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August 4th, 2017 / Nature, UK

Artemisinin, ginkgolides, quinine, reserpine, scopolamine, paclitaxel. What do these molecules have in common? They are all extracted from plants and transformed into useful drugs, treating conditions including malaria, nausea, cancer and high blood pressure. None of the plants is from Africa.

Almost 60% of commercially available drugs are based on molecules derived from natural sources. Yet only 83 of some 1,100 blockbuster drugs of this type originate from Africa. Meanwhile, tropical and subtropical Africa has up to 45,000 plant species that may hold value for industry and humanity. This multitude represents at least 25% of the world’s plant genetic resources.

With the appropriate infrastructure — technical, legal and regulatory — this treasure trove could translate into enormous wealth. In my view, this would create opportunities for Africa’s youth. I have been laying the groundwork for that translation as an academic, documenting uses of medicinal plants, as an entrepreneur and, most recently, as president of Mauritius. My island nation of 1.3 million people lies in the Indian Ocean about 1,100 kilometres east of Madaga­scar. I was elected by parliament in 2015, and am charged with upholding Mauritians’ fundamental rights and helping our institutions. I believe key to both tasks is our unique biodiversity. Read more