Field research stay in Ethiopia: Doing by learning and study life in times of COVID-19

I’m Mulugeta Geremew Guchale from Ethiopia and student of the Tropical Forestry and Management M.Sc. course. After completing three-semesters of the master, I traveled to my home country at the end of February 2020, to conduct the field research data collection for my thesis research. My thesis is focus on the “Ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants in Tarmaber District, central Ethiopia: Implication for the conservation of biodiversity”. The topic is of great interest to me as my father is a traditional healer and I grew up in the Ethiopian Orthodox religion, in which most of the followers use traditional medicine and spiritual water as a primary health care system for the treatment of various human and livestock ailments since ancient time.

Identification of medicinal plants during vegetation inventory with help of a specialist of traditional medicine practitioners in the study area ©M. Geremew.

Since I was in the elementary school and until now, I am a user of traditional medicine prepared from plants growing in the immediate environment where we live, which are created by Almighty God for the human being. As a researcher and educated person, I have a strong belief for traditional medicine, in contrast to the western medicine which have various ingredients and its respective higher side effect to our health. The reason behind is that they are readily available, cost-effective or cost-free, organic, and are highly effective for every ailment.

The current worldwide spreading health problem “COVID-19” pandemic highly increased my motivation as well. Besides, I have seen how specialists of traditional medicine practitioners are confidential and solution finder for every illness even for “COVID-19” pandemic, HIV/AIDS, and cancer. In my study area, I have seen how they search plant species that help as pretreatment and protection. Furthermore, I strongly argue human and veterinary health experts who demoralized the work of specialists of traditional medicine practitioners. This is because their criticism leads the country to loss potential traditional medicinal knowledge and plant species which have medicinal value to cure various ailments of both human and livestock. This in turn affects our biodiversity. Besides, most specialists of traditional medicine practitioners are illiterate, and they did not document their knowledge in written form and even they are not interested to transfer their knowledge freely for their families or for the local communities who have an interest.

Despite, it was difficult to get full data from the specialist of traditional medicine practitioners during interview time, I am lucky to be in the same nation, language, and religion with them. As a country level, 80% and 90% of the population use traditional medicine to cure various ailments of humans and livestock respectively. This is due to the low-level income of the local communities for buying western medicine, lack of nearby hospitals, accessibility and higher efficacy value of medicinal plants for all communities, a relatively low side effect of medicinal plants and traditional beliefs, among others. Therefore it is a crucial and urgent issue to document medicinal plants and the untapped traditional medicinal knowledge which help to find strategies to sustainably utilize medicinal plants, associated knowledge and conservation of biodiversity and ultimately this helps the present generation to utilize natural resources wisely while satisfying their present basic need without affecting the next generation needs.

I feel proud to work with the specialists of traditional medicine, practitioners, and local communities of Wof Washa Kebele in Tarmaber District. I have spent my full time with them day and night, in their workplace, around the church, and at their own home. This helped me to gained broad data from them during the interviews and vegetation inventory of medicinal plants in different land-use forms.

Local communities pray at church to Almighty God to avoid COVID-19 and awareness creation by priests and health extension workers ©M. Geremew.

It is unforgettable the hospitality, cultural and religious ceremony, social life, and respectful love that I received,from experts of the study area and local communities. I sincerely thank Mr. Beletew Tadesse, Mr. Zebene Eshetu, Mr. Wondimhunegn Yeshaw, Konistabil Habite Fente, Miss. Gete Delelegn, Dr. Mersha Woldegiworgis, Assefa Nigussie, Sajin Kifle Gebiretsadik, Mrs. Ealsa Kebede, Miss. Bire Assefa, and Mr. Wogayehu Gebire, Miss Wosene Chernet, Miss Asimaru Asegid and Mrs.  Sinke Zeleke, for their field assistantship, their wonderful hospitality, and accommodation throughout my stay in the study area for field data collection.

I am overwhelmed with pleasure and proud to express my deepest sense of gratitude and special thanks to my supervisor Dr. Maxi Domke, TU Dresden for her continuous support, encouragement, and patient instructions which have always boosted my confidence. My profound sense of gratitude also goes to my co-supervisor Dr. Adane Tesfaye, Bahir Dar University (Institute of Disaster Risk Management, and Food Security Studies) for his consistent invaluable advice, guidance, comments, and follow-up right from start to the completion of this fieldwork research. I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to Mr. Zewdu Yilma, associate researcher in Ethiopian Environment and Forest Research Institute, for his full effort support during the data collection (especially the inventory part), and sharing his long year experience general overview as a country level about medicinal plants and associated knowledge during the focus group discussion. My thanks and appreciation also go to Mr. Abeje Tedila, researcher in Amhara agricultural research Institute for participating in focus group discussion and sharing his experience of a general overview of medicinal plants and associated knowledge in Amhara region. I sincerely thank my former research center, Mr. Biruk Birhan, director of the Hawassa Environment and Forest Research Center for writing support letters.

I am grateful to Tarmaber District Agricultural and Rural Development Office and Health Offices for their permit and provision of necessary general secondary information. Tarmaber District administrative office is highly acknowledged and appreciated for their permit and provision of necessary general information and writing supportive letters during the research fieldwork.

Group photo research assistance, Kebele Police and driver after completing our field research data collection ©M. Geremew.

The last but not least, I express my appreciation and sincere thanks to my wife Kalkidan Zewdu for shouldering the whole responsibilities of family issues, particularly looking after our 1st son, Yosef Mulugeta while she was pregnant of our 2nd son Abreham Mulugeta, born on 9th May 2020 just after I came back from field research. She also deserves special appreciation for her interest in my academic progress and I would like to express my deepest appreciation to our sons, for the love they offered me and the determination and patience they showed whenever they missed me while still, I am concentrating on my thesis writing progress.

By Mulugeta Geremew Guchale

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