Plants have been used throughout human history as a source of food, medicine and material culture. Several studies on plant material culture from Ethiopia, were limited to a certain geographical areas and ethnic groups. The purpose of this study was, therefore, to investigate the plants and associated indigenous knowledge of three ethnic groups (Shekacho, Sheko and Mejengir), residing in the Masha and Yeki Districts of Sheka Zone, southwest Ethiopia. A total of 80 informants between the ages of 20 and 80 were selected by the help of local administrators and knowledgeable elders. Ethnobotanical data were collected through semi-structured interview, guided-field-walk and field observation. Simple statistical methods such as percentage, ranking and comparison were applied for data analysis. A total of 113 plant species distributed in 91 genera from 48 botanical families were reported by informants of three ethnic groups used in making plant-based material culture. Of the 19 use categories recorded, the highest (69; 49.3%) were reported by Shekacho followed by Mejengir (38; 27.1%), and Sheko (33; 23.6%) ethnic groups. Preference ranking and direct matrix exercises on selected plants used for construction and as multipurpose indicated the highest preference of people for Arundinaria alpina and Cordia africana followed by Ficus ovata, Baphia abyssinica and Cyathia manniana. According to priority ranking, agricultural expansion was identified as the most destructive factor of forest plants, followed by illegal wood harvest and construction. The current study recommends the establishment of plant material culture centre. Ex situ and in situ conservation measures should be taken in the study area for sustainable use of plant resources and preservation of indigenous knowledge.
Key words: Ethnobotany, preference ranking, direct matrix ranking, paired comparison, Ethiopia.
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