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Evidence in support of the role of disturbance vegetation for women’s health and childcare in Western Africa

Alexandra M Towns1*, Sofie Ruysschaert2, Esther van Vliet3 and Tinde van Andel1

Author Affiliations

1 Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden University, Darwinweg 4, P.O. Box 9517, 2300, RA Leiden, The Netherlands

2 Lab. Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture and Ethnobotany, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, B-9000, Gent, Belgium

3 Institute of Enviromental Biology, Utrecht University, Padualaan 8, 3584, CH Utrecht, The Netherlands

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2014, 10:42  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-10-42

Published: 8 May 2014



In savannah-dominated Bénin, West Africa, and forest-dominated Gabon, Central Africa, plants are a major source of healthcare for women and children. Due to this high demand and the reliance on wild populations as sources for medicinal plants, overharvesting of African medicinal plants is a common concern. Few studies in Western Africa, however, have assessed variations in harvest patterns across different ecological zones and within local communities.


We investigated which vegetation types women accessed to harvest medicinal plants by conducting 163 questionnaires with market vendors and women from urban and rural communities. We made botanical vouchers of cited species and collected information on their vegetation type and cultivation status.


Secondary vegetation was a crucial asset; over 80% of the 335 Beninese and 272 Gabonese plant species came from disturbance vegetation and home gardens. In Bénin, access to trade channels allowed female market vendors to use more vulnerable species than rural and urban women who harvested for personal use. In Gabon, no relationship was found between vulnerable plant use and informant type.


This study highlights the underemphasized point that secondary vegetation is an asset for women and children’s health in both savanna-dominated and forest-dominated landscapes. The use of disturbance vegetation demonstrates women’s resilience in meeting healthcare needs in the limited amount of space that is available to them. Species of conservation concern included forest species and savanna trees sold at markets in Bénin, especially Xylopia aethiopica, Khaya senegalensis, and Monodora myristica, and the timber trees with medicinal values in Gabon, such as Baillonella toxisperma.

Bénin; Gabon; Conservation; Disturbance vegetation; Medicinal plants; Non timber forest products; Sustainable extraction; Emic practices; Resilience; Socio-ecological systems