July 30 - A United Nations-sponsored project in the harsh deserts of Egypt is helping save ancient medicinal herbs endangered by ongoing drought and unsustainable grazing practices. Bedouin tribes of the Sinai have relied on the plants for hundreds of years, but it may take the award-winning project to conserve them for future generations. Lily Grimes reports from Egypt.
In this harsh and seemingly barren landscape vegetation has a hard time thriving. But the Bedouins of the South Sinai in Egypt know how to find the medicinal herbs they have relied on for generations. This is Il Keaida, used to cure allergies. Like many of the 19 endemic plant species in the St Katherine's Protectorate Il Keaida - its on the brink of extinction. Here at the UN funded Medicinal Plants Association (MPA), 14 of these species have been successfully propagated and more than half a million seedlings transferred to the wild. But this is worth nothing if local people aren't stakeholders in the project. In the nearby village of Il Kweis, Jamea Salem Suleiman grows Habak, a type of mint, and sells the crop to the MPA. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) SMALLHOLDER, JAMEA SALEM SULEIMAN, SAYING: ''It's a good idea, instead of going to collect it from the mountains. Also because there is so little rain these days there isn't enough Habak in the mountains. So we started to plant it at our houses and to irrigate it; it's a good project.'' Back in Cairo, Project Manager Dr Adel Soliman is celebrating winning a $15,000 prize at the UN's Rio Earth Summit. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) UNDP PROJECT MANAGER, DR ADEL SOLIMAN, SAYING: ''The project's biggest achievements are first and foremost the active participation of the local community in efficiently managing and protecting their natural resources. Another success was the propagation of the medicinal plants which took a lot of effort and years of trial and error because of the lack of research materials available.'' At the MPA shop a small number of products are available to buy, but the sales potential of herbal tea and honey is barely tapped. In a deprived area like this, reliable income, like the endangered plants on the nearby mountains, is a rare asset and one worth nurturing. Lily Grimes, St Katherine's and Cairo, Egypt