Medicinal plants scarce in the urban areas were picked up from the villages, raised in a nursery and distributed to several urban area practitioners. A pamphlet featuring some of the medicinal plants, still used, was prepared and distributed to the Land-Grant Division of the American Samoa Community College and the Curriculum and Instruction Department of the American Samoa Department of Education. Copies were also provided to interested farmers.
The objective is to save most, if not all, of the medical plants that are facing extinction.
Based on a survey, the project team noticed a big drop in the number of practitioners of tradition medicine in the villages. Once there were at least two per village, but now many villages are without one. Of the villages with traditional healers (40%), about 80% are from the independent state of Samoa and most are in their late sixties.
There is concern that this trade or traditional knowledge is fast becoming neglected. According to the healers, the younger generations are not keen on learning the trade or practice. The project team assumed that medicinal plant populations would decline in parallel with the decline in traditional healers. But their survey showed that all of the plants that the older generation used for medicinal purposes are still thriving, although some are growing wild in the villages.
The plants that were collected and raised in a nursery ranged from trees to shrubs (herbs) to vines. The trees needed young seedlings for propagation, while herbs and vines propagated well from cuttings. After one year, seedlings and propagated cuttings were ready, so they were distributed to five selected urban healers and farmers friends who wanted to have their own collection.
BENEFITS OR IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE
Most of the healers, and especially the farmers with whom medicinal plants had been shared, expressed interest in commercializing some of the plants. The nonu plant (Indian mulberry) is now a popular cash crop for other island nations, like Tahiti, Niue and independent Samoa. The juice extracted from its fruit is popular as a health drink in Japan, where demand outpaces supply. The nonu or noni juice is also popular in the United States.
The nonu plant grows well in American Samoa soils, we it is being intercropped with major crops like banana and taro. At least 20 acres are planned for planting. Individuals from independent Samoa have expressed willingness to help the project team in American Samoa with marketing and juice production.
Other plants are also under consideration, including the mamala tree (Homalanthus nutans) from which the drug prostratin, an anti-AIDS substance, has been extracted. Both plans have revived and raised the interest of Samoan farmers in medicinal plants, especially in rural areas.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
All of the farmers contacted about this project have expressed interest in having their own open nursery collections of medicinal plants of Samoa. The idea of reviving the use of medicinal plants may not be a lost cause now that commercialization is coming into play.
In addition, medicinal plants were featured in a science project by a student of Leone High School in the 2003-04 Territorial Science Fair.
REACTIONS FROM PRODUCERS
To continue the drive forward and to maintain the renewed enthusiasm about medicinal plants, the farmers expressed a desire to form an organization, and efforts are being focused on that need. The idea is to gather frequently to share information on cultivation and production practices as well as to promote the awareness of medicinal plants.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
A central nursery in every district (four in American Samoa) would be more appropriate. The farmer group now gathered is concentrated mainly in urban communities.
In addition, more plants need to be submitted for further testing for the possibility of drug extraction.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
Copies of the pamphlet were distributed to the American Samoa Community College Land Grant Division and the Curriculum and Instruction Division of the American Samoa Department of Education.
In addition, the earth science teacher at Leone High School has contacted the Western SARE project coordinator for help in designing a nursery and for supplies of medicinal plants to plant in it. It is understood that four other high schools will follow suit.