Ethnobotanical and Floristic Research in Belize: Accomplishments, challenges and lessons learned


  • Michael J. Balick
  • Hugh O'Brien


Ethnobotanical and floristic research in Belize was con- ducted through the Belize Ethnobotany Project which was launched in 1988 as a multi-disciplinary effort of a number of individuals and institutions in Belize and internationally. The objectives of the project were the preservation of cul- tural and traditional knowledge, natural products research (through the National Cancer Institute), technology trans- fer, institutional strengthening and student training. This paper discusses the implementation of the project com- ponents, highlighting its accomplishments, challenges and lessons learned. A checklist of the flora has been pro- duced, and includes 3,408 native and cultivated species found in Belize. The multiple use curve is introduced as a way of determining the most appropriate sample size for ethnobotanical interviews/collections. Valuation studies of medicinal plants found in two areas of local forest are de- scribed, and compared with values of traditional uses for farming, using a net present value analysis. Studies on the ecology, propagation and sustainable levels of harvest of medicinal plants were also initiated in Belize. Our expe- rience with the production of a traditional healer’s manual is detailed, and we describe details on the benefit-sharing approach utilized to recognize intellectual property that it contains. Various local efforts at developing forest-based traditional medicine products are described, as is the nat- ural products research and teaching program based on Belizean plants. The authors will relate an example of how negative events can be transformed to have positive re- sults. Specifically, in the case of conflict over the man- agement of the region’s first ethnobiomedical reserve, two competing groups claimed responsibility for its manage- ment. However, the conflict was eventually resolved and resulted in two such reserves being established, together representing over 50,000 acres of land set aside for con- servation and use by traditional healers. The perspective of local participants and communities will also be present- ed, including a short video presentation.




How to Cite

Balick, M. J., & O’Brien, H. (2004). Ethnobotanical and Floristic Research in Belize: Accomplishments, challenges and lessons learned. Ethnobotany Research and Applications, 2, 077–088. Retrieved from