Is Harvesting Medicinal Plants for Medical Tourism Sustainable?

Raised of $6,052 Goal
Ended on 5/11/17
Campaign Ended
  • $670
  • 12%
  • Finished
    on 5/11/17

About This Project

Certain plant species are fundamental to the identity and longevity of cultural groups. Culturally important medicinal plants that are used for multiple purposes and have gained global attention are expected to be harvested frequently. I will identify medicinal plants that are culturally irreplaceable for local healers in Peru but that are used in medical tourism, and use mathematical models to investigate if and how harvesting these plants for medical tourism can be sustainable.

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What is the context of this research?

Understanding the risk posed by increasing species extinction on the traditional healing practices and longevity of cultural groups is critical for facilitating biocultural adaptation in a context of a changing world. Medicinal plant substitution is one strategy that is widely used by cultural groups to cope with ever changing environments. Ideally, such substitutions must be made without disrupting the efficacy or significance of traditional healing practices. Our understanding of cultural importance and irreplaceability of most medicinal plant species is still limited. Prior research has identified cultural keystone species by using quantitative indices however, it is unclear if these approaches are an adequate measure of species cultural keystone status.

What is the significance of this project?

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are plant and animal species that are often fundamental to the livelihoods and rural economies of cultural groups worldwide. Despite the local importance of NTFPs to rural communities, an increased global interest in these economically important plant species may result in greater rates of harvest and potentially lead to a decline in plant populations. Further, reduced yields from NTFP harvested populations may indicate a population decline and therefore warrant conservation. In this study, I am combining ethnoecological and demographic approaches to assess the impact of harvest of Banisteriopsis caapi (Malpighiaceae) bark and stems by local healers around the city of Iquitos, Peru and the Peruvian Amazon Region.

What are the goals of the project?

I will test if current qualitative / quantitative approaches used to measure cultural keystone species status are robust. I will identify medicinal plant species that are most under use pressure as a result of their cultural keystone status and measure if current rates of harvest are sustainable. To do so, I will conduct interviews with 60 healers in the Peruvian Amazon, conduct market studies, and use plant population dynamics to assess harvest sustainability.

I will work with UNAP / local healers to provide data for conservation organizations to aid in sustainable management of medicinal plants. I will work with local healers / NGO's to develop appropriate methods to present the results to local communities.


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Support from a local field assistant and field guide are critical for many projects to be well informed. I aim to hire one local field assistant and field guide from the Peruvian Amazon (near and around Iquitos Peru) to work with me in identifying culturally irreplaceable medicinal plant species that are likely to experience high harvest pressure as a result of their cultural importance and globalization. ($25/day for 80 days). Additionally, funds are needed for some equipment and transportation costs mainly for plant monitoring, identification/collection of plants, and interviews with local expert healers. I have funding for airfare, partial lodging and equipment costs as I am a recipient of the Richard Evans Schultes Award.

Endorsed by

I wish to express here my full support to the work of Michael Coe. He has the enthusiasm, the stamina, the openness and the will to learn that is a sine qua non condition for somebody working in the field of Amazonian ethnobotany.
Michael Coe is my graduate student working on his PhD in ethnobotany at UH Manoa. This project combines mathematical modeling and ethnobotany to investigate how changes in plant use by indigenous people, due to an emerging medical tourism, affect the sustainability of local plant use in Peru. This topic is often addressed separately by anthropologists and ecologists and Michael is bringing a unique perspective, integrating tools from both disciplines to further our understanding of plant-human interactions in a changing world.
Michael Coe’s important ethnobotanical fieldwork is a major undertaking, to understand the ecological and environmental context for the medicinal complex associated with ayahuasca. While the major ingredient plants have been well studied, other species associated with them in the vegetalismo tradition are poorly investigated. Michael’s work will fill in the back story of the cultural and ecological role of these plants and provide a more complete picture of vegetalismo as it is practiced.

Meet the Team

Michael Coe
Michael Coe
PhD. Candidate


Department of Botany, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana (UNAP)
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Michael Coe

The field of ethnobotany has offered unique opportunities for me to synthesize the study of two of my greatest passions— culture and the use of plants that are intrinsic to the identity of that culture. As a PhD candidate / ethnobotanist, I am committed to helping advance our scientific knowledge of the value and irreplaceability of these important plant species.

Previous Research I conducted in the Peruvian Amazon suggested that certain species of plants are of high cultural value to local healers and therefore irreplaceable. I also became aware of a growing interest in the ethnomedical traditions practiced by local healers and the rise in a global phenomenon associated with ayahuasca tourism. There is no doubt that the influx of tourists that travel to the Amazon each year in search of healing plants will lead to increased harvest pressure or over-harvesting of these culturally irreplaceable medicinal plants.

Therefore, I aim to help increase our awareness of the cultural importance of the vast ethnopharmacopeia employed by cultural groups of the Peruvian Amazon, particularly in regards to their ethnomedical practices and traditional botanical knowledge. Further, I aim to help promote sustainable use of many of these plant species that have gained global interest in the context of healing and/or ethnomedicine.

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Project Backers

  • 16Backers
  • 12%Funded
  • $670Total Donations
  • $41.88Average Donation
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