Medicinal Plants Workshop

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 ANSAPP’s 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 can’t 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.         


More on Daily Life and other stuff

So I've had some requests for some more about my experiences and what's going on with me. Here's the Questions:
  • What is my host family like? Well I'm living with an elderly widow named Rose. She is called Mommy by everyone. A number of previous EWB volunteers have stayed here at some point. I was set up here by Mike Quinn, who was the first, and is currently a Long term EWB volunteer based out of Livingston. Rose is really nice, and lives up to her nickname. It has been really easy to settle in here. So it's just the two of us living in a two bedroom house. There are times when it gets kinda boring with no one else around, but the rest of the time I really appreciate the quiet and the space I have to just decompress after a long day. Rose's Son, lives near by with his wife and two small children. They usually drop by for a visit in the evenings and the kids usually find me entertaining.
  • How is the food? Well the first week I spent living in this house, I didn't eat much. My diet was bread and jam. I fell ill my first day here. The usual travelers diareah complicated with Fever. But slowly I've been getting used to eating Nshima and vegetables and meat/chicken. The food is alright. I wouldn't say it's really good, nor would I say it's really bad. It tastes a little bland at times, but I'm used to food with some serious spice. Luckily there are some really decent chilli peppers that are available here that add some flavour to any dish.
  • How am I dealing with the bucket shower? I'm dealing well. At first it was really awkward but I'm getting used to it. The house doesn't have a bathtub, but rather a shower stall. Now you ask, why I don't take a shower when there's a shower stall. Well because there's no hot water, and in the mornings the tap water is usually pretty cold. So the only option is to boil water on the stove, and mix into a bucket of cold water for a perfect bathing blend.
  • How am I dealing with the commute? I'm dealing! The walk to work, which takes me about an hour, has begun to feel like nothing. I find myself spacing out a bit while walking and not realizing how far I've gone, and surprising myself when I reach a turning point or landmark. The return trip home is becoming equally routine. The minibus to Kulima Towers bus station, the connection back out to my neighbourhood, I don't think about it much anymore, it's become routine.
  • Is Paprika a Pepper and is it eaten fresh off the plant? Paprika is a pepper. But I don't think anyone eats it fresh off the plant. Some may, but the bulk of the paprika is either dried and crushed for sale as a spice, or processed for its oil, which becomes an ingredient in various things such as medicines.
  • Background of ANSAPP staff: The staff do not come from any particular cultural background. I think most of them do have farming roots as well as formal educations in some aspect of agriculture.
The past two weeks have been really busy for me. I've spent a lot of time out of the office at various field sites and trainings. I will be writing up some reports on those as well as some updates on the Mungongo nut project soon, so stay tuned!


Field Visit # 2 – Paprika Farmers, Chisamba District 06/08/06

The purpose of this visit was to meet with paprika farmers to see how their paprika harvest was progressing, as well as deliver some woven polyethylene sacks in which the graded paprika is to be packaged for transport to the processing facility.

In this area, the paprika harvest is in full swing. They suspect the crop to be completely harvested and ready to ship within a few weeks. There were no complaints here about the weather etc. Here the crop yield is high.

This area is home to the Chipembi Farm College. This is an agricultural college run by the Anglican Church to teach farmers proper farming techniques. Here students, who have just gradated high school, undergo classroom instruction as well as practical field work, with a large field area, complete with irrigation, for students to plant and maintain their own crops. The crops the students grow are sold to help with costs. The paprika seedling nursery for the local community was established at the college because of the excellent irrigation facilities present. Once the seedlings were ready they were transplanted to individual farmers fields. At the college we met with Mr. Namasumo, who is the head of production and a lecturer. He showed us the current paprika crop, the drying stands used to dry the paprika, as well as the graded bales they have already produced.

Paprika starts life off as a seed in a highly controlled nursery, where it is allowed to germinate and grow into a seedling. In the nursery, the seedlings are taken through a hardening process to ensure their survival upon transplanting. When the seedlings have reached a specified size, they are transplanted to the growing fields. In this case the nursery was established by a farmers co-operative, who then shared in the seedlings, and will then sell all their harvested paprika through ASNAPP to the processor.

Once the seedling is transplanted, it will take about 8-9 weeks before the first flowers appear. From the time the first flowers appear, it will take about 3-4 months before each flower becomes a pod, and the pod is ready to be picked. Picked pods are then dried before baling. The preferred method of drying is on elevated drying stands which allow for the paprika to evenly dry, and remain relatively free of contamination from animals. Most farmers in this area, since it is their first time growing Paprika, have yet to invest in the drying stands, and thus have opted to dry their Paprika on the ground.

The paprika plant will continue flowering at 2-4 week intervals depending on the sunlight, moisture available and disease rate (disease may cause the plant to become dormant). The variety being grown here is Papri-King, which is an open pollinated variety and tends to be quite disease resistant, although not immune, it responds very well and quickly to chemicals to treat any disease.

The Paprika grown by this co-op is bound for a processing plant, here, in Zambia (which hopefully I’ll be visiting in the near future), which will process the paprika and extract the oil, rather than into a dry spice.

This was a very fast visit, but it showed me how things are generally supposed to work. Although not 100%, The farmers here are doing a really good job with their paprika. The bulk of the crop is of Grade A or B. The only real criticisms was the techniques they were using to dry the paprika and the fact that some of the farmers had tended to neglect their fields once the harvest began, allowing an overgrowth of weeds. But overall, the results shown in this area are very encouraging, which means farmers will be willing to grow paprika again next season.


Field Visit # 1 – Chanyanya, Kafue District.

Paprika – Training on Harvesting and Quality Control

On May 31st. I had the opportunity to make my first field visit. I traveled with an Extension Officer from ASNAPP-Zambia to the village of Chanyanya on the banks of the Kafue River. There we met with representatives from two farmers groups who are engaged in the cultivation of Paprika, The Chanyanya Farmers group, which has 61 members, and the Katuya Cumbele Women’s Group (Which roughly translates to “Lets Go!” Women’s Group, I am told), with 12 members.

Chanyanya, is on the banks of the Kafue River, roughly 70 km south of Lusaka near the town of Kafue. The river is a great resource of fish, and is the village’s main industry, and the source of many of it’s problems. Many youth, flock to the fishing boats instead of going to school. Either they can’t afford school, or they want to make a buck fishing. This is leads to a very high illiteracy rate. The fishing industry also brings in many outsiders who wish to buy and sell their fish. Most of the market selling is done by women, who I am told also sell themselves along side their fish to visiting fishermen and fish merchants. This prostitution has lead to a very high rate of HIV/AIDS in the area. Efforts are being made to encourage agriculture, and further, the cultivation of certain cash crops along side staple crops, like Paprika, to enable the people of the area to increase their income from agriculture, and become less dependant on fishing.

The purpose of this visit was to gauge how the farmers who had joined onto the paprika program were doing as we are in the midst of the harvest season, giver a refresher on when to harvest the paprika and how to grade, and too see who has started planning/preparations for the next planting before the next rainy season begins. (October/November).

The session was a participatory session, which enabled the farmers to voice their concerns, as well as learn from one another about best practices. Some of the major problems that limited the paprika production from this past year were initially a lack of water to start seedlings, and then when the rains did come, too much rain. Since Chanyanya is on the Kafue Rivers flood plains, the soil is quick to become water logged, which lead to flooded fields and drowned seedlings. Some other problems were also identified, which seemed to stem from farmer negligence.

Also assessed was the number of farmers who were planning on growing paprika again in the next season, and more specifically who were planning on growing irrigated paprika (irrigated through the use of a treadle pump). Currently 11 farmers in the area have treadle pumps through this paprika project. Most of them still have not paid for their pumps, as there was a payment arrangement that was dependant on the paprika crop. However since the crop has failed in the area for two years running, the payments were never made.

Some conclusions that were drawn from the discussions were that the farmers are still not taking Paprika serious as a crop but are willing to try it out. Which is very understandable, as they can’t feed their families with paprika. They are also using the treadle pumps for cultivation of other vegetable crops, and neglecting the paprika. This was not an encouraging finding. Farmers were asked to show their commitment to Paprika, by starting the preparations of their seedling nurseries, or their treadle pumps will be redistributed, as there are other areas where farmers are successfully growing paprika, and require treadle pumps. A follow up visit was scheduled in a couple weeks time to see what progress has been made.

ASNAPP is pushing the growing of paprika, because there is a market for it, and prices are very good, especially when compared to the maize or cotton (the other crops the other crops grown for market in the area). Growing Paprika as their main crop, and maize as their secondary crop (only enough for their own consumption) would mean increased income for the farmers leading to all around well being.

For me, this was a very fascinating experience. During training, we spent a lot of time doing case studies where we examined and practised participatory techniques. I was able to see the techniques in action, and also see some of the real problems that come out during these sorts of sessions. I did not actively participate in the session, I was able to sit and observe aided by the local Community Development Officer for interpretation/translation.

One thing that I found surprising, is that the farmers were so quick to try to find someone else or something to blame for the failure of their crop,(like the lead farmer for not teaching them, too much rain, too little rain, ASNAPP for not monitoring) rather than try and take some responsibility for themselves (insufficient weeding, not buying fertilizer, not controlling pests, contact farmers not reporting to ASNAPP). I always thought that trying to transfer blame for failure was a Western attitude, but I guess it’s pretty universal. I should also add that I had a very limited view of this village as it was my first time there, and I only spent a few hours there. I hope to return to this village to what else is going on there apart from the illiteracy, HIV/AIDS, and failing paprika, hopefully something positive.