Case Studies from Africa
The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) are developing a modern botanic garden in Nairobi. This is a unique case of a modern botanic garden sharing the same grounds with a museum. Though still in its infancy and not yet fully developed, the NMK Nairobi Botanic Garden has already become part of a growing world-wide movement in making Environmental Education (EE) accessible to everyone. Its education mission is "To provide opportunities for individuals to acquire knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to protect and improve the environment".
In the early days the Limbe Botanic Garden was primarily an agricultural research and training centre. Today, with the numerous agricultural and forestry schools and research centres, its role has shifted to conservation, amenity, recreation, tourism, science and education. Several education and outreach programmes have been developed.
Limbe Botanic Garden (Cameroon) aims to develop an international centre for research, education, training and recreation to support biodiversity conservation, with particular reference to Mount Cameroon. To accomplish this, the Gardens have developed education programmes for a wide range of audiences, including schoolchildren, community members and tourists.
From time immemorial, local communities in Kenya have had cultural practices and beliefs that enhanced biodiversity conservation. These values and practices are fast disappearing and losing their prestige especially with the younger generation. To reverse this trend, efforts are being made to establish community gardens in the affected local communities with an aim of conserving cultural practices and beliefs through education and awareness programmes. Once this new initiative takes root, community gardens in Kenya are set to play a significant role towards sustaining a community environmental ethic that arise from practising cultural values for sustainability. Such values include values of social responsibility, concern for all life forms, living in harmony with nature and commitment to work with others.
South Africa's black townships, the direct products of apartheid, are the epitome of urban desertification. Ill-planned, and the victims of unkind and unfeeling bureaucracy, these areas offer the ultimate challenge in urban greening, particularly with the current wave of violence.
Township greening has been pioneered by Trees for Africa (TVA), a non-governmental organisation, which aims to plant trees and other plants throughout the whole country. TFA was initiated three years ago and now employs three field officers who respond to requests from local communities to green their environment. Simple application forms are used to identify the need, the requirements and the details of the local environment. TFA finds a sponsor/s for a particular programme and ensures that the plants arrive and are planted. Every three months TFA carries out an evaluation to ensure that the trees are maintained and replaced if necessary.
The National Botanical Institute in South Africa is a state-funded statutory organisation responsible for botanical gardens, herbaria, botanical research and environmental education programmes in five of the nine provinces of South Africa.
In Cape Town, the Kirstenbosch Outreach Greening Programme (part of NBI) was formally initiated in April 1997 with the appointment of Phumla Bobo-Mrubata as outreach horticulturist. The programme aims to empower the community with horticultural skills, to improve the quality of life and to conserve and promote the environment for the benefit of all communities in South Africa, through training and greening programmes.
Aburi Botanic Garden in Ghana is often the host venue for days of traditional festival celebrations. Festivals in Ghana are often associated with the history of a particular group or area. Odwira, for example, is an annual traditional festival of some Akan people, and some of the people of the Akuapen traditional areas. The festival is a time to cleanse oneself of wrongful deeds and to pacify the gods. (The Akan word Odwira means 'cleansing'). During this time, the living commune spiritually with their dead ancestors, through offering of a libation to the ancestors and their gods, asking for guidance and protection.
The Natal National Botanical Garden in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, has developed a medicinal plant ("muthi") garden, which covers new ground in community involvement, interpretation and horticulture.
The Muthi Garden project began in response to a need within the NBI to make our gardens more relevant to the majority of South Africans, and a realisation of the need to act to protect the species of medicinal plants threatened with over-utilisation, and possible local extinction, in our region. Over 1000 taxa are known to be used for medicinal purposes in KwaZulu Natal alone.
Among the numerous things that are regularly exported from Cameroon to neighbouring Nigeria are food stuff. Among these food items is a local vegetable called eru. Three days every week, the patient observer in Limbe can count as many as 45-50 eru buses on their way to Idenau. These are sixteen-sitter buses, (with all the seats removed) filled, from bottom to top with the green vegetable. About the same quantity is tied onto the top of the bus. Each bus transports between 1-2 tonnes fresh weight of eru per trip, bringing the total quantity to 90-100 tonnes per week. This is only what goes out through the port of Idenau. Other outlets of eru to Nigeria are Ekondo-Titi (by boat) and Mamfe (by road). Eru also leaves Cameroon through its southern and eastern borders to Gabon and the Republic of Central Africa.
It is currently estimated that 80% of the people in South Africa use traditional medicine in some form or other. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal alone, the value of the trade has been estimated to be worth about R60 million per year.
The idea of growing medico-magical plants, or "muthi" as it is known to the Zulu, is not entirely new to Traditional Healers. However, the idea that "muthi" plants should be farmed in order to alleviate the pressure on wild stocks has created cultural dilemmas for many medical practitioners.
The Pretoria and Witwatersrand National Botanical Gardens, with funding from UNESCO, are embarking on a two year teacher development programme to provide professional development for 210 teachers from the under resourced and historically disadvantaged schools in Gauteng Province, South Africa.
Teachers have been invited to participate in workshops that link social, political and economic processes to natural systems; and contribute towards building a culture of environmental awareness, knowledge and action. The training focuses on an issues based teaching approach that attempts to deal with issues relevant to the learners daily lives and encourages teachers to look beyond the confines of the classroom for teaching and learning resources and experiences.
During the workshops, teachers from Banareng Primary School identified hungry learners who were unable to concentrate in class as a social issue. Linking to this, the environmental issues included the lack of a vegetable garden, limited water and funds and community indifference and inactivity. The workshops began to help the Banareng teachers break down this issue into manageable parts and now the school has started a vegetable garden which provides 520 children with a cooked midday meal. The children are now in a better position to learn and their concentration and academic progress have improved.
The ECoSA survey was not my first stab research in environmental education (EE) but it was certainly the biggest research exercise in which I have been involved. In 1993 I undertook to evaluate a three year education and awareness programme in Uganda. The research tool at that time was an interview based on a structured questionnaire which was reviewed and adapted after each field visit. A hazy recollection of statistical techniques, combined with more recent observations of scientists in the field, pushed my evaluation towards a quantitative approach. Meanwhile, an intuitive view of the complex way in which people learn rang warning bells even as the first questionnaires snapped off the word processor. Such was my frame of mind on returning to the UK where I became Director of ECoSA.
Plagued by the lack of public interest in our wonderful plants and their stories, disappointed by the interpretive inadequacies of plant labels, and thrilled by the prospect of a new challenge, the staff of the Natal NBG set out on a quest. Our goal: to find the ‘perfect’ plant label to make our gardens and their plants accessible and interesting to the majority of our visitors.