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Uses of Namibia's plants

Namibia's plants play an important role in many aspects of life in the country. They provide food for people, livestock and game. Many species have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and in recent years the production of a range of indigenous natural products has been commercialised. Plants play a crucial role in preserving local ecosystems and supporting wildlife, as well as in carbon sequestration and regulating the local climate. In short, there are many reasons to value Namibian plants for their various uses.


Some example uses are given below:

Forage, pasture and fodder for livestock and game farming

Grasses, both annual and perennial species, are an important source of food for livestock and game animals. These plants play a key role in maintaining the health and productivity of the animals, as well as in conserving the soil and maintaining soil fertility. Camelthorn (Acacia erioloba) pods are highly nutritious and widely used as fodder for livestock. They are an important source of protein and fibre for animals, helping to maintain their health and well-being and can result in increased meat and dairy production, providing a valuable source of income for farmers and rural communities.

Commercialisation of plant products

Many Namibian plants have been used for centuries by indigenous communities for medicinal purposes. For example, Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is used to treat pain, fever, and digestive problems, while Hoodia (Hoodia gordonii) is used as an appetite suppressant. Several species of Aloe are used to treat wounds, burns, and skin conditions.

Marula (Sclerocarya birrea) fruits are used to produce oil for cooking and cosmetic purposes, providing a valuable resource for rural communities. The oil is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, making it a nutritious and healthy cooking oil. Additionally, the oil is used in cosmetics for its moisturising and skin-protecting properties.

The resin of some species of Commiphora (corkwoods) have been used for centuries as perfume by the Himba people. This traditional harvesting has recently been expanded and developed into an export trade. See this page about the Commiphora depicted on BotSoc's logo for more information.

In recent years, the production of a range of indigenous natural products has been commercialised and expanded, from raw products being sold at informal markets for local use to the production of finished products which have been prepared and packaged for the national and international markets. This provides a source of income for rural communities, particularly women, and encourages the sustainable use of these valuable resources.

You can find much more information on the uses of Namibia's plants in the book Indigenous Plant Products in Namibia.

Slicing Devil's claw
Slicing Devil's Claw          
Photo: D Cole
Pressing marula fruit
Pressing marula fruit          
Photo: F Chase

Building material for traditional housing

Traditionally, Namibia's plants have played a crucial role as building materials. Many grass species, such as thatch grass (Hyparrhenia spp.), are used to construct roofs for traditional houses. The Camelthorn (Acacia erioloba), with its strong and durable wood, is often used for the frame of traditional houses, as well as for furniture and household items.

Eragrostis pallens
Eragrostis pallens          
Photo: C Mannheimer

Carbon sequestration and regulation of local climate

Namibian plants play an important role in maintaining local ecosystems and preserving biodiversity, as well as in regulating the local climate. Plants contribute to carbon sequestration, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. They also play a crucial role in moderating local temperatures, providing shade and cooling the environment.

Preserving biodiversity and providing critical habitats and food sources for wildlife

Namibian plants are a crucial component of local ecosystems, providing critical habitats and food sources for a variety of wildlife, including birds, reptiles, and mammals. They help to maintain biodiversity, preserving a unique and valuable part of the natural world. Conservation of biodiversity is also economically valuable as it supports ecotourism, supporting local communities and the national economy through the tourist industry.

Soil stabilisation and erosion control

Namibian plants play an important role in stabilising the soil and preventing erosion. They help to anchor the soil in place, protecting it from being washed away by rain or wind. Additionally, they help to conserve moisture and improve soil fertility, promoting healthy plant growth and a diverse ecosystem. For example, species such as Acacias and many other legumes (members of the pea family, Fabaceae) are known for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil through intimate symbiotic relationships with specialised bacteria. In exchange for sugars produced by the plant, these bacteria convert nitrogen gas in the air into a form that the plant can use directly.

Read more about the uses of Namibia's plants in the Atlas of Namibia.