UNDP Around the world

972 Egypt - Conservation & Sustainable Use of Native Biodiversity Resources used for Herbal, Medicinal, Pharmaceutical & Cosmetic Purposes (MPCP)

972 Egypt - Conservation & Sustainable Use of Native Biodiversity Resources used for Herbal, Medicinal, Pharmaceutical & Cosmetic Purposes (MPCP)Photo: / UNDP

Located at the northeastern corner of Africa and the western extension of Asia, Egypt contains two biogeographical corridors that link the tropics in the south with the palearctics in the north. Egypt harbors a variety of ecosystems, including three WWF Global 200 Ecoregions (Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Mediterranean Forest, Woodland and Scrubs), all of which are classified as critical/endangered. The country has a generally dry, hot climate and arid terrain. Many species of fauna and flora are adapted to deserts, with many species endemic to the region. With the national population approaching 77 million people, the country's biodiversity faces significant human-induced pressures.

This GEF-funded project, the Medicinal Plants Conservation Project (MPCP), is located in Saint Katherine Protectorate (SKP), a major storehouse of diversity for medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), and the habitat of approximately half of the country's endemic plants. Of the 472 plant species found in the area, more than 100 are used for medicinal purposes; these MAPs have great significance to the local Bedouin communities. However, many species have been overexploited, and are thus threatened with local extinction. As several species are endemic, this would translate to the global loss of these species.

This project, which is co-financed by the Government of Egypt and a number of partner organizations, aims at engineering the sustainable utilization of these plants by local Bedouin communities. The MPCP is developing the capacity of the Bedouin community to cultivate and sustainably harvest wild MAPs in abandoned orchards and gardens inside the nature protectorate, thus reducing pressures on wild stocks of threatened species. The MPCP is the first project in Egypt to test and apply community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) in a structured manner to conserve biodiversity and sustain local livelihoods.

Thus far, the initiative has created more than 200 direct jobs, indirectly improving the welfare of more than 1000 people. Women are major beneficiaries of the initiative; 95% of the wild collectors of medicinal plants in SKP are women. The project's efforts to strengthen the value chain for medicinal plants,in part, by supporting the development of small businesses run by women to process medicinal plants, is directly improving their welfare. Besides supporting the development of small businesses to produce medicinal plants, the project helps to provide these businesses with access to niche markets that maximize the price they receive for produce. Additional noteworthy achievements include:

Developing national regulation. The project has contributed to the development of an access and benefit-sharing regulatory framework at the national level in conjunction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries engaged in trade and intellectual property rights. This legal framework has emerged as a necessary condition for the sustainable management and use of wild MAPs.

Community outreach and awareness-raising. The project's dynamic website serves as an interface with and resource for the outside world. Position Papers on CBNRM and a Digital Medicinal Plants Herbarium, which consists of more than 800 herbarium sheets, have recently been published on the website. The project recently held a successful awareness-raising campaign that included the participation of 543 students representing 20 local schools.

Micro-credit scheme. The Medicinal Plants Association (MPA), established with project support, is managing a micro-credit scheme to finance small scale projects that reduce pressure on medicinal plants. More than 400 families have benefited from this program's useful projects, including MAP farms, solar heaters, firewood outlets, butane cookers and beehives.

Potential for replication. The project has become a model for Egypt, and possibly for the region, in terms of applying sound science and analysis to make decisions regarding biodiversity management. Having opted to work with the largest and most influential tribe in the South Sinai, the project has the potential to replicate its approach within the six other tribes of this region. Additionally, the project has taken a proactive approach to knowledge codification and sharing, producing policy papers that provide overviews of its processes: threat analysis; scenario planning; CBNRM; and in-situ ecosystem rehabilitation. Because of their structure and substance, these papers provide a way for the project to transfer its knowledge and potentially for the project to become a best practice for replication elsewhere.