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Funding Strategies for the Establishment of a New Botanic Garden - Experience From Argentina.

Juan de Dios Muñoz

Facultad de Ciencias Agropecuarias -
Universidad Nacional de Entre Ríos C.C. 24 - 3100,
Paraná - Entre Ríos - República Argentina


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Funding Strategies for the Establishment of a New Botanic Garden

The Oro Verde Botanic Garden is situated on the campus of the Agricultural Science Faculty of the University of Entre Ríos, near the city of Paraná, Argentina, South America.

The province of Entre Ríos contains representatives of four different types of vegetation, making it particular interesting to botanists. Two of these types contain tropical species from the center and south-east of Brazil, another type includes drought-resistent plants from the west of Argentina, and a fourth type includes Patagonian elements, mainly grasses. Owing to this interesting mixture of species, the earliest Flora ever produced in Argentina was written in Entre Ríos, by Paul Günther Lorentz.

Darwin, Holmberg, Bonpland and other renowned scientists visited the province, and some others lived in it, but paradoxically, no botanic gardens or protected areas had previously been created to preserve this type of vegetation.

In 1994 the students of the Agricultural Science Faculty launched the idea of creating a botanic garden. The original version of these idea was small-scale and impractical, but the concept grew and developed as more people came to see it as a model project in the country.

Although cattle raising has traditionally been the main activity in the province of Entre Ríos, it has been surpassed by agriculture, which in recent years has had a great increase due to higher prices and has caused great areas of native forests to be felled.

The province is well provided with water sources from rivers and brooks, as well as from water tables, but excessive pumping and dams for irrigation have made water become scarce or even disappear in many places, which together with deforestation are causing progressive reduction of biodiversity.

Argentina lost 70.000.000 ha. of native forests in the present century by the action of national and foreign industries, as a result of which most of the country has become arid or semiarid. The only green and wet part of its territory well suited for food production is on the north - east, where the “Oro Verde Botanic Garden” is located, while the remaining jungles of the country should better be kept as a source of biodiversity.

Lack of awareness about the importance and conservation of natural resources, and the careless attitude of the governments, have led the country to its present state of mismanagement. Although some goals have been achieved there is still a long way ahead of all its inhabitants to change their behaviour and stop the degradation of nature.

There are officially registered botanic gardens in Argentina, most of them in poor conditions owing to lack of funds. Foreign foundations usually prefer supporting gardens in tropical areas of the world with much richer biodiversity, or in the first world, while local companies and foundations, as well as private donators, very seldom provide money for these purposes. While boards of trustees are practically unknown, winning cars solving riddles on TV programmes is very popular, and apparently the most usual way companies make use of to avoid taxes and increase their incomes.

Many countries have implemented severe restrictions with regard to hunting, to such an extent that poachers may be killed if they are found by the authorities, but much laxity is prevalent in Argentina, worsened by the fact that the number of inspectors is extremely small. However, ecological safaris are very popular nowadays, especially in well built country houses, the owners of which have realized that it is more profitable to have guests for these purposes then cutting down native trees or making dams to grow rice.

Unfortunately, other landowners, under the pretext of controlling animal plagues like pigeons or ducks, shelter guests, mostly from Europe and America, where there is severe control, and allow them to kill animals for pleasure.

For the stated reasons we want our garden to be not only a place to carry out research and preservation but an education center where all matters in relation to nature and its management are taken into account. In accordance with this position we took part in the struggle against the biggest dam in the world, which had been planned to be constructed in the Paraná River and could have been seen from the moon. Although a law was promulgated in the province banning the making of big dams in our two main rivers, many smaller ones have been planned in their important affluents for irrigation, which are equally harmful. Therefore, our garden is working in relation to this problem.

Many non-governmental organisations have given advice to the Garden. This has led to substantial achievements in nature conservation. Argentina , along with most other countries of the world, has signed and ratified the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, accepting its provisions and agreeing to work on its goals. To promote its implementation, the country has been divided into five regions, where local workshops are being held to define strategies. The Oro Verde Botanic Garden is participating in this process, and has submitted a declarations signed by all the assistants to the recently-held course on environmental education, urging the implementation of the Convention, mainly to support environmental projects and botanic gardens.

Different groups within the Faculty took part in the design of the Garden. They took advantage of an 11.5 ha area of native woodland within the campus, to enable conservation to be carried out in situ. Trails, fences, stairs and bridges over a winding brook were made, and the main woody species were labelled. A systematic garden is planned in an unforested section of the campus. A written project plan was submitted by the Garden’s director for comment by BGCI. BGCI suggested a revision of the marketing chapter in the plan and that a workshop be held at the Garden with experts from Argentina and from Britain, mainly to discuss fund-raising strategies, one of the biggest problems that any garden encounters.

Following these suggestions, thirteen teams of graphic design students from the Architecture Faculty of Buenos Aires University visited and studied the Garden area, in order to undertake the difficult task of creating a corporative image for the Garden. This work covered topics such as designing a logo, stationery, invitations, posters, labels, brochures, calendars, T-shirts, childrens’ games, etc. It was particularly difficult to choose between the many original designs created.

A professor of the Faculty carried out market research in the local area, to estimate the number of primary and secondary schools, as well as the number of their pupils, the social status of the local population, fluctuations and preferences of tourists in the area, and the sort of items to be sold in the Garden’s shop. The next challenge for the project is the construction of the systematic garden, and its outbuildings and facilities. As is to be expected in a well-planned botanic garden, woody species of the main families of economic interest will be planted. We intend to build laboratories, as well as a conference room, a shop, a buffet, and a parking area. We also started to think about such problems as irrigation, lighting and staff salaries.

As advised by BGCI, a workshop was held in the Garden in November, 1996, attended by foreign and national guests to discuss fund-raising strategies. The guests included Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson (Secretary General, BGCI); Kevin Beckett (Director of Education, Westonbirt Arboretum, UK) and Dr. Carlos Villamil (Chairman, IUCN’s Specialist Group in South American Plants Survival). Their extremely useful advice on achieving goals made it a memorable meeting. Soon after they left, the main foundations they suggested were contacted, and although no funds have been granted yet, fund-raising work continues. Environmental education is one of the main goals in the present-days botanic gardens. We cannot expect plants to be conserved without a correponding process of raising people’awareness. To start developing this activity, a group of distinguished experts on education was invited to the Oro Verde Botanic Garden in September, 1997, where the first Argentine course on Environmental Education in Botanic Gardens was held, attended by a wide range of specialists from the whole country.

Some of the teaches were: Mrs. Gail Bromley, (Head of Education, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew); Lic. Edelmira Linares, former President of the Latin American and Caribbean Association of Botanic Gardens (UNAM, México), Lic. Juan Manuel López Ramírez, (Environmental Education Coordinator, Jardín Botánico Canario “Viera y Clavijo”, Canary Islands, Spain), and Dr. Carlos Villamil (Chairman of IUCN’s Group on South American Plants). Excellent results and reports were obtained from the first course of its kind ever held in Argentina.

In November, 1997, an historical event took place in the botanical community. The first meeting of the Argentine network of botanic gardens was held in the Jardín Agrobotánico “Arturo Ragonese” at Castelar, Argentina to define the regulations of this recently-created association.

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Summary

Botanic Gardens have undergone great changes since ancient times up to the present day. Although it is not known for sure when the first ones were created, gardens were registered by historians in Babylon, Athens and among the Aztecs of the new world. Their functions changed as time went by, but apparently the difficulties to create them and keep them in good conditions have not changed. In the botanic gardens of Europe plants of economic value had priority, especially medicinal species during the middle ages, which were then enriched with exotic specimens when America was discovered, sometimes as mere curiosities. That period has definitely finished.

Nowadays, in accordance with an agreement subscribed by most nations, the life sustaining roles of botanic gardens in our planet have absolute priority, and it is a challenge to mankind to demand their creation and implementation.

However, most of them are situated in areas of the world with scarce biodiversity, and many more are needed in subtropical and tropical areas. Unluckily, the establishment of a new garden in these parts of the world is a very difficult task due to the multiple, almost insuperable problems to be overcome. A report of the creation of a new botanic garden in Paraná (Argentina) is presented here to show that the funding strategies advised in the first world may not always be feasible.


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