Covid-19: The rebirth of local Traditional Knowledge systems!

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By Wellington Zimbowa
“WHOEVER thought Zumbani/Umsuzwane (lippia javanica) will dominate discussions on home remedies for the Coronavirus in the world of developed pharmaceutical industry,” quipped the national export trade organisation ZimTrade in one of its reports on its website.
The document analyses the growing public appetite for perceived or real traditional/organic and natural products in Zimbabweans’ health and wellness.
This presents a huge economic opportunity, one which Midlands State University biochemical researcher, who made pioneering local research on the plant- the potential of a vibrant nutrascetic industry.
Zimtrade notes that there is a unique opportunity that should be tamed on the global market.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) says that the changing consumers’ preference for natural health products has presented a niche that exporters in many least developed countries are looking to develop for sustainable production and export trade.
Traditional health care practitioners, traditional healers and consumption at the household level have all contributed to the demand for traditional medicinal plants and herbs.
The growing demand for traditional medicine and herbs also comes from the diverse use of products that also include conventional and traditional medicine, food supplements, dietary supplements, and cosmetics,” noted ZimTrade.
This comes when a Government-funded natural herb research project being implemented by the Midlands State University (MSU) has shown positive results.
MSU biochemist young Dr Michael Bhebhe successfully carried out laboratory tests for the Zumbani plant.
The herbal medicine researcher was inspired by a lack of local research on the country’s herbal plants.
“It is my pleasure to tell our own Zimbabwean story about one of our local plants and its benefits. In my early years as a growing scientist, I realized that if I wanted to find out about our local herbs, I had to dig a little deeper online and, in most cases, had to rely on research done outside the Zimbabwean border. My interest in studying natural products which span over 12 years was fostered by three Professors, Maud Muchuweti a biochemist, Mudadi A. N. Benhura another biochemist, and Dexter Tagwireyi a pharmacist and toxicologist.
“In my studies, I managed to profile bioactive compounds from Zumbani extracts, quantified them, and tested them for the potential to cause mutation of normal cells and poison the liver, “said Dr Bhebhe.

His research was termed “Demystifying the ‘Wonder Herb’: The Zimbabwean Zumbani Story.”
In my studies, I managed to profile bioactive compounds from Zumbani extracts, quantified them, and tested them for the potential to cause mutation of normal cells and poison the liver.
He noted that the plant found in Southern, Central and Eastern Africa has and is reported to be also available in the tropical Indian subcontinent has several beneficial nutritional and medicinal components which make the plant both food and medicine.
Scientifically known as Lippia javanica (Burm. f) or Umsuzwane in Ndebele, the plant has a good source of phenolic compounds, which act as antioxidants when consumed and can aver in the nutraceutical industry.
The government recently established centres or research excellence across the country’s higher learning institutions in pursuit of the knowledge-based economy vision.
Government is on a drive to harness the maximum benefits from the vastly available natural herbs.
Under the guidance and support of the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Development.
“I equally encourage the university to quickly implement its plans to expand the industrial park to produce pharmaceuticals, canned fruits and beverages through your Indigenous Fruit and Herbs Research Project,” the President was quoted saying last November.
He was officiating at the commissioning of the MSU Industrial Park, which coincided with the university’s 21st graduation ceremony.
The Midlands province university has since lived true to its billing in line with its mandate in research on local herbs.
Dr Bhebhe’s research showed that Zumbani has anti-oxidants, which are very useful in mopping out toxic chemicals (radicals).
According to the official Rooibos page, the Rooibos tea industry has experienced phenomenal growth, specifically in the export market, with a growth of 742% between 1993 and 2003.
Doctor Bebhe noted that the Zumbani hype over COVID- 19 has reignited the uptake of rational knowledge systems.
“One thing that I now know is that locals, even from the grassroots are now aware of the importance of local plants.
“I now foresee a pushback against international players that would be seeking to plunder the flora and fauna,” said Dr Bhebhe.
According to Doctor Bhebhe, “The globally popular tea brand, Rooibos, which one of our studies indicated that Zumbani had higher antioxidant potential than the popular commercial was on the shelves.”
He added that scientific reviews carried out so far indicate that the plant has a wide range of pharmacological activities.
These include antioxidant, antidiabetic, antimalarial, antiplasmodial and pesticide effects and some nutritional plants.
He called for a joint partnership among scientists, government, corporate world and research institutions for clinical research to determine the plant’s efficiency as a health remedy.
Dr Bhebhe added that while his reach proved the associated health benefits such as respiratory challenges, it has no proven kidney challenges from its use.
In 2005 alone, 15,000ha of Rooibos was planted demonstrating the resulting growth in
production.
It is used as herbal tea and ethnomedicinal applications for colds, cough, fever or malaria, wounds, repelling mosquitos, diarrhoea, chest pains, bronchitis, asthma, and skin infections.
He noted that Rooibos is now advanced because South African scientists invested in the project.
Doctor Bhebhe noted that unlike on Zumbani, there was no data on production levels, traded volumes; export figures and even a regulatory body to control its production, trade and quality of the product.

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