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Dr Kwadwo Kyenkyehene Kusi

The aroma of Ghanaian dishes like banku and okra stew with fish is enough to get Dr Kwadwo Kyenkyehene Kusi’s juices flowing.

But it is the fate of the aromatic and medicinal plants of West Africa that command his attention.

Kusi’s project proposal for the JWO Research Grant is entitled “Forest-health-nutrition nexus: identifying, mapping and conserving common aromatic and medicinal plants along the climatic gradient in West Africa”.

His mission, through his research, is “to make known the location of aromatic and medicinal plants and their importance to society as well as the services they provide”.

Kusi says that “the revived interest around the world for aromatic and medicinal plants (AMP), coupled with expansion in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries has escalated the pressure on AMP and related resources”.

He says they “are being threatened and overexploited especially in Africa where the rural populations depend on them mostly for healthcare, food and socio-economic activities.”

This exploitation is made possible “because there is a lack of knowledge of the different characteristics of AMPs such as their taxonomy, distribution, ecology, presence, endemism etc.”

This jeopardises and leaves these plants vulnerable, he says. “There is no knowledge of the diversity and richness of AMPs along a climatic gradient and knowledge of the ones that are endangered or rare. Traditional knowledge of the AMPs has not really been harnessed in the different ecological zones in Africa and many of these traditional practices and usages have not been documented. Moreover, few people still practice its economic exploitation. National and regional data on AMPs are fragmented and scattered across West Africa whereas traditional practices and practical knowledge of AMPs are fading away with time.

This is why “there is a need to document and identify AMP species, their geographical distribution and their biological and ecological characteristics across West Africa.”

To rectify the problem, Kusi proposes to “create a comprehensive checklist of AMPs for the West African region. This will involve identifying and studying the taxonomy (family and genus/species) of common AMPs with the help of unmanned aerial systems in addition to traditional ground-based methods along the climatic gradient in different ecological zones.

“The project will study ethnobotanical and socio-economic activities of AMPs that are the most commercialised and consumed locally across the climatic gradient in the different ecological zones in West Africa through surveys. This involves documenting herbal medicines used by traditional healers to treat and manage human diseases and ailments by some communities. AMPs that are used for essential oil, aqueous macerates, phytomedicines, oil macerates, aqueous extracts, perfumery or cosmetics products, dry extracts, food supplements, spices, pesticides, hygiene, flavours etc. will all be documented.

“This will provide the basis to develop a complete database of common AMPs in West Africa. Maps will also be generated for the diversity, geographic location and ecological zones of common AMPs in West Africa. Endangered, rare and endemic AMPs will also be mapped for West Africa.”

He adds that “preservation of indigenous traditional knowledge of medicinal plants will help in the discovery and development of innovative drugs. This will serve as a platform for research into the curative power of medicinal plants that can be adopted by pharmaceutical industries for commercialisation. Indigenous cultural heritage is preserved from being lost for the use of both present and future generations.”


Dr Kwadwo Kyenkyehene Kusi is a research scientist at the CSIR-Forestry Research Institute of Ghana. His research interests are biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and remote sensing.