Scientists widely agree that species extinction has heavily accelerated in the last decades. A grave problem for the conservation of diversity is the still very fragmentary knowledge of the ecology of most species. Attempts of sustainable management and conservation must integrate local communities and their traditional knowledge. Management decisions need to include the high importance of natural resources in providing building materials, food and medicines for rural as well as urbanized communities. The traditional use of plant resources, particularly of non-timber products like medicinal plants, has deep roots not only in indigenous communities, but is practiced in a wide section of society. The use of medicinal herbs is often an economically inevitable alternative to expensive western medicine. The base knowledge of this traditional use is passed from one generation to the next. Especially the medical use represents a highly dynamic, always evolving process, where new knowledge is constantly being obtained, and linked to traditional practices. An increased emphasis is being placed en possible economic benefits especially of the medicinal use of plant products instead of pure timber harvesting-an approach particularly appealing to countries with difficult economic conditions. Examples from Eastern Africa and South America are being used to show the effects of integrated approaches to conserve biological and cultural diversity.

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