Human Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 6, pp 909–930 | Cite as

Are the Young Less Knowledgeable? Local Knowledge of Natural Remedies and Its Transformations in the Andean Highlands

  • Sarah-Lan Mathez-StiefelEmail author
  • Regine Brandt
  • Susanne Lachmuth
  • Stephan Rist


A widespread concern among ethnobiologists is the rapid process of erosion of indigenous environmental knowledge observed worldwide. This paper examines the ongoing transformations of knowledge about natural remedies in the Quechua-speaking Andes. Freelisting exercises and interviews were conducted with 36 households at Bolivian and Peruvian study sites. (Generalized) linear mixed-effects models were used to analyze the effects of age on knowledge about medicinal plants, animals, minerals, and their uses. Our study demonstrates that younger participants knew as much about natural remedies as their elders. However, proportional knowledge about some medicinal use categories of natural remedies varied with age. We conclude that knowledge about natural remedies is generally not being lost at the study sites. Nevertheless, it is undergoing transformations in terms of specific medicinal uses. A careful understanding of these complex transformation processes is needed to better orient initiatives for the conservation of biocultural diversity in the Andes and elsewhere.


Ethnobiology Indigenous environmental knowledge Traditional medicine Bolivia Peru Andes 



We sincerely thank members of the communities of Tres Cruces, Lambramani (Waca Playa, Bolivia), Huasampampa, and Huito (Pitumarca, Peru) for their generous participation in this study. Field work logistics were provided by implementing organizations of the BioAndes Program of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), namely AGRUCO (Cochabamba, Bolivia), CEPROSI (Cusco, Peru), and ETC Andes (Lima, Peru). We thank the field assistants who helped with interview interpretations and/or translations in Bolivia and in Peru. Plant identifications were done by Magaly Mercado and Fructuosa De La Torre and animal identifications by Eberth Rocha and José Luis Mena. Ina Vandebroek is to be thanked for her contribution to data analysis. Funding for the present study was granted by the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South (project TN3 and RP13 on Transformation of Agrarian Systems) and by the Swiss Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries (KFPE)’s program “Jeunes Chercheurs” (funded by the SDC).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Regine Brandt
    • 2
  • Susanne Lachmuth
    • 2
  • Stephan Rist
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Development and EnvironmentUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Institute of Geobotany and Botanical GardenMartin-Luther-UniversityHalleGermany

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