1.1 The consumption of wild animals
1.2 Household consumption of forest plant foods
1.3 The use of forest resources in traditional medicine
1.4 Household consumption of fuelwood
1.5 Forest resources used for house construction
1.6 Household equipment and utensils made from forest products
There are a diverse range of ways the people from different parts of humid West Africa exploit their surrounding forests and fallow lands. Forests provide food, medicines, household equipment and building materials, raw materials for processing enterprises, and materials for agricultural and other equipment. While the extent of forest resource use varies by household in the region, it is clear from existing reports that forest products are still widely consumed. Regionally, bushmeat, palm products such as oil and wine (and in some regions other supplemental foods), medicines, fuelwood, and building materials are the most highly utilized forest products.
Annona senegalensis - a delicious fruit
1.1.1 Commonly consumed bushmeat species
1.1.2 The consumption of gathered animal resources
1.1.3 The nutritional value of bushmeat
1.1.4 Seasonal changes in bushmeat consumption
1.1.5 Regional variations in bushmeat consumption
Although foresters rarely consider animals forest products, for many rural people from the West African region wild animals (known as bushmeat throughout the region) are highly valued forest products. They provide an important source of meat in both rural and urban household diets. Forests and fallow field areas provide the habitat for many commonly consumed wildlife species. Additionally, they ensure stream habitats for freshwater fish and crustacea; and mangrove areas which are essential for coastal fisheries. Forest dependent animals are of particular importance in humid West Africa as substitutes for wild meat are often not available. (Tsetse flies (a carrier of the cattle disease trypanosomyasis) are endemic to this ecological zone and make cattle production difficult.) While many households already have a few domestic animals (such as goats, sheep or chickens), these animals are generally consumed only on ceremonial and festival occasions and do not supply a regular source of food (Ajayi 1979, Asibey 1974, and deVos 1977).
It is clear from the available evidence that bushmeat has been and still is a major food item (contributing from 20% to 90% of the total animal protein consumed) for most rural West Africans from humid regions. (A summary of information arranged by country is presented in Table 1.) The importance of wild animal meat in the diets of both rural and urban dwellers varies considerably depending on the availability of supply. The consumption and value of bushmeat is rapidly changing in many regions because of increased demand from urban areas and dwindling supplies of wild animals in rapidly degrading rural environments. As a result, in many cases, bushmeat consumption is declining. In many urban areas it has become a luxury food. The most commonly consumed species are now fish, small mammals, reptiles, birds and insects, where formerly large mammals were also consumed.
There is a growing body of literature on the importance of bushmeat in the West African forest region. Information on consumption is often based upon an estimate of the number of people who consume bushmeat (e.g. 72% of Southern Nigerians consume giant rat (Ajayi et al 1974)) or the percentage contribution of bushmeat to the diet (e.g. in the Cameroonian forest zone, bushmeat supplies 70-80% of the annual animal protein (Prescott-Allen et al 1982)). These kinds of estimates give a general idea of the importance of bushmeat in a region but give little indication of their importance at the household level. In most cases data from household level nutrition and anthropological studies indicates that the quantity of bushmeat being consumed is small. Bushmeat does, however, have an important nutritional role in the diet. It adds flavor and diversity, and encourages people to consume greater quantities of staple foods while providing them with vitamins and minerals (Annegers 1973, Laburthe-Tolra 1981).
Perhaps the most important measure of the local value of bushmeat comes from studies which ask people what they value most from forests. In an evaluation of the Subri forestry project in Ghana, Korang (1986) found that 94% of those surveyed considered the worst impact of forest conversion to be the loss of bushmeat in the area. Villagers remarked that this decline was caused primarily by the loss of wild animal food resources (conversion to a plantation lowered species diversity).
Table 1: Consumption of bushmeat in the West African forest zone
Bushmeat is preferred over domestic meat and is commonly sold in markets.
Grasscutter is the most favoured and widely sold species. Giant rat is
common, but less popular (Baptist and Mensah 1986).
Ajayi (1979) reports that bushmeat provides 70-80% of the animal protein
consumed annually in the southern forest regions. An estimated 2000 tonnes
of bushmeat are consumed annually in the country (Balinga 1977). In the
southern regions, wild game provides the main source of animal protein.
On average, Cameroonians consume 2.5 kg./yr./capita (Belisle 1987). Gartlan
(1987) reports that in 1981 Cameroonians ate an average of 9 grammes of
bushmeat a day per capita. One village level study in southern Cameroon
found bushmeat (including fish) to be the sole source of animal protein
in the diet. It found that men in all the study villages hunt for home
consumption (Faure et al 1980). Another village study in
southern Cameroon found that hunting was still an important activity,
especially during the rainy season. It notes that the most common hunting
method is trapping. It adds that snails, caterpillars, ants, and other
insects are regularly gathered and consumed (Amat et al
In the Kwanga district, an estimated 300 tonnes of dried caterpillars
are traded yearly. 30 different caterpillar species are consumed (Leleup
et al 1969).
Bushmeat provided an estimated 70% of the annual protein consumed in
the southern rainforest area before hunting was banned in 1974 (Asibey
1986). Lacrouts and Tyc (1961) estimated that people consumed 9.7 kg.
of wild meat a year - more than the consumption of all domestic meat,
chicken, and milk. In a study in Bongouanou, they found that people consumed
on average 87 g./day/capita of bushmeat in their field camps and an average
32 g./day/capita in their villages. In this region alone, they estimate
that 2,000 tonnes of snails are eaten annually. A more recent study showed
that in rural areas bushmeat consumption is still important, an average
11.3 kg./yr./capita compared with 4.3 kg./yr./capita among urban consumers.
The same study notes that production of bushmeat is still greater than
total domestic meat production. Bushmeat prices in Abidjan are at least
80% higher than beef prices (Asibey 1986). The Ministry estimates the
total value of bushmeat in the southeastern rural region at FCFA 630.4
million. Smoked bushmeat is far more common than fresh meat (an estimated
value of FCFA 385 million, compared with FCFA 172 million) (Ministère
des Eaux et Forêts, Côte dIvoire 1987).
Approximately 75% of the population regularly consume wild animals, mainly
game meat, fish, insects, caterpillars, termites, and snails (Asibey 1986).
The Department of Wildlife and Game estimates that 80% of the rural population
depend on game meat (Asibey 1987b). The most commonly consumed species
are small animals such as grasscutter and duiker (Asibey 1978). For example,
approximately 62,000 grasscutters were sold over a six year period in
one Accra market (Asibey 1986). In two southern districts, Asibey (1986)
reports that bushmeat contributed 44% and 31% of the protein consumed
(fish contributed 35% and 31%, respectively). In a six year survey of
one Accra market, Asibey (1987a) reported that a minimum 79,000 kg. of
bushmeat was traded every year. Approximately 52,500 kg. of bushmeat was
sold in a single Accra market in 1985 (Ntiamoa-Baidu 1987). Bushmeat is
consumed in urban as well as rural Ghanaian households: for the country
as a whole an average, 1.8 g. of bushmeat is consumed per capita per day
(Clottey 1969). Asibey (1974) estimates daily consumption at 1.7 g. for
bushmeat and 1.6 g. for domestic meat. Clottey (1969) asserted that 61%
of the animal protein consumed in Ghana came from wild sources
which included both fish and game. A nutrition study conducted in 1968
estimated that Ghanaians consumed 9 g. of bushmeat and 1 g. of snails
daily per capita in rural forest areas, 1 g. of bushmeat and 9 g. of snails
per capita daily in coastal areas, and 8 g. of snails per capita per day
in urban areas. The study estimated that the total annual consumption
of bushmeat was 27,700 tonnes (Genelly 1968).
Bushmeat contributes between 80 and 90% of the animal protein consumed
throughout this country (Ajayi 1979). Another study estimates its contribution
to be 60-70% (Sale 1981). Small antelopes and various species of monkeys
are the most popular species (Jeffrey 1977). Robinson and Peal (1981)
note that there are no controls on hunting and wildlife resources are
being rapidly depleted. Bushmeat is even imported from Sierra Leone and
The Federal Department of Forestry (1987) notes that wildlife is most
highly valued as food. A number of studies have been conducted in Nigeria
on bushmeat consumption. For example, Ajayi (1971) estimates that 80%
of the people in southern regions consume bushmeat and that bushmeat supplies
an average 20% of the animal protein consumed. Based on results from a
market survey, some 53% of rural people and 40% of the urban population
consumed bushmeat regularity (more than once a month) (Martin 1978). In
another survey, Martin (1983) found that 95% of the people consumed bushmeat.
The most commonly consumed species are small animals. In a study of roadside
bushmeat markets in Benin state, Nigeria, Martin (1978) found that grasscutter
and small antelopes were most commonly sold. Ajayi and Olawoye (1974)
learned that giant rat was consumed by the majority of both urban and
rural people. And Akande (1979) found that 93% of those surveyed in the
southwest like bush fowl (francolins). In another study of bush fowl consumption,
Ayeni (1980) asserts that 79% of the people that were interviewed consumed
guinea fowl. He estimates that there are 44 million semi-domesticated
guinea fowl in Nigeria.
In rural areas the consumption of bushmeat is closely associated with
the conditions of the surrounding forest resources. For example, Charter
(1973) discovered that in Onitsha, a densely populated region with few
forests, bushmeat contributes only 7% of the total meat consumed, whereas
in forested regions, bushmeat provides the majority of meat consumed:
82% in Benin and 84% in Oyo.
In a recent study of meat consumption in southern Nigeria, Dietworst
(1987) found that snails were regularly consumed (several times a week)
by more than a third of the households interviewed in one community, while
in another community in Oyo state, 80% of the households consumed bushmeat
at least several times a month and 20% consumed it daily. However, bushmeat
and snail consumption is less common in a third Oyo community. In 1983,
Ajayi reported that average bushmeat consumption increased from 10.1 g./capita
in 1968 to 13.2 g./capita (or an estimated 421,000 tonnes a year) in 1980.
Olatunbusom (1972) estimates bushmeat supplies an average 9.7 g. of protein
per capita per day and fish supplies 29 g. of protein per capita per day
in rural areas. In an interesting study on the quantities of bushmeat
produced by farmers in three different ecological zones, Adeola and Decker
(1987) found that an estimated 1,320,000 tonnes of bushmeat were produced
over a six month study period.
Cremoux (1963) estimates a minimum consumption rate of 373,600 metric
tonnes of wild mammals and birds per year. Vincke, Singleton, and Diouf
(1987) found that the Sereer (Sine region) consume an average 12.9 g.
of bushmeat per person per day. The most commonly consumed animals were
birds. They note that children consume the greatest quantities of bushmeat.
Bushmeat was once a staple food in the Sierra Leonian diet. However,
wildlife has become scarce in all regions of Sierra Leone and, as a result,
it is less regularly consumed. Nonetheless, it is available in most rural
and urban markets (Teleki et al 1981). A farming survey
revealed that 22% of the households considered hunting an important off-farm
activity and 40% considered fishing an important off-farm activity. According
to a household nutrition study bushmeat is consumed by an estimated 55%
of all Sierra Leonian households (Smith 1979). It notes that bushmeat
and fish are the most common sources of animal protein.
Den Hartog and deVos (1973) report that the estimated per capita consumption
of rodent species in rural regions ranges from 0.5 g. to 12 g. per day.
By most accounts, the availability of game meat has declined in most parts of the West African region because of dramatic changes in the rural wildlife habitat and over-hunting. This is a result, in part, of an expanding urban market for bushmeat (Ajayi 1971, 1978, Asibey 1977, 1986, Blanc-Pamard 1979, Federal Department of Forestry, Nigeria 1987, Jeffrey 1977, Ntiamoa-Baidu 1987, Teleki et al 1981). Larger game species are no longer available (with the exception of some regions of Cameroon and some remote forest regions). As a result, the range of species that are consumed has increased (Asibey 1965, 1974); this indicates that people have become less selective about the types of wild animals they consume. Although taboos and restrictions prevent consumption of specific species by certain groups, over the region as a whole all types of animals are exploited for food.
The most commonly consumed species are small mammals such as the grasscutter and other rodents, duikers and other small antelopes, monkeys (where they are still plentiful), bushfowl, and reptiles. Grasscutters and other rodents have proven to be well-adapted to heavy exploitation (Asibey 1986, Ntiamoa-Baidu 1987, Jeffrey 1977, Martin 1983). In fact, the natural range of the grasscutter has increased with increased opening of forest areas (Asibey 1986). These small animal species are naturally more plentiful than larger species, as they have higher reproductive rates. Furthermore, hunting them is rarely restricted by protection laws (deVos 1977).
A study of farmers hunting in different areas of Nigeria shows that the most commonly hunted species are bats, giant rat, grasscutter, squirrels, guinea fowl, lizards and snakes (Adeola and Decker 1987). Asibeys market studies in Ghana reveal that grasscutter is the most commonly marketed species (1965, 1974, 1987). In Senegal, birds are most commonly consumed (Vincke, Singleton, and Diouf 1987). Finally, in the forest zone of Côte dIvoire, duiker, squirrel, porcupine and rodents are the most commonly hunted (Blanc-Pamard 1979). (See Appendix 1 for a list of species commonly exploited in the region.)
Many authors note that gathered animals (as opposed to hunted species) such as snails, turtles, termites, caterpillars and other insects also contribute significantly to the West African diet (Ajayi-1971 in Nigeria, Asibey 1974 in Ghana, Blanc-Pamard 1979 in Côte dIvoire, Dietworst 1987 in Nigeria, Dongmo 1985 in southern Cameroon, deVos 1977). Their consumption is only occasionally recorded, even in nutrition studies (Annegers 1973). They are especially valued for the flavouring and diversity they add to the diet (1973, Laburthe-Tolra 1981).
Some authors mention that these small animals are often eaten as snacks that are especially favoured by children. Children frequently catch and consume small animals such as insects, birds, and rodents (Blanc-Pamard (1979), Vincke et al 1987).
Snails are perhaps the most popular and widely consumed forest animals throughout the West African forest zone. They command high market prices in Côte dIvoire (Lacrouts and Tyc 1961), Nigeria (Martin 1983), and Ghana (Asibey 1986). In the southern part of Nigeria snails are the most popular meat consumed (Ajayi 1971). They are generally consumed during the rainy season. In a recent household study in southern Nigeria, Dietworst (1987) found that, in one community, snails were consumed regularly (several times a week) by more than a third of the households, and monthly by more than two thirds of the households.
Many researchers emphasise the importance of bushmeat as a source of animal protein (Olatunbosum et al 1972, Asibey 1986, Ajayi 1979, Belisle 1987). Though there is little data on the nutritional composition of commonly consumed bushmeat species, what is known suggests that bushmeat provides an equivalent and in some cases greater quality food than domestic meats (see Appendix 2). Ajayi (1979) notes that wild animals are good sources of carbohydrates (ranging from 1% in river hog to 6% in forest genet) compared with domesticated animals from similar environments (ranging from 0.8% in pork and beef to 1.3% in mutton). He adds that the protein content of bushmeat ranges from 16-55% (compared to 11-20% for domestic animals). Snails, for example, provide a good source of protein, are low in fat, and are exceptionally high in iron, calcium and vitamin B. In addition, bushmeat is often a good source of minerals and vitamins. Generally, however, wild animals foods are consumed in very small quantities; thus their contribution to overall protein needs may be minimal.
In a study examining the nutritional importance of forest foods, Hladik (1987) argues that bushmeat provides, most importantly, calories. Many highly prized bushmeat species are preferred for their fatty consistencies. In Southern Cameroon domestic meat is only consumed on festive occasions, whereas bushmeat supplies a regular source of food (Hladik 1987).
Hunting and bushmeat collection are seasonal activities reflecting both seasonal availability of forest products and seasonal variations in agricultural labour requirements. Throughout the West African region, greater quantities of bushmeat are generally consumed during the rainy season than in the dry season (Hladik et al 1987, Dongmo 1985). In Southern Cameroon Amat and Cortadellas (1972) found that hunting (especially with traps) was most common during the rainy season. Gathering of animal foods and fishing (both generally womens activities) were also at their height during this time.
For many rural male farmers hunting is an important activity during the off-peak agriculture period. In Casamance, Senegal, Pélisser (1966) found that hunting was an important activity both for home consumption and bushmeat sale during the agricultural slack period. In Zaire, hunting is at its peak in the slack period in agriculture and is least common during the planting season (Mankoto ma Mbaelele et al 1987).
It should finally be noted that some forest animal products are only available seasonally; for example snails are available only in the rains (Dongmo 1985) while caterpillars are generally collected in the dry season (Hladik et al 1987). In his study of the Cameroonian pygmies, Bahuchet (1978) found that hunting techniques and hunted species varied by season.
There are great regional variations in bushmeat consumption. Variations result primarily from differences in availability. Thus, the conditions of the forest resource have a direct impact on bushmeat consumption (deVos 1977). In Nigeria, where wild game is available, it supplies a great portion of the meat people consume (see Table 1). Similarly, in Cameroon, bushmeat contributes an estimated 70-80% of the total annual animal protein consumed in the southern forest region, compared with 2.8% for the country as a whole. In a consumer survey in southern Nigeria, Martin (1978) found that 62% of the rural and urban people interviewed stated that the lack of bushmeat limited their consumption.
Consumption also varies from village to village and household to household. Dietworsts (1987) meat consumption survey in Nigeria showed that bushmeat preferences, purchasing, and consumption varied considerably not only village to village but also household to household. (See also Orraca-Tetteh (1987) for similar information on Ghana.)
There are few studies which focus on the frequency with which bushmeat is consumed (such as Dietworsts study) or on the nutritional importance of bushmeat in the diet (e.g. Hladik study). General consumption figures can only be taken as indicative; they do not elucidate the role of bushmeat in the household diet. However, the information that is available does demonstrate that wild animal resources are still important components of the majority of rural and urban consumers diets. The most commonly consumed animals are rodents such as grasscutters and antelopes such as duiker; bushfowl and snails are also extensively consumed. Smoked and fresh fish are the most common source of protein throughout the region. Generally, fish is consumed daily in small quantities (Orraca-Tetteh 1987). It is not, however, possible to distinguish between consumed species which are dependent on forest habitats, and those that come from other environments. In most areas bushmeat is preferred over domestic varieties of meat, but its consumption is limited by dwindling availability and high market prices.
1.2.1 Diversity of forest foods consumed by rural households
1.2.2 The contributions of forest foods to diets
1.2.3 Oil palm foods
1.2.4 The seeds of Irvingia gabonensis
There are vast numbers of edible plant products garnered from forests, including seeds and nuts, leaves, fruits, roots and tubers, fungi, and salt. Collectively they add diversity and flavour to the diet while providing protein, energy, vitamins and essential minerals. The contribution of forest foods to diets varies considerably from region to region. Throughout West Africa, however, they supplement staple foods and are consumed during seasonal food shortages when agricultural crop supplies dwindle. Forest foods, especially leaves and nuts, supplement rural diets by contributing to sauces that accompany carbohydrate staples. Some forest fruits are often consumed throughout the day as snacks. They also supply buffer food sources during emergency periods (Irvine 1952, Okigbo 1986). In some regions, forest species that are valued for their food products are protected in farm and fallow fields (see Appendix 3 for a list of commonly consumed forest species).
There is a great deal of descriptive information available on edible forest foods (Okigbo 1985, 1986, Gbile 1983, Irvine 1952, Ake Assi 1984, Abbiw 1989). However, few studies have attempted to examine the frequency with which foods are consumed, the nutritional value of various foods, the prevalence of foods use, or how resident populations value foods. There are a few household level analytic studies which help to illustrate the importance of these resources to local populations (Department of Forest Resource Management 1986, Hladik et al. 1987, Koagne 1986, Okafor 1981, Osei-Manu 1980).
A considerable number of historic and present day botanical studies point out the multitude of food resources found in the regions forests (Dalziel 1937, Irvine 1961, Walker et al 1961, Burkhill 1985). Okigbo (1983) notes that more than 1500 species of wild plants are (or have been) consumed by different African peoples. Grivetti, Frentzel, Ginsberg, Howell, and Ogles works (1987) synthesize the literature on the uses and nutritional values of wild food resources throughout Africa: they conclude that wild plants are an essential component of many Africans diets. Forest inventories can also provide information on useful tree species. For example in Ghana, Abbiw (1989) describes 62 edible wild fruit species, 60 species used as salt substitutes, 100 species used for their leaves, and 19 species whose roots are consumed. (See also Okafor (1979), Nigeria; Vivien (1988), Cameroon; Irvine (1956), Ghana.)
Compared with regional botanic surveys, detailed village-level studies present more specific descriptive information, providing insight into the varying importance of different edible species and the ways in which they are used. When taken as a whole, these recent case-specific accounts indicate that some forest foods are still used in many communities. In a village study in southern Cameroon, for example, Amat and Cortadellas (1972) found that palm nuts, palm wine, Irvingia sp. seeds, and the fruits of Dacryodes edulis and Pachylobus edulis were all commonly consumed.
In villages in Côte dIvoire, gathered products include cola nuts, palm fruit and wine, mushrooms, wild fruits and other foods. These are especially appreciated during field work and when staple food supplies have diminished (Blanc-Pamard 1979) (see also Téhé 1980). The Guéré and Oubi (in Côte dIvoire) also gather many foods from forest areas. These foods are eaten as snacks (e.g. Coula edulis, and Mammea africana) added to sauces that are consumed at the main meal (e.g. seeds of Irvingia gabonensis and Ricinodendron heudelottii), and sometimes used for salt (e.g. Ficus exasperata) (Téhé 1980). A village study in the Ashante region of Ghana (Osei-Owusu 1981) reveals that 28 wild food plants were commonly gathered and consumed (see Appendix 4). The majority were eaten in the bush as snacks, or added to soups and sauces for flavoring.
In many cases the forest trees that are valued for their foods are left in farm and fallow fields. In the Ho district, Ghana, Asamoah (1985) found that forest trees left on farm and fallow lands were valued for their food products (see also Sections 5.3, 6.6). For example, the young leaves of Chlorophora excelsa and Ceiba pentandra were added to sauces. Similar findings are reported in many farming system studies (see, eg., Okafor and Okigbo).
Forest foods contribute to the diet, supplementing staple foods and providing foods during seasonal and emergency food shortage periods. According to one study from southern Cameroon the leaves of Triumfetta rhomboidea are used in an average 19 out of 20 meals, the fruits of Cola acuminata are consumed daily in most households, and the fruit of Pachylobus edulis is common in sauces which accompany main meals (Koagne 1986). Pélé and Berre (1967) also provide considerable descriptive information on the uses of forest foods in southern Cameroon. They describe the different ways in which forest foods are consumed: as snacks (e.g. Detarium senegalense), as meat substitutes, as staple main dishes (e.g. fruit of Pachylobus edulis), for their oil (e.g. nut of Mimusops djave), in sauces (e.g. leaves of Vernonia amygdalina) and as condiments (e.g. the bark of Scorodoploeus zenkeri is used to add a garlic like flavouring). (For similar information on southern Nigerian consumption see especially Okafor 1979, 1981.)
Pélé and Berre (1967) further note that some species are of exceptional nutritional value: for example the fruit of Detarium senegalense are rich sources of vitamin C (1000-2000 mg./100 g.),and the seeds of Ricinodendron africanum provide 570 calories/100 g. and are 28% protein. They add that plants gathered from forest and bush areas are valued most at times when other food sources fail (e.g. dry season).
In this region fruits are consumed throughout the day as part of meals and as snacks, especially by children. But consumption of forest foods (as well as the incorporation of certain species into farm fields) varies considerably from one group of people to another. This is well illustrated in studies which include information on food taboos (e.g. Hladik et al 1987, Motte 1982, Abbiw 1989).
Some species are widely consumed, such as palm oil and wine and the seeds of Irvingia gabonensis. While few studies examine the quantities of forest foods that are consumed, some consumption data does exist on oil palm foods and Irvingia gabonensis seeds. They can serve as examples of how important some forest produce may be.
Oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) are the most widely exploited forest species (from secondary growth) in the entire region. Their fruit and kernel are processed into edible oil and their sap is used to make wine and alcohol. Nicol (1972) estimates that palm products account for 10% of the total energy consumed in West African diets. Furthermore, they are an important source of vitamin A.
Smith (1979) estimates that 96% of the rural households in Sierra Leone consume palm oil while 69% of them consume palm kernels. Palm oil provides 14% of total energy intake in the Sierra Leonean diet (Longhurst 1985). Another study estimates that households on Turners peninsula, Sierra Leone consume, on average, a litre of palm oil a day (Commonwealth Secretariat 1980).
In southeastern Nigeria, Nweke, Walker, Okoro, and Hanu (1985) found that 89% of the households surveyed consumed palm oil. In 1982 Nigerians consumed an estimated 27 g./person/day of palm oil and an estimated 69g./capita/day of palm wine (Ajayi 1983). Palm oil is also commonly used in southeastern Côte dIvoire, where its consumption was valued at FCFA 177 million in 1967; of this an estimated 72% is home-produced. Palm wine consumption was valued at FCFA 271.5 million. Unlike palm oil, the greater portion (63%) of palm wine is purchased (Ministère du Plan 1967). (For information on Cameroon see Koagne 1986, Moby-Etia 1982.)
The seeds of the forest tree Irvingia gabonensis are also commonly consumed throughout the region, especially in southern Nigeria. A considerable amount of research has been conducted on the consumption of this species (Okafor 1981 and 1979, Agbor 1986, Department of Forest Resource Management 1986). Its seeds are used in sauces and soups, giving them a desirable glutinous consistency. In their feasibility study on forest fruit trees, the Department of Forest Resource Management in Ibadan (1986) estimated that annual consumption of Irvingia seeds in southern regions of Nigeria ranged from 3.2 to 14.13 kg./yr./household. They noted that consumption was greatest in rural areas, but that there was a growing demand for the seeds in urban centres (they are even imported from Cameroon). Oyakhilome (1985) estimated that Irvingia seeds are used in one third of all soup preparations in Nigerias southern region. An analysis of the nutritional composition of Irvingia seeds reveals that they are an exceptional source of fat (72%) (Okafor 1981). The fruit of the sweet variety are consumed raw; often 15-20 fruits at one time. Consumption is highest during the rainy season. (See Agbor 1986, includes information on fruiting patterns and productivity at different ages.)
It is clear that the consumption of at least some forest foods is still extremely common throughout the region. The significance of forest foods should not be understated. One study of five Gambian villages (Phillis et al 1982) found that forest snacks alone contributed between 3% and 10 % of total energy and protein consumed. However, many authors note that the diversity of foods garnered from forest areas is declining (Okigbo 1980, 1986, Gbile 1983, and Laburthe-Tolra 1981). Laburthe-Tolra (1981) has suggested that declines in the nutritional quality of the diet may result from decreases in diet diversity.
A study on the local use of forest resources in eight villages in southern Cameroon provides perhaps the clearest illustration of the value of forest resources (Faure et al 1980). It found that every studied village exploited forests for edible fruits, nuts, leaves, bark, and roots. However, in one of the study villages a far greater diversity of forest foods were described by villagers, who identified 41 popular forest fruits, compared to an average 12 fruit species identified in other nearby study communities. This village had recently lost its surrounding forest to rubber plantations and a national forest reserve. The researchers argued that these people could identify more species because they became more aware of the value of the surrounding resources after they had been taken away.
1.3.1 Plant resources used as medicines
1.3.2 Studies of plant medicines used by specific groups of people
1.3.3 The day-to-day use of plant medicines
1.3.4 Rules for plant medicine production and use
1.3.5 The extent of plant medicine use
1.3.6 Effectiveness of plant medicines
1.3.7 Availability of plant medicine resources
Forests provide essential components of the traditional health treatments used throughout the West African forest zone. They supply the medication for the vast majority of both rural and urban dwellers (an estimated 75-90% of the population rely on traditional medical treatments). Although there are a great variety of healing practices and beliefs, common to roost systems is the use of plants in conjunction with ritual and mystical practices. These systems do not distinguish between physical and psychological elements of an illness, and thus rely largely on faith (Cousteix 1961). It is important to note that forest plants are components of a medical system, rather than the sole medicinal resource. Common plant treatments are known and used by the majority of rural people in addition to those used by specialist healers. Few studies distinguish between these day-to-day uses of forest plants and those of healers.
In many cultures the distinction between what is consumed as food or medicine is not clear: foods are thought to have different healing qualities. Plants are often added to foods or are taken as tonics to promote good health (Cousteix 1961). Some authors note that in addition to their healing qualities, plant medicines can contribute important minerals and vitamins to the diet, thus favouring overall health.
The literature on traditional plant medicines is vast. Botanical studies describe the plants used and diseases treated in a country or region, or by a specific population group. Chemical and pharmacological studies present information on chemical composition of commonly used medicine plants (thus analysing the possible effectiveness of a particular plant substance). However, these studies rarely focus on the effectiveness of traditional treatments and do not assess plant material as it is traditionally prepared (e.g. in conjunction with other plant materials), nor do they examine the extent to which treatments are used. No studies attempt to place a value on the health care provided by traditional healers and traditional plant medicines in terms of the costs of their modern equivalents. Thus, while their is a vast amount of information on which species have been or are currently used in traditional medical treatments, there is little information to assess their effectiveness. Nevertheless, discussions of the prevalence and evolution of traditional healing systems give an indication of the extent to which forest resources are still relied upon for medicines (e.g. Kerharo et al 1974).
In several countries of the region (e.g. Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana) efforts are being made to develop traditional as well as modern (Western) medicine practices. In these countries research centers have been established expressly for the study of traditional plant medicines and traditional healing practices. Their efforts so far have concentrated on identifying the myriad of plant medicines used in different cultures, identifying healing practices associated with particular illnesses and conducting chemical and pharmacological analyses of commonly used plant medicines. In addition, unions and registries have been established to promote traditional health practices: in Ghana there were 3,360 registered traditional healers in 1978; in Cameroon, more than 3,000 traditional healers are members of a traditional medicine union.
This study only touches on some of the research that has been carried out on plant medicines in the region. There is a great deal of botanic information available on plant medicines, and a growing body of literature on their chemical composition (some of which is summarised in the Literature Overview). The structure of the following discussion reflects, in part, the kind of information that is available.
While botanic studies have identified a vast array of medicinal plants in the region, it is difficult to distinguish between past and present medicinal uses of plants. This makes it difficult to evaluate the extent to which forest resources are currently used as medicines and to identify the species which are most important (Oliver-Bever 1986, Abbiw 1989, Ake Assi various, Adjanohoun et al 1979). Nonetheless, the botanical studies which examine the medicinal use of plant resources indicate that there is great diversity in the number of plant resources that are available in the region, and that these plants are widely exploited for their for their medicinal qualities.
Most botanic studies include descriptions of each plant, its habitat, and information on its use in traditional medicine. Collectively the botanic studies describe thousands of plants medicines that are found in the region as well as treatments for hundreds of ailments. A list of the commonly used plant medicines from the West African region is included in Appendix 5.
Some studies focus on ailments and their associated plant remedies. For example, Ake Assi (1980) discusses some treatments for female sterility commonly employed in Côte dIvoire. Kerharo and Adam (1974) discuss treatments used by healers in Senegal for treating common diseases. For example, one healers treatment for syphillis included drinking a decoction of the roots of ten plant species (Guiera senegalensis, Faidherbia albida, Maytenus senegalensis, Leptadenia hastata, Piliostygma thonningii, Strophanthus sarmentosus, Cordyla pinnata, Annona senegalensis, Bauhinia rufescens and Stereospermum kunthianum).
In many cases one plant species is used for treating a variety of ailments (MacFoy (various), Kerharo et al 1974, Abbiw 1989). For example, in the forest zone of Côte dIvoire, Ake Assi (1984) notes that Cassia occidental is used in eleven medicinal recipes. Decoctions of its leaves and roots are used as a diuretic, laxative, tonic and abortificant, as well as in treatments for asthma, cataracts, jaundice, and kwashiorkor. Cassia is also used in conjunction with other plant species (Kamara-Ajaron 1980).
While regional studies illustrate the breadth and variety of species which are exploited over the region, in-depth household studies provide more information on how and when different species are actually used. Many anthropological, ethnobotanical and geographic studies provide insight into commonly exploited medicinal plants. The following are examples of the kinds of information available from these areas of study.
Amat and Cortadellas (1972) village study of the Beti in southern Cameroon includes a great deal of information on traditional medical practices. The traditional values ascribed to trees are generally associated with their healing or magical qualities. The Beti classify sickness as simple (treatable by family members or with Western medicine) or Beti (where traditional healers are required). Simple illnesses are normally treated in the family (e.g. stomachaches, toothaches, and diarrhoea). Twenty-five commonly known plant remedies for these kinds of ailments are described. Traditional healers often have specialties (e.g. specialists for fractures, jaundice, obstetrics). Some healers specialize in Beti ailments where sorcery is involved. Some plant medicines may only be used by these specialist healers (see also Section 3). (For other Cameroon information see Biyiti et al 1983; Mbi et al 1986.)
In his study of the Ewondo in Cameroon, Cousteix (1961) identifies more than 200 plant species used in medicinal treatments. He describes different types of ailments and their associated plant treatments (e.g. illnesses of the intestines, problems specific to women, and health of newly born). For example, womens sterility is treated with a decoction of the bark of Baillonella toxisperma (in a vaginal injection); the bark of Pycnanthus kombo (which has exceptionally high oil content) is drunk by mothers to improve the quality of their milk; and the bark of Chlorophora excelsa is used successfully against fungal skin infections. A decoction of the bark of Mitragyna stipulosa is taken as a heart tonic; its chemical composition (which includes mitraphylline and mitraversine) explains its efficacy.
In a village study in Sierra Leone, MacFoy (1986) identifies 70 plant species used by healers and villagers to treat a multitude of diseases. He notes that many treatments involve a combination of plants: i.e. the roots of Maranta arundinacea (high in starch) and the leaves of Ocimum gratissimum are used in treatments of diarrhoea. There are several common remedies for bacterial sores: for example the leaves of Aspilia africana or Jatropha curcas are ground and applied as a poultice.
These studies and similar ones all indicate that plant medicines continue to be commonly used by households throughout the region (see Tall 1984, Motte 1982, Blanc-Pamard 1979, Gill et al 1986).
rostrata; 2. Bixa orellana; 3. Passiflora
coccinea; 4. Jatropha gossypifolla
Plant medicines are also widely used by non-healers. In an Ashante village (Ghana) Amponsah (1980) found that all villagers regularly employed traditional plant medicines. He identified 105 commonly used medicinal plant species, noting that most were used to treat more than one ailment and that there were generally several treatments for the same disease.
Generally people distinguish between those plant species or remedies common to all and those known only by (or restricted to) healers. The Beti (in Cameroon) distinguish between treatments in this manner (see Section 1.3.2). As do the Ando of Côte dIvoire (Visser 1975). In this region women are especially knowledgeable regarding common medicines; they manage their collection, preparation, and administration. Women generally learn about plant medicines from their mothers or other elders. Specialists (generally men), on the other hand, go through long apprentice periods learning about different plant treatments.
Traditional health systems are thought to rely principally on curative rather than preventative practices. There are, however, many household treatments that are both preventative and curative. In a survey of 200 mothers attending a Lagos health clinic, Abosede and Akesode (1986) found that 80% gave an herbal cure for infant dysentery (called Agbo-Jedi) to their children. Seventy-four percent of the mothers stated they were administering Agbo-Jedi for dysentery, forty-seven percent fed it to their children as a preventative measure. Visser (1975) has also identified several treatments which were administered daily as preventative measures (especially to young children) by the Ando in Côte dIvoire. Plants may be taken as general tonics, either in infusions or baths: in Sierra Leone, the Mende bathe their children in a decoction of the leaves of Alternanthera sessilis to make them healthy (MacFoy 1983) (see Sarpong 1986, Ghana).
Chewsticks are probably the most widely used plant medicine in the entire West African region. They provide the primary form of dental care. Sticks made from stems, bark, or roots of several different species are chewed several times daily to clean and freshen teeth. Chewsticks are popular both in rural and urban areas (see Section 4.4). There are many tree species which are used for Chewsticks (Portère (1974) identified 123 species, Adu-Tutu et al (1979) 107 species, Isawumi (1978) 24 species, and Abbiw (1989) 28 species). The most commonly used species include: Garcinia afzelii, G. kola, G. epunctata, Acacia kamerunensis, Teclea verdoorniana, Massularia acuminata, Morinda lucida, Baphia nitida, Phyllanthus muellerianus, Fagara zanthoxyloides, Vernonia amygdalina, and Acioa barteri. Species have particular flavours (bitter, sweet, and antiseptic) and qualities (hard and soft). Chemical analyses indicate that these common species have some anti-microbial properties, explaining their effectiveness against tooth decay (Isawumi 1978, and Adu-Tutu et al 1979). Some chewstick species are also used for treating a variety of medical ailments: Paullinia pinnata is used for treating chest and abdominal pains and coughs; Vernonia colorata is taken for nausea and abdominal pains; and Azadirachta indica (Neem) is used for toothaches and fevers.
There are often rites associated with the gathering and use of different plant medicines. For example, some plants may be collected only at certain times of the day or from specific locations. MacFoy (1986) notes that Mende healers believe some medicines are less active if they are gathered after the dew falls. Visser (1975) remarks that for Ando healers (in Côte dIvoire) the timing and manner in which plant medicines are collected determine their medico-magical power. Leaves cannot be collected mid-day (because the plants spirit might be out walking), and are most effective when collected in the early morning or at sundown. In some cases sacrifices must be made before medicines can be gathered from a particular plant.
Often medical effectiveness is thought to be highest from plants collected in the wild and in particular locations. Plant medicines that are collected from deep in the forest are thought to be stronger. For example, the medicinal qualities of the herbaceous weed Euphorbia hirta are stronger when gathered from the wild rather than cultivated areas (they contain higher concentrations of active constituents in the wild) (ENDA 1987). Generally, medicines are collected and prepared when they are needed rather than being stored (Visser 1975).
Although many studies assert that traditional healers and their plant medicines provide the only health care to the majority of people throughout the region (Boye no date) few of them assess the extent to which plant medicines are still used. Information on the general popularity of plant medicines can only be deduced from studies assessing traditional healing practices. Only in the last few years have governments in the region begun to recognize the importance of traditional healers and integrate their work with those practicing western medicine. There is no information on the extent to which medicinal plants are used by people themselves as opposed to being provided by traditional healers. But, despite the lack of concrete studies, researchers express little doubt that plant medicines are still widely used. Indeed, in some regions, the use of plant medicines is thought to be increasing due to the rising cost of western drugs and negative experiences (or disillusion) with modern drugs and the modern health care system (Boye n.d, INADES 1984, Gbile 1988, Wood 1987, Nkodo 1988).
In an Ashante village in Ghana, Amponsah Agyemang (1980) found that traditional medicine was still of great importance. Despite the fact that half of the village population is Christian and there is no fetish priest in the village, all the villagers that were interviewed regularly employed traditional plant medicines. In a study of traditional health care in Senegal, Engelhard and Robineau (1981) found that 62% of modern doctors (interviewed) in Dakar refer their patients to traditional healers. In Pejehun District, Sierra Leone, MacFoy (1986) notes that traditional cures are often used before turning to western medicine (sometimes the reverse is true). Similarly, in a village near Freetown, Sierra Leone, MacFoy and Cline (1986) find that plant medicines are the most commonly used treatments despite peoples proximity to modern facilities (Freetown health clinics and the University). The majority prefer herbal medicine because it is familiar (tradition and past experience) and less expensive than antibiotics in pharmacies and markets (see also INADES 1984).
Studies which address the effectiveness of different traditional medicinal treatments generally evaluate their potential for pharmaceutical development. Thus, information can be found in chemical and pharmacological studies which analyse the phytochemistry of different species. However, these studies generally present their results in terms of a plants chemical composition. They do not link the presence of a particular substance (e.g. flavanoids) with its traditional use (e.g. Puri et al 1964, Mbi 1985, Gill et al 1986, Cline 1985, Dwuma-Badu 1986). They rarely examine the combined effects of many treatments. In addition, the potential health benefits that plant minerals and vitamins provide are not considered. Thus the layman is at a loss to judge the effectiveness of a particular plant for treating a particular illness or as one element of the complete traditional healing system (deRosny 1981).
There are however some interesting research programmes underway. In Ghana at the Mampong-Akwapim Center for research into plant medicines, traditional healers and western trained doctors are working together on research into the potential for development of plant medicines. They are focussing on the treatment of asthma, diabetes, malaria, jaundice, epilepsy, and aenemias (Sarpong 1986). Researchers at the Faculty of Pharmacy (University of Science and Technology, Kumasi) have focused on analysing the chemical constituents of the plant medicines derived from Cryptolepis sanguinolenta, Rhigiocarya racemifera, Triclesia sp., and Griffonia simplicifolia (Dwuma-Badu 1986). In Nigeria, at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) researchers have analysed the chemical composition of some widely used medicinal plants and found them to have properties which explain their traditional uses (Ekong 1979). The Center for Research on Plant Medicines in Cameroon has also been conducting research on medicinal plants, combining the talents of botanists, chemists and pharmacologists (Djoko et al 1983).
Moreover, a substantive amount of independent research is taking place. Gbile and Adensina (1987) provide an insightful review of some common Nigerian plant medicines. They combine information on the traditional uses, chemical constituents and potential efficacy of different products (see also Gbile 1986). And Dwuma-Badu (1983) reports that a decoction of the roots of Combretum mucronatum is a very effective treatment against guinea worm in Ghana. In a clinical test of 44 patients, 43 (98%) were successfully cured by drinking aqueous decoctions of this root for one week.
A great deal of research has been conducted on the effectiveness of different plant species as molluscicides - especially valued for combatting schistosomiasis (see the collection of papers edited by Essien et al 1983). Several plant species have properties which kill snails, the intermediary hosts of schistosomiasis. Since infestations of the parasite are often localised around village washing places and irrigation canals, frequent treatment of the water with molluscicidal plant chemicals could provide a possible control mechanism. Experiments have been conducted on the applicability of treating water near villages with molluscicidal plants. Some experiments show effective results, although it is noted that the concentrations of molluscicides can vary considerably from plant to plant and site to site (Adewunmi et al 1983).
The preceding examples only reveal some of the findings of the work being carried out on the phytochemical properties of traditionally used plant medicines (see also Anyiwo et al 1986, Sofowora 1982, Kerharo 1970, Mbi et al 1986, ENDA 1987, and the Conseil Africain et Malgaches pour lEnseignement Supérieur 1977). They also focus on results that have shown positive correlations between pharmacological tests and traditional uses. Not all traditional medicines have proven effective (in the scientific sense). It is clear, however, that in some cases, the plants that have traditionally been used in treatments (especially bacterial and fungicidal infections) contain chemical constituents which explain their effectiveness.
Plant medicines have traditionally been gathered from forest areas, fallow lands, village common lands as well as from agricultural fields. Plant species used by traditional healers often come from specific locations which may be at great distances from villages. One healer remarked that the availability of plant medicines was seasonal, they were often very rare during the dry season and plentiful during the rains (INADES 1984). In some instances, traditional healers are centered in regions known for their exceptional plant medicine resources. For example, the Oku mountain area of southern Cameroon is renowned for its medicinal plants, as well as its traditional health practitioners (Macleod 1987).
In assessing the extent to which forest resources are used by local people in the Littoral region of Cameroon, Faure and Vivien (1980) examined the spatial area used for the collection of different forest products. They compared the distances people would go into the forest in search of fuelwood, fruits, bushmeat, construction materials and medicines, and found that people regularly travelled great distances (10 to 20 kilometers) in search of particular plant medicines.
Plant used in treatment of amoebic dysentery
Studies which examine the uses of on-farm and fallow land trees sometimes indicate the ways people use their surrounding environment for medicinal products. In some cases farm tree species are left in fields because they are valued medicinally (however, farm trees are generally protected for a multitude of reasons, making it difficult to single out a particular use) (see also Asamoah 1985, Ghana; Okafor et al 1987, Nigeria). Visser (1975) notes that many women cultivate or protect near their settlements species which they use daily. For example, Jatropha curcas is often planted near Ando houses (in Côte dIvoire); its leaves are used for treating wounds and abcesses and the latex is used for treating wounds.
Forest resources provide the main source of medicines for the majority of people in the West African humid zone. Research on the effectiveness of these traditional systems is only just beginning. No studies have examined how people themselves view their traditional health systems, their associated problems, and the ways they might be improved upon. And there is not enough information to assess whether these losses can be compensated for with other plant substitutes, or by incorporating medicinal plants into farming areas as often the potency and value of plant treatments are associated with their location and particular habitat.
As the forest areas continue to decline throughout the region, it is likely that the availability of plant medicines will also decline. The INADES illustration included in Appendix 6 reflects this common concern. In a village study in Sierra Leone, MacFoy (1986) learned that healers now have to search farther into the forest areas for effective plant medicines (those found at the periphery or on disturbed sites are often believed to be less potent).
Throughout the entire West African region fuelwood provides the main source of energy for rural households and the main source of cooking fuel in urban areas. Fuelwood and charcoal provide the predominant source of energy for small-scale processing enterprises such as palm oil production and fish smoking. Estimates of fuelwood consumption exist for most urban centers in the region, especially for fuelwood consumption in arid regions (Davidson 1985, Ministère des Affaires Sociales 1986, Njomgang 1987, Oguntala 1986, Energy Initiatives for Africa 1986, Direction des Eaux et Forêts 1982). Fewer studies have been conducted on fuelwood consumption of rural households in the humid forest zone. It is generally assumed, however, that rural households from this region do not suffer from fuelwood scarcities (with the exception of some areas surrounding urban centers).
Fuelwood production is often associated with agriculture - when bush is cleared it provides a source of fuelwood and, for those near urban centers, a source of cash income. In his study of fuelwood production and marketing in Enugu (southern Nigeria), Enunwaonye (1983) found that 15 species were especially valued as fuelwood, among them Bridelia atroviridis and Pycnanthus angolensis. Many studies note that trees left on farm and fallow lands are valued as sources of fuel (see Depommier 1983, Asamoah 1985, Elletey 1986, Herren-Gemmill 1988, Umeh 1985, Okafor et al 1987). (Species valued especially as fuel are listed in Appendix 8.)
Table 2: Regional fuelwood consumption estimates
Njomgang (1987) estimates that fuelwood consumption is 1.6
kg/day per person. Sixty percent of the Yaoundé households use fuelwood
and charcoal for cooking; an even higher percentage are fuelwood users in rural
areas. In southern Cameroon, Faure and Vivien (1980) have found that fuelwood
(23 species) is the only source of energy in the study villages. It is used for
all cooking, crop drying, fish smoking and bushmeat smoking. Charcoal is used
for ironing. Fuelwood is gathered daily, primarily from farm clearings. People
do not collect fuelwood at distances beyond their fields (approximately 2 km.).
They estimated that households consume between 0.025 and 0.25
m3/day/household (the highest consumption being in households in a
fishing village which is involved in fish smoking). For the study region they
estimated that the average household consumed 0.1 m3/day of fuelwood.
Thus, for the Littoral region as a whole, households consume between an
estimated 200,000 and 300,000 m3 a year.
Moby-Etia (1982) reports that mangrove forests are especially
valued by the Wouri in southern Cameroon for fuelwood for fish
Here, fuelwood provides 83% of the countrys total
household energy (charcoal is, however becoming increasingly popular). In
Abidjan charcoal is preferred as women find that charcoal is often cheaper than
fuelwood; in addition it can be purchased in smaller quantities. Overall
fuelwood consumption is estimated to be 6.25 million m3/yr.
(Ministère des Affaires Sociales 1986). Another energy study estimates
the total fuelwood consumption to be 2 million m3/yr. In regions near
urban centers, fuelwood and charcoal production are important sources of income
In Liberia charcoal accounts for 30% of rural energy
consumption and 50% of urban consumption (Energy Initiatives for Africa
Ardayfio (1983) identified 11 species which were commonly
used. Most fuelwood was collected dry and generally as a by-product of farming.
She found that people consumed from 1.9 kg. to 4 kg./day/capita (depending on
household size). Though people had species preferences (e.g. wood that had a
long lasting burn), choice was generally based upon proximity. Preferred species
included: Ficus asperifolia, Celtis zenkeri, and
Fuelwood provides 72% of the total energy consumed by all
sectors in Sierra Leone. Charcoal provides another 10% (Davidson 1985). In a
fuelwood study in Bo and Makeni Districts Kamara (1986) found that fuelwood was
the primary source of energy for all rural and urban households. Rural
households in Bo consumed an average 3560 kg./yr. of fuelwood and in Makeni they
consumed an average 3485 kg./yr. (see Tables in Appendix 7). Considerable
quantities of fuelwood were used for processing farm produce (accounting for 13%
of the total energy consumed). Most wood was gathered from farm and fallow
fields. On average half of what was collected was marketed (indicating a strong
In the coastal areas mangroves provide the only source of
energy for domestic uses as well as for fish smoking activities (Chong 1987).
They are also an important source of charcoal.
In most rural communities of the West African forest zone, forests supply the materials for house construction: primarily poles, leaves (for roofing) and palm petioles (bamboo), lianas and bark. Descriptive information on traditional housing materials and methods of construction can be found in studies of many different kinds: botanical, anthropological and geographic. In some cases socio-economic studies and surveys include information on housing types. It is difficult, however, to find data on the quantities of these materials that are used, discussions about peoples problems finding desired materials, or estimates of the building materials used and needed locally.
Although house construction styles have changed in some areas, the majority of rural people still rely on their surrounding forest resources for the bulk of their house construction needs. Palm products (especially Raphia sp.) are commonly used throughout the entire region for wall and roof construction. Blanc-Pamard (1980) notes that Raphia palms are most prized for house construction in Côte dIvoire. And, in western Cameroon, Depommier (1983) estimates that 60% of the material used to construct a house derives from Raphia palm.
Mud and wattle constructed houses (Poto-poto style) are the most common in the humid West African region. Gartlan (1987) found that in southern Cameroon of a total 253 buildings surveyed, 223 (88%) were traditional houses built from local materials with thatched roofing. However, throughout the region the forest plant species that are used in house building vary depending upon resource availability and cultural practice (see Téhé 1980 & Blanc-Pamard 1979, Côte dIvoire; Okigbo 1980, Nigeria; Profizi 1983, Benin). The Poto-poto style houses use wattle cross-slats (generally the leaf petioles of raphia palm, other palms, or bamboo) tied with lianas to standing poles (which are young tree stems). The generally preferred species is Coula edulis because it is termite resistant. The resulting frame is then filled in with mud. The roofs are built using palm leaves folded into tiles and palm leaf petioles (for the roofing beams). In many regions, traditional thatched roofs are being replaced with galvanized metal sheet roofs. (See Appendix 9 for a list of species commonly used for house construction.)
Villagers reconstructing the roofs of their houses in Togo
In a study on the evolution of rural housing in southern Cameroon, Franqueville and Tissander (1975) state that traditional rural houses were constructed with leaves, bark, palm leaves and leaf petioles, and tree stems (poles). They note that, during the colonial administration, residents were forced to changed their house construction style to poto-poto because it was considered more permanent.
In a geographic study in Foumbot (Western Cameroon), Tanga (1974) investigated the quantities of materials used in building traditional houses. A one-room poto-poto house used on average 35 poles, 600 palm petioles (or bamboo stems), and 500 palm leaves as thatch roofing. These houses last approximately 8 years. Also in Cameroon, Wundo (1977) evaluated the comparative costs of house building: a poto-poto house (one room) costs approximately FCFA 80,000 (assesses the cost of forest materials, e.g. poles, palm petoiles, twine at FCFA 50,000). He estimated that a semi-permanent house (sun-dried brick walls) costs more than three times that of a traditional house, while a permanent structure (cement construction) would cost more than 15 times that of a traditional dwelling (See also Faure and Vivien 1980, Gartlan 1987, Turay 1987, Laburthe-Tolra 1981).
Forests supply the raw materials used to make a wide range of household utensils. These products can broadly be classified as household furnishings, cooking equipment and utensils, or tools. Many different species are used to make a wide range of different utensils (see Appendix 10). However, information about these uses is scanty and generally descriptive. The best sources of information are ethnobotanical and anthropological studies. The following examples illustrate the ways in which forest vegetation may be used to meet day to day household needs. While some uses are undoubtedly disappearing with the introduction of imported substitutes, it is clear from contemporary accounts that people still rely on their surrounding environment to produce objects needed daily.
In southern Cameroon, Faure and Vivien (1980) found that there were a myriad of household uses for the surrounding forest vegetation. They discovered new uses for forest species in every village they investigated. They identified 8 species commonly used for furniture making (e.g. Detarium microcarpum), 12 species for making tool handles (e.g. Alchornea sp.), and 13 species for cooking utensils (e.g. Alstonia boonei). Abbiw (1989) describes a similar diversity of species used for household goods in Ghana: he identifies 20 species used as binding materials such as ropes and ties, 47 species exploited for their fibre, as well as a multitude of species used for making pestles and mortar, resins and gums, furnishings, tools, basketry, matting material and cooking utensils.
Multiple use of basketry as household equipment and construction in Mali
Gollnhofer, Salée, and Sillans (1975) note that in Gabon specific objects are often made from a particular species. And different groups of people also use particular species for different household items: for example, the Wouri (Côte dIvoire) make oil pressers with wood of Pterocarpus soyauxii, they use Khaya anthotheca for furniture and Alstonia congensis for making bowls, ladles, mortar, and furniture. The Igbo from southern Nigeria use Landolphia sp. and the bark of Triumfetta sp. for ropes, Marantochloa flexuosa and Thaumatococcus daniellii leaves for packaging and food wrapping, and the bottle gourd fruit (Lagenaria siceraria) for containers, bowls and ladles. Ladles and spoons are also carved from the wood of Alstonia boonei, and sponges are made with the stems of Momordica angustisepala (Okigbo 1980).
In some cases one plant species is used to make a multitude of different household items. In Ghana, for example, the leaves of Chlorophora excelsa are used for sandpaper, the wood is used for mortars, furniture, and coffins, its gum for binding and mending; Funtumia elasticas seed floss is used for stuffing, padding and cushions, its wood for pestles, spoons and other implements, and its forked stem in house construction (Asamoah 1985).
Throughout the West African forest zone, household items are most commonly composed, at least partially, of palms (especially Raphia sp. and Elaeis guineensis). They are used in all basketry (e.g. for food storage, transportation and harvest baskets), mat and bag making (for crop drying or as mattresses), brush, broom, and furniture production (e.g. chairs, beds, tables) (Profizi 1983, Walker et al 1961, Etienne 1974, Okigbo 1980, Blanc-Pamard 1980).
While there are many cooking utensils that are widely used in West Africa, the mortar and pestle are perhaps the most ubiquitous. They are common in both rural and urban households, employed to pound yams, cassava, plantain and other staple foods (Etienne 1974). The types of wood that are preferred in mortar and pestle production vary by region as well as country (Asamoah 1985, Abbiw 1989, Ghana; Agbor 1986 & Okigbo 1980, Nigeria; Téhé 1980, Côte dIvoire; Gollnhofer et al 1975, Gabon). However the wood used for the pestle is always hard (generally 0.8 to 1.5 m long with a diameter making it easy to handle).
Many household items are home-produced. Production is generally concentrated in the off-peak agriculture season. Amat and Cortadellas (1972) note that among the Beti in southern Cameroon there are clearly defined tasks for men and women in the production of household equipment (e.g. only men are involved in basketry). There are also traditional artisans who specialize in the production of household furnishings or cooking utensils (such as the mortar and pestle). The authors found that artisan craft was passed through generations, thus certain families within a village might specialise in the production of particular objects. Increasing commercialisation has led, in some cases, to a concentration of artisanal activities: to villages or regions specialising in the production of different household items (generally geared to an urban market): basketry in Agboville, Côte dIvoire (Boni 1982), and wood-working in Ahwia, Ghana (Addey 1982).