New York Botanical Garden

The Vanuatu archipelago is situated in the midst of three significant biodiversity hotspots (New Caledonia, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands), and is a global priority for bicultural conservation due to its high rate of biotic endemism, the endangerment of its native diversity of flora and fauna, and the worrying erosion of the traditional knowledge and cultural practices based in this biological diversity. Despite the critical status of these interlinked biological, social, and cultural factors, a centralized repository for information about the flora and the traditional uses of Vanuatu’s plants is lacking. The overall benefits for this program to Vanuatu are the conservation of bicultural diversity in the country and the promotion of human health incorporating traditional, biodiversity-based practices. These outcomes will be achieved through collaborative goal-setting and work with regional stakeholders and program partners, with the objective of empowering local people to conserve and utilize their biological and cultural heritage to improve their quality of life and live sustainably.

Through the proposed research program, the team of local and international collaborators seeks to help stem biological and cultural losses and improve human health in Vanuatu by applying multi-disciplinary approaches to integrate the conservation of biological and cultural diversity, with improved primary health care. The project, entitled “Bicultural Diversity and Human Health in Vanuatu”, will expand a successful New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) model program partnering with local institutions and communities in Micronesia to the Republic of Vanuatu. Since 1997, NYBG scientists and their collaborators have worked with Traditional Leaders, local communities, and government agencies in Micronesia to conserve bicultural diversity and empower island residents to maintain their traditions and uses of native plants, and be more effective stewards of their traditional cultures and natural heritage.

The Vanuatu program seeks to replicate the success of the Micronesia program in preserving and promoting the use of plant-based traditional knowledge and lifestyles, including traditional plant-based health care; supporting collaborative efforts in science-based biodiversity conservation; building regional capacity in science, ethno botany, ethno medicine, and conservation; and increasing cultural resilience in a globalizing and rapidly changing landscape. The Vanuatu program will be shaped by local priorities in forestry, conservation, land management, and primary health care needs.

The program will use our collaboration-based model, working with the local personnel in botany, conservation, forestry, and health care in Vanuatu, to identify plants currently or previously used in traditional medicine where good evidence of efficacy and safety exists. The project will culminate in the production of an “Annotated Checklist of the Flora” to record and document the plant diversity of the three islands of Tanna, Erromango, and Aneityum, and the preparation of a “Primary Health Care Manual” to improve health care in areas where dispensaries often lack modern pharmaceuticals. This will require a thorough understanding of the composition and distribution of the local flora, including native, naturalized, and exotic species, and carrying out extensive interviews about the traditional uses of these species for primary health care conditions. Based on our past experience, manuals of this type can be produced for a specific region in a time frame of seven to twelve years, requiring a long-term commitment by NYBG and our collaborators to this region