ceased and has died with the older generations. So there is need to re-learn these techniques and remedies. However these business people seem to have no desire to teach, just to sell.
Hope is not lost though. As ASNAPP and many at the workshop have a clear vision about natural products and their promotion, including the establishment of a college of natural medicine which would provide accessible education about natural remedies, along with work to re-integrate natural remedies into the mainstream healthcare of Zambia. To this end, the Natural Products Association of Zambia was formed at the end of the workshop. Although still requiring official registration, the association will begin the process of networking individuals and organizations that are dealing with natural products, so that they may all work together to further natural products.
I found the formation of the association to be very inspiring. It is always fantastic to see a group of people come together towards a common goal, especially something so basic and natural as natural medicines/products. I do have a bit of scepticism about whether or not it will succeed, as the differing attitudes I mentioned earlier, will create an interesting dynamic in the governance of the association, which will ultimately set its direction. However with ASNAPP in a key role in this association, there is some assurance that there will always be a voice for the more altruistic possibilities of natural products.
(sorry, no pictures worth posting for this one, I'll show you when I get back)
Next entry will be about a week spent with an Argentinean Doctor from New Jersey and our trip to Chipata.