Indigenous knowledge of landscape–ecological zones among traditional herbalists

Object of study is the insight of traditional herbalists in the landscape-ecological factors wich control the growth of the plants they use for healing their patients. The extent of this insight determines their capacity to adapt to environmental changes such as deforestation and soil degradation. This paper deals with the landscape-ecological perception of herbalists who live in an area with sharp landscape contrasts and drastic changes in landuse:

the Keiyo Escarpment in the Rift which links the cool and humid Uasin Gishu Plateau at a level of more than 2600 m above sea level, with the warm and semi-arid Kerio Valley at 1250 m. The landuse changes of the last 50 years are caused by growing population density, loss of traditional attitudes towards the value of the land, and changes in forest cover. Data on local knowledge are acquired through interviews and field visits. The corresponding western knowledge is derived from aerial photographs and existing reports and maps. Six landscape-ecological zones are recognized. They are named after topography (‘wareng’, ‘mosop’, ‘soin’), vegetation (‘teguming’, ‘korget’) or landuse (‘tumdo’). These zones coincide with the units of the agro-climatic map of Kenya. Apart from geology, all the factors of the hierarchical model used in western-based landscape ecology (climate, geology, relief, water, soil, vegetation and fauna) are included in the indigenous perception of the landscape, but the hierarchical order is not necessarily the same: e.g. the herbalists assume that rock grows in the soil instead of the other way around, and that forests attract rain. From the herbalists' point of view, deforestation and the establishment of small-holder agriculture is less serious for their trade than the replacement of indigenous trees by plantations with exotic species. They adapt to the loss of the forest by travelling to areas with comparable landscape-ecological conditions or, especially in the case of women and older male herbalists, by planting the required species in the garden. According to the herbalists, good climate and fertile soil stimulate species diversity, but best medicinal performance give plants on soils which are periodically dry.

P.D. Jungerius
Kluwer Academic Publishers

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Management and/or conservation of land use

Cross cutting

Indigenous knowledge


Indigenous knowledge



Geographic Coverage

Local (city or municipality)