Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Faces of Ethnobiology:Marion Johnson

Investigating raupo, photo taken by my son Tad Johnson
My name is Marion Johnson and I am a Research fellow at the Centre for Sustainability (CSAFE), University of Otago in Aotearoa New Zealand. Three phrases to describe my work – natural animal health, ethnoveterinary practices and healthy land.

As I grew up in Zambia, spending much of my child hood in the bush I’ve never been a city person, try as hard as I might, I always return to the land. Thus my path to ethnobiology has been full of twists and turns via agriculture, farm management, environmental biology and veterinary parasitology. All the perambulations have been guided by one principle; nurture the land and the plants and animals that support and illuminate our lives.

I began my research career at the same time as the family so it has been very part time, but I started looking for New Zealand native plants that might have antiparasitic properties yet be palatable and browsable when grown on farm. I trialled a number of plants both in the lab and in controlled field trials but found working in the lab does not address the synergy of the plant and the funding for controlled studies was always for short studies. Isolated lab and field trials do not involve the land or the people safe guarding it and certainly did not address their knowledge, so the postdoctoral experience at an end I happily turned to farmers and their connection with the land. I have been honoured to be funded by Nga Pae o te Maramatanga ( The Centre for Indigenous Research Excellence in Aotearoa New Zealand) and to work with a number of trust farms throughout New Zealand, working with people who care about the longevity of the land and the importance of looking after it for future generations. I have studied plants that have been used for traditional medicine, finding those that will grow on farm and have beneficial properties for livestock as well as healing the land. Through my research I have also been accorded the privilege of helping with the establishment of a Moriori Ethnobotanical garden in R─ôkohu (Chatham Islands) and one of my best memories is of attending the Peace and Sustainability Congress on the island and planting Kopi trees in the garden with Moriori and peaceful peoples from around the world. I hope to continue working with people, plants, livestock and the land supporting ethnoveterinary knowledge.

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