Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (3) 2010 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Indigenous knowledge (IK) ranking of available browse and grass species and some shrubs used in medicinal and ethno-veterinary practices in ruminant livestock production in Limpopo province, South Africa

M M Matlebyane, J W W Ng’ambi and E M Aregheore*

University of Limpopo, Private Bag X1106, Sovenga 0727, South Africa
* The University of the South Pacific, School of Agriculture and Food Technology, Alafua Campus,Apia, Samoa
Present address: Marfel Consulting (Agricultural and Educational Services), Suite 118-7341, 19th Avenue, Burnaby, BC, V3N 1E3, Canada


Two semi-structured questionnaires administered to farmers investigated indigenous knowledge (IK) ranking of available browses and grass species and some shrubs used in medicinal and ethno-veterinary practices in ruminant livestock production in three chief areas of the Capricorn region, Limpopo province, South Africa. The first semi-structured questionnaire guide was administered to rank of 12 forages (browse and grasses species) in three chief areas namely Ga-Mphahlele; Ga-Dikgale and Moletjie. The twelve forage species were six browses (Acacia Karroo, Acacia  rehmanniana; Dichrostachys cinerea; Ziziphus  mucronata, Peltophorum  Africana, and Vangueria cyanoses) and 6 grasses (Cynodon dactylon, Panicum maximum, Hyperthelia  dissoluta, Themeda triandra, Digitaria  eriantha and Aristida  congesta) were ranked in terms of texture of leaves, preference/palatability (voluntary intake) and animal performance (cattle, goats and sheep). Among the browse species, Acacia karroo ranked highest while Peltophorum africanum ranked lowest, while Panicum maximum among the grass species ranked highest; and Hyperthelia dissoluta and Aristida  congesta were lowest.


Information obtained in this study demonstrated that there seems to be relationship between indigenous knowledge rankings of available grass and browse species in texture of leaves, preference/ palatability (voluntary intake) and performance of animal for growth, and other physiological functions them.


The second semi-structured questionnaire guide administered to twenty 27 ruminant livestock farmers was to identify and match some shrubs and trees with the type of ailments they prevent or cure in medicinal and ethno-veterinary practices. The farmers provided information and matched the shrubs and trees to different ailments they can be prevent or cure when applied to ruminant animals in medicinal and ethno-veterinary practices at the on-farm level.


Indigenous and scientific knowledge on available forage resources eaten and used for medicinal and ethno-veterinary practices should complement each other to reduce constraints on livestock production in Limpopo province, South Africa.

Keywords: browse and grass species; indigenous knowledge; shrubs, medicinal and ethno-veterinary


Ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) are the most important components of agriculture in the Limpopo province. They play various important roles such as employment and source of income generation. Majority of ruminant livestock farmers in the rural areas of Limpopo province depend on natural pastures and forages usually found in communal grazing area. These are overgrazed and therefore cannot provide adequate nutrients for good level of productivity among the ruminant livestock. There are reports that one of the major constraints for improved productivity is the low quantity and quality of available forages during the dry season that cannot meet nutrient requirements of grazing ruminant livestock in Limpopo province (Matlebyane 2005).


Forage quality refers to the totality of factors that influence its feed to ruminant animals (Cheeke 1991) and this definition is based mainly on accepted scientific analytical methods. The concepts of quality used by local farmers in the Limpopo province to rank forage resources is mostly unknown (Altieri 2002). Although farmers use indigenous knowledge as a basis for decision-making in ruminant livestock feed management, it is important to ascertain what indigenous knowledge entails.


Indigenous knowledge is a society-based knowledge that people use to differentiate local-level knowledge from the global knowledge that has generated over the past centuries. In agriculture, it provides the basis for decision-making by the vast majority of the world’s farmers who operate outside the capital intensive, high external input approaches that characterize many large-scale farm enterprises (Altieri2002; Thapa et al 1997).


In commercial agriculture, chemical analysis determine forage quality in terms of nutrients content; and this is used to develop feeding systems and rations to match livestock requirements for different physiological stages of production (Chesworth 1992). An equivalent system based on indigenous knowledge of rural people is required in order to limit the constraints imposed by cost and accessibility of the laboratory-based system for smallholder rural farmers. Indigenous knowledge has been successfully use in ruminant livestock farming over the centuries (Altieri 2002). It is, therefore, essential that the basis for decision making on available forage feed resources and grazing management technology utilized by rural communities be scientifically tested and used to recommend ways to manage and improve rural grazing areas.


Also the interest in ethno-veterinary practices is growing and many of these practices offer viable alternatives to conventional western-style veterinary medicine especially where the latter is unavailable, unaffordable or inappropriate (FAO 2001). Although indigenous knowledge and traditional usage of some shrubs in ethno veterinary care are little known by the modern scientific world (Elkharbotly et al 2003) most famers in the developing countries depend on them for medicinal and ethno-veterinary care (McCorkle et al 1996).  Ethno-veterinary remedies of shrubs are indigenous knowledge based and often from tradition folk medicine for human use FAO 2001).


Ethno-veterinary medicine can provide low-cost health care for simple animal health issues though it tends to be ineffective against infectious diseases. Additional information on the medicinal and ethno-veterinary purpose of available shrubs and trees will be of economic benefit to livestock farmers. The objectives of this paper were to investigate indigenous knowledge (IK) ranking of available browses and grass species grazed by ruminants; and the medicinal and ethno-veterinary value of some shrubs and trees used to treat ailments of ruminant animals in Limpopo province, South Africa. 

Materials and methods 

Study site, experimental design and sample collection


Three chief areas of the Capricorn region of Limpopo province selected for the study were Ga-Mphahlele, Ga-Dikgale and Moletjie. Three representative villages within each chief area namely, Seleteng, Serobaneng and Mashite (Ga-Mphahlele); Mokgopo, Mogabane and Marobala (Ga-Dikgale) and Sengatane, Moshate and Manamela (Moletjie) that use different grazing areas were included in the study. The chief, village headman and the people in the selected accessible areas to cooperation and participate in the study was solicited.


Twelve locally available forages were identify for the study included six (6) browse species and six (6) grass species. The six browse species were Sweet thorn (Acacia karroo), Silky thorn (Acacia rehmanniana), Sickle bush (Dichrostachys cinerea), Buffalo thorn (Ziziphus mucronata), Weeps wattle (Peltophorum africunum) and Forest wild medlar (Vangueria cyanescens). The six (6) grass species were Couch grass (Cynodon dactylon), Guinea grass (Panicum maximum), Yellow-thatch grass (Hyperthelia dissoluta); Red grass (Themeda triandra), Finger grass (Digitaria eriantha) and Spready-three lawn (Aristida congesta subsp Barbicollis).


Indigenous knowledge ranking of grass and browses species on 1-4 scale


Livestock farmers in Limpopo were administered a semi-structured questionnaire guide to rank the browses and grasses. The order of ranking was: 1 = very good (soft and succulent in texture; high intake and good live-weight gain in ruminant animals); 2 = Fair (medium intake and medium growth of ruminant animals); 3 = bad (hard and not succulent in texture, poor intake and poor growth of ruminant animals); and 4 = very bad (very hard and not eaten by ruminant animals - cattle, goats and sheep). The triad method was use to categorize, classify and label perceptions of the feeding values of all collected plant samples. Three samples were randomly selected were placed in each bag. The farmers rank the samples according to texture of leaves, observed preference/acceptance (voluntary intake) and subsequently performance of animals on the forages.


Association of 12 indigenous shrubs in medicinal and ethno-veterinary practices in the prevention and cure of ailment in ruminant production


Another semi structured questionnaire guide were administered to 27 active livestock farmers to identify and associate 12 indigenous shrubs and trees used in medicinal and ethno-veterinary practices with type of ailments they can prevent or cure in ruminant production in the Limpopo province. The twenty-seven farmers described the shrubs by their vernacular names. Names provided elicited information on indigenous knowledge and the association of each of the shrubs with the ailment prevention and cure in ruminant production in the region.


Results and discussion 

Indigenous knowledge rankings of the feed values of some common grass and browse species in the Capricorn region of Limpopo province


Indigenous knowledge rankings of the feed values of the grass and browse species based on texture of leaves, preference/acceptance (voluntary intake) of the forages and subsequently animal performance is presented in Table 1.

Table 1.  Indigenous knowledge rankings of the feeding values of some grass and browse species in the Capricorn region of Limpopo province

Grass species*

Indigenous knowledge  rankings

Panicum maximum (mphafa)


Cynodon dactylon (mohlwa)


Digitaria eriantha (nabile)


Themeda triandra (lesufu)


Hyperthelia dissoluta (morulela)


Aristida congesta (kgolane)


Browse Species*

Indigenous knowledge  rankings

Acacia karroo (mooka)


Acacia rehmanniana (mosibihla)


Dichrostachys cinerea (moretshe)


Ziziphus mucronata (mokgalo)


Peltophorum africanum (mosehla)


Vangueria cyanescens (mmilo)


*The local name is in brackets.

Order of rankings:

1: Very good (soft and succulent in texture, high intake and good growth of ruminant animals);

2: Fair (medium intake and medium growth of ruminant animals);

3: Bad (hard and not succulent in texture, poor intake and growth of ruminant animals); and

4: Very bad (very hard and not eaten by ruminant animals)

The ranking was. Panicum maximum (mphafa) was preferred and adjudged to have high feeding value. Cynodon dactylon (mohlwa) and Digitaria eriantha (nabile) were second while Themeda triandra (lesufu) was third in ranking. Hyperthelia dissoluta (morulela) and Aristida congesta (kgolane) (not eaten by the animal) were in the fourth rank.


Indigenous knowledge rankings of the browse species placed Acacia Karroo (mooka) as number one, which indicates its high feed value and preference/acceptance. Dichrostachys cinerea (moretshe) and Ziziphus  mucronata (mokgalo) ranked second; Acacia rehmanniana (mosibihla) as third while Peltophorum africanum (mosehla) and Vangueria. cyanescens (mmilo) fourth in the category of browse species not eaten by the animals even when offered on a cafeteria basis.


Assessment of the worth of feed relies on its ability to support growth, lactation, reproduction in the animal. Other feed assessments seek to predict an animal’s response to a particular feed or diet. Bellon and Taylor (1993) have investigated the ‘validity’ and objectivity of indigenous knowledge in the classification of forages and concluded that distinctions made by indigenous people were scientifically valid and statistically testable.


The use of indigenous knowledge to indentify forage and shrubs species in livestock production system has positive effects because palatable species are recognized early for grazing and browsing during the different seasons of the years. Furthermore, the positive effect involves exploiting knowledge of farmers and incorporating it in research and development systems, and this concurred with the report of Matlebyane (2005).  


Indigenous knowledge in agricultural practices refers to wide-range of site-specific technologies embedded in the culture of the people developed over time. This is the actual knowledge that reflects experiences based on traditions. It also includes recent experiences with modern technologies (Thorne et al 1997 and Thorne et al 1999). The indigenous knowledge entails various insights, wisdom, perceptions and practices related to peoples’ resources and environments (Matlebyane 2005), and this knowledge is dynamic, with elements of both continuity and change (Anon 1994).


The farmers in the Capricorn region of Limpopo were able to rank the forages (grass and browse species) according to the texture of their leaves, voluntary intake and the performance of the animals that fed on them.


Shrubs used in medicinal and ethno-veterinary practices in the prevention and cure of ailment in ruminant production


Table 2 presents the names of the shrubs and trees used in medicinal and indigenous ethno-veterinary purposes in ruminant livestock production in Limpopo province.

Table 2.  General medicinal and ethno veterinary uses of some shrubs/ trees for ruminant livestock and their availability in the study areas

Tree species*


Study area




Dicerocaryum seneciodes (Mompati)

Helps in parturition in cattle




Solanum parduriforme (Motholla)

Treats upset stomach in animals




Gymnosporia senegalensis (mophato)





Aloe zebrina (kgopsana)

Treats wounds in animals




Clerodendrum glabrum (Mohlokohloko)

Kills ticks




(Lesotlelo) no scientific name was found

Treat eye diseases




Lippia javanica (mosinkwane

Insect repellent




Aloe vera (Sekgopha)

Oestrus induction




Euphorbia species

Expulsion of retained placenta




*The local name is in brackets.

Farmers’ example use Aloe vera leaves to induce oestrus in female ruminant animals. The slippery-foamy liquid produced by Dicerocaryum seneciodes (mompati), a shrub used to assist cattle that experience problems during parturition and this observation concurred with Van der Merwe et al (2001). Dicerocaryum seneciodes is usually ground and smeared around the protruding foetus for easy expulsion. Farmers identified Solanum parduriforme (motholla) as herb used for treating diarrhea and bloat and this agreed with Bossard (1996) in Angola for the treatment of diarrhea and bloat in cattle. Mathabe et al (2006) reported the use Gymnosporia senegalensis (mophato) to prevent diarrhea ruminant livestock. In addition, this shrub was associated to stop bleeding and treatment of wounds in animals attacked by predators. The farmers indicated that the stem of Euphorbia species is ground and mixed with water. The resultant liquid obtained from the mixture was introduce into the reproductive tract of a cow to induce the expulsion of a retained placenta and this agrees with Jaouad El-Hilaly et al (2003) in northern Morocco. The farmers also indicated that they use Aloe zebrina to treat livestock against contagious abortion.


The milky substance (latex) produced by Clerodendrum glabrum (mohlokohloko) is smeared onto animals for tick removal. Lesotlela (no scientific name found) is use to treat eye infections in animals and Lippia javanica used as an insect repellent (Matlebyane 2005).


The rearing of ruminant livestock is an old practice and so is the use of roots, leaves, bark and extracts of shrubs and trees for indigenous medicinal purposes for curing animal ailments in the Capricorn region, Limpopo province. Indigenous knowledge of the medicinal value of shrubs and trees for ethno-veterinary purposes is beyond technical methods rather it entails various insights, wisdom, perceptions and practices related to peoples’ resources and environments. This knowledge seemed a central aspect of culture derived from experience and lately education.


It has been suggested that the most effective approach to obtaining knowledge is the ethno-botanical approach which assumes that indigenous uses of plants indicates the presence of biologically active constituents in the plants (Matlebyane 2005). Generally, local-dwelling peoples often claim that most, and perhaps all, plants in their environment have a use.


Based on ethno-botanical approach, the shrubs and trees enlisted and in the Capricorn region, Limpopo province such as Dicerocargum seneciodes (mompati) is used to assist cattle during parturition and similarly, Euphorbia species for the expulsion of retained placenta in cattle. Medicinal plant dosages tended not to be case and context specific however there is an increased awareness among medical and scientific communities that the importance of medicinal plant studies goes beyond mere anthropological curiosity. Indigenous medicinal plants fall into the category of readily applicable elements of ethno-veterinary medicine in livestock development (McCorkle and Mathias-Mundy 1992). The advantages of studying local knowledge of herbal medicine for ethno-veterinary are numerous. Herbal medicines offer cheaper, more sustainable, available, reliable and familiar alternatives to imported synthetic drugs. Furthermore, when put into production locally, they can reinforce the income and status of local livestock farmers. In some situations, farmers used these medicinal plants side by side with western medicines.


Lans and Brown (1998) observed that locally available plants in Trinidad and Tobago were use for ethno-veterinary purposes in treating ailments in ruminant animals. For example, the leaves and roots of Senna ocudentalis (coffee senna or septicweed) used for the expulsion of retained placenta in cattle. Medicinal plants treat ruminants for internal parasites, internal and external injuries and pregnancy-related conditions. Farmers usually boil the plants to make a decoction. However, there should be caution in the use of indigenous knowledge in the application of the shrubs in indigenous medicine and ethno-veterinary practices. However, more attention to the potential of these approaches, will likely unlock a vast area of useful knowledge for conditions where modern medicine is out of reach (FAO 2001).




MMM is grateful to Kellogg’s Foundation and National Research Foundation for financial support.


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Received 8 October 2009; Accepted 1 February 2010; Published 1 March 2010

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