On Monday the 17th November the conference Ethnobotany 2014: la riqueza de un legado got started in Córdoba, Spain (http://www.etnobotanica2014.com). Its opening lecture, entitled ‘The transformation of ethnobotany’ was given by Vernon H. Heywood, Emeritus Professor from the University of Reading.
Professor Heywood reviewed the major accomplishments and changes in ethnobotany that happened in the last twenty years, stressing the importance of recognizing ethical issues central to ethnobotanical work and the new legal frames that regulate research nowadays: mentioning especially the CBD, the Nagoya Protocol and CITES. Emphasis was also put in the need for ethnobotany to become more empirical, evidence-based, moving forward from anecdotic reports towards hypothesis driven research. The role of other disciplines such as evolutionary biology, molecular biology, and economics to cite a few was acknowledged to be nourishing and enhancing the fields’ development with new methods and approaches. He discussed changes in two main objects of study of ethnobotany: medicinal plants and food.
According to Professor Heywood, the roles of food in the Western world are changing. We don’t eat just to satisfy our hunger anymore, but we want to “eat foods that will do things” for us (keep us young, keep us healthy). Ethnobotany plays a role in identifying and revalorizing neglected and underutilized crop species (NUS). While this trend is increasingly important in Western industrialized countries, the loss of traditional knowledge and traditional gastronomic practises is happening globally and we are well aware of biodiversity loss. Ethnobotanists should contribute to document traditional knowledge about food and the cultural values and beliefs where this knowledge is embedded.
Ethnopharmacological prospection of traditional pharmacopoeias has also seen major changes in the last twenty years. Research is now regulated by international agreements and protocols that legislate access to traditional knowledge and genetic resources and sharing benefits with local communities with whom ethnobotanists work. However, it was noted that even though the Nagoya protocol came into effect this last month of October, it would take time until national legislation and administration across the globe were able to understand it and implement it.
Professor Heywood concluded that in the present context of a growing world’s population, which is increasingly urban, ethnobotany, enriched with the varying approaches and techniques from a variety of other scientific disciplines, plays a central role in ensuring food security and global well-being.