Since ancient times people have been visiting Sinai and discovering the flora and fauna that resides there. In pharonic times, expeditions were made to the Sinai to gather medicinal plants for cultivation in the Temple Gardens of Karnak, Upper Egypt.
Sinai today still stands as a rich bed for plant diversity and for its wealth in medicinal plants. The flora of Sinai is represented by 1262 species of plants of which 520 are endemic to Egypt and 36 species are purely endemic to St. Katherine’s Protectorate.
The Bedouin that live in St. Katherine’s are called the Gebaleya and they have a profound knowledge of the properties of these plants especially the medicinal ones. The Gebalaya have a very special relation to St. Katherine’s; entrusted originally as the keepers and protectors of the Monastery from bandits and other enemies.
In modern times the fine balance between the livelihoods of the Gebaleya and their environment is in jeopardy from various sources. As with many indigenous peoples worldwide they are under threat from losing their traditional ways of living and therefore the inherent knowledge that has been built up over the millennia especially that associated with medicinal plants.
The Medicinal Plants Conservation Project (MPCP) aims to counter the threats to the medicinal plants of St. Katherine’s Protectorate through developing alternative and sustainable livelihoods for the communities of the Gebaleya. One of the outputs of the project is the creation of an NGO in St. Katherine’s called the Medicinal Plants Association (MPA). Their aim is to create alternative and sustainable activities that do not adversely impact on the environment.
There are many success stories to tell from the people of St. Katherine’s in their bid to diversify their income resource. The beehives project is a well established one where Sheikh Said and several families now run beehive farms and the bees are producing a distinctive flavor of honey that has medicinal properties. The high vitamin content of the honey has been said to strengthen the immune system and guard the body against the common cold.
There are now safaris organized by the community that are environmentally friendly in terms of not using the wild wood from tree or shrub species. The resident Hakim (herbal healer) by the name of Ahmed Mansour has his own business in organic medicinal plant products cultivated in the farms of the mountain sides. His brother Mahmoud Mansour has an eco-lodge there where he is trying to encourage eco-tourism. Sheikh Jameel’s eco-lodge is also famed for his hospitality and the quality of his organic meals. Salima is a Bedouin entrepreneur who has created an international textiles business called ‘Fansina’ made up of the Gabeleya styles of fashion. She has managed to allow the women of the community to have jobs crafting the products of the Gabeleya.
By diversifying the methods of livelihood we will reduce the impact of an ever growing population and its affect on the environment. The usual subsistence of grazing is not sustainable for everyone especially when you consider that most Bedouin are no longer nomadic.
The Medicinal Plant Conservation Project (MPCP) is supporting these local initiatives and backing them up through a national strategy to promote the intellectual property rights and the associated benefit sharing of the knowledge related to medicinal plants. This would allow the Bedouin communities to have control of the marketing of their medicinal products without fear of outsiders stealing their secret knowledge.
For more information about St. Katherine’s and the Medicinal Plants Conservation Project why not visit our website at www.mpcpegypt.com
Why not arrange a tour of the MPA and St. Katherine’s or try out the eco-touristic activities i.e. The Eco-Lodges or Fansina.
Khalil Soleiman (MPA-Secretary): +20 69 3470648
Mahmoud Mansour (Hakim) – +20 (0) 12 640 0782
Sheikh Jameel (Al Karm eco-lodge) - +20 (0)10 1324693 www.ecolodges.saharasafaris.org/alkarm/
Salima (Fansina) - firstname.lastname@example.org