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NEW ROLES OF OLD GARDENS IN TROPICAL AFRICA

GEORGE OWUSU-AFRIYIE

ABURI BOTANIC GARDENS GHANA


Home | Contents | Abstract | Introduction | New Roles | Mission Statement | Accession Policy | Policy Makers | Research Role | Conservation Role | Monitoring Role | Collaboration | Training | Role of Community | Documentation | Publication | Education Awaremess Programme | Appointment of Education Offices | Establishment of Medicinal Farms | Establishment of a National Herbana | Convention on Biological Diversity | Constraints | Conclusion | References


Abstract

In Tropical Africa, many old botanical gardens were established in the latter part of the 19th century, in response to a number of factors.

Throughout their history, they and their staff have played a major role in the exploration of plant life, in the acclimatization and introduction of species of economic value into cultivation and in the education of students of botany.

As we approach the 21st century, conserving the plants of the world has never been a more urgent task than it is today.

The amazing diversity of living organisms that inhabit our Earth, forms the spice of life which is the basis of our survival. Conservation of biological diversity has become a vital necessity, and an integral part of the dynamic function of mankind, so as to ensure the continued and uninhibited evolution of organisms, essential for the responsible management of this planet.

Bewilderingly rich in biological diversity, with many forests totally unexplored or partially-explored and many more species still remaining undescribed, the tropics hold the key to the future. But due to unproportionate developmental programmes, population explosion and forest exploitation of forest resources, threats to the survival of species are most acute in Tropical Africa.

It is against this scenario that Old gardens in Tropical Africa have a key role to play in the implementation of the World Conservation Strategy and Convention of Biological Diversity.

The reported 60 gardens and aborata in Tropical Africa should therefore play a very important role in the conservation of plant genetic resources. This can be accomplished through research, education, ex-situ and in-situ conservation programmes and plant exploration development. Opportunities to carry out these objectives are promising in tropical Africa. Accordingly African botanic gardens should contribute to the preservation of plant species and the ecosystems in which they occur.

In order to achieve these goals, botanic gardens in tropical Africa should make a commitment to conservation, through mission statements and improved involvement and training with emphasis on conservation becoming part of their programmes.

In conclusion tropical African gardens should organise themselves and decide on their priorities, objectives, goals and conservation strategies. To this end, they might consider the establishment of a network of Tropical African Botanic Gardens. However, a real commitment on the part of international bodies and funding agencies is urgently needed for such a network to become a reality.

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Introduction

In Tropical Africa, many of the old botanical gardens were established in the latter part of the 19th century in response to a number of factors.

Throughout their history they and their staff have played a major role in the exploration of plant life, in the acclimatization and introduction of species of economic value into cultivation and in the education of students of botany. Some of the old gardens have been responsible for the introduction of many economically important plants into agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Others were originally established as nurseries or introduction centres for geneplasm of species that might prove useful, either for the local economy, or for the sponsoring European power.

The history of the role of the old gardens in helping in establishing the agricultural economies in many parts of tropical Africa adversely affected the rapid development of the Gardens. It was not until the setting up of Departments of Agriculture by Colonial Administrations that the old gardens were freed from the suffocating influence of agricultural activities and began to develop in their own right.

This was not the end of the woes of these old gardens in Tropical Africa. Managers of the old gardens were expatriates and with their departure, the organization of these gardens suffered considerable setbacks, due to the lack of well-trained local staff to take over. Some of these old gardens, therefore, lost the purpose for which they were originally established. Instead of gardens of introduction, some of them became social centres, or public parks, while others were completely neglected.

The rise of the Global Conservation Movement and the birth of Botanic Gardens Conservation International in January 1987 in particular, helped to inject new life and purpose into the activities and role of African Botanic Gardens.

Today those old gardens view themselves as resource centres for conservation, research and development of indigenous plant resources. Indeed, some of them are implementing major reforms to enable them play a more purposeful role in conservation.

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New Roles

To quote "ASHTON"

"Tropical African Gardens have an opportunity, indeed an obligation which is open to them alone, to bridge the gap between traditional concerns of systematic biology and the returning needs of agriculture, forestry and medicine for the exploration and conservation of biological diversity".

Ashton's words sum it all: the opportunities and responsibilities open to Gardens in Tropical Africa to play a key role in the implementation of the World Conservation Strategy, environmental issues and horticulture. Africa's biological diversity is of both Continental economic importance, as well as global significance. Unfortunately, existing arrangements for the utilization of the continent's biodiversity can not be considered to be sustainable and this is having a very serious repercussion on development programmes in Africa. These are the challenges facing old gardens in Tropical Africa. The speaker, therefore suggests the following that will make old gardens in Tropical Africa become unified and an effective force for conservation, training, research and environmental education.

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Mission Statement

As pointed out earlier, most of these old gardens were established in response to a series of circumstances and factors. Some have been founded with very clear roles and missions. In some instances, these aims or at least some of them have been by-passed by events and are no longer relevant. It is therefore being recommended that a mission statement is prepared as a policy document and long term development plan for all gardens in Tropical Africa in order to re-orient them to their new roles and responsibilities.

Mission statements should be made with purposefulness and zeal, outlining the main goals of sections of the gardens in training, education, research, conservation, public service etc. This will not only broadly correct the deviation from the purpose for the establishment of the old gardens in Tropical Africa, but also, spread the ideas of the progressive role of these gardens. It will also as a policy document, ensure that gardens carefully consider what they attempt to accomplish and measure the success of achieving their goals.

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Accession Policy

There is the need for gardens in Tropical Africa to develop relevant collections policies to guide the intake of new plants into their collections. Many of the old gardens simply collect and grow any plant they may encounter, without considering whether such plants may fulfil any present or future purpose. This is wasteful of often-scarce resources and space.

In many cases, de-accessioning plants from the collection is hard to do but it should be recognised and often as a task, as important to perform, as the addition of new plants to the collection.

For ex-situ conservation, it is essential that Tropical African gardens develop clear accession policies on what plants to accept and seek for their collection. This should take into account the nature and size of the native flora request by national and international bodies and educational needs and programmes.

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Policy Makers

The managers of Tropical African old gardens have a foremost duty to lobby decision or policy makers, not only to raise funds but also, in playing parts in all other roles. However, since the pivot of the successful execution of the new roles of these gardens is on finance, it would not be out of place for management to start from here.

Budgetary inadequacy for these gardens is very real in Tropical Africa due to constraints exercised on the national economy by other developmental projects. This notwithstanding, the old gardens should endeavour to lobby, and educate politicians on the absolute need to look into the provision of enough financial support for their sustainable and constructive contribution to plant conservation.

With the recent formation and existence of both local and foreign NGOs in a lot of African countries, these gardens should exploit the situation to solicit for help from them.

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Research Role

Research must be a fundamental responsibility of the Tropical Africa Gardens. The research into plant material should cover the following:

It is an undebatable fact that the total area of the world's land under forest, where the ecology could be scientifically studied under natural conditions is fastly being reduced. Happily in Tropical Africa, there still exist some traditional and government forest reserves. Extensive research work should be initiated by the Tropical African gardens in identifying specific locations (whether in a reserve or otherwise), where specific botanical interests could be found.

The gardens are advised to concentrate more on their local flora, assisting in its inventory, assessing the conservation status of species or populations and estimating potential value of species that are used for local crops or are mild-harvested and play a part in the local economies.

Finally, in collaboration with scientists, policy makers and administrators of Tropical African gardens should initiate and co-ordinate research into traditional land use to disseminate research findings on this as widely and promptly as possible.

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Conservation Role

Governments world-wide recognise that the conservation of biodiversity is no longer a luxury but in many cases will, at the very least, secure their countries, environmental and economic well being. There is therefore the need for Tropical African Countries to consider the formulation of national plant conservation strategies to document, conserve, and plan the sustainable utilization of their plant genetic resources.

The gardens should interest themselves in and extend their activities to cover habitat evolution, rare specie monitoring and managing protected areas.

They should also come out with rules and procedures for establishing seed banks, field genebanks and other germplasm collections. Major reforms may have to be implemented in these gardens to enable them play a full part in conservation. A policy in this direction is necessary (reference CBD Policy).

It is recommended that serious attempt be made by the gardens to promote native plants in their conservation programmes, and provide educational information on them for visitors, as there is no information available on rare and endangered native plants.

A major emphasis must be given to this aspect of the gardens activities with the aim of raising national interest and awareness of the value of native plants, not just as part of the country's natural heritage, but also as a potentially important future resource. Therefore participation in plant conservation, be it in-situ or ex-situ, is vital and these gardens should work hand in hand with all agencies at the national, regional and international levels.

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Monitoring Role

Tropical African gardens should monitor the local flora and vegetation, especially, the endangered species, in association with local Universities, horticultural societies, forestry and agricultural departments, as well as conservation oriented NGOs. To be effective, the gardens should look at a long-term commitment that requires very regular monitoring in addition to continuing investment. The governing bodies of the gardens, with the entire involvement and co-operation of nature conservation bodies, should support these commitments and investments. After the initial commitments in all aspects (financial, material, managerial, administrative etc.) are fulfilled, a mechanism must be in place to give advice to the garden community if the commitments of staff are not going to be met.

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Collaboration

Tropical African gardens should, as a matter of importance, endeavour to co-operate amongst themselves and with other related institutions. Co-operation at all levels (national, regional and international) should aim at encouraging sharing of resources, training and collection policies. Widespread planning, development and implementation of programmes should also be encouraged. The gardens should encourage the management of Public Parks, Municipal gardens and horticultural nurseries to accept responsibility for the cultivation, maintenance and documentation of important collections of particular plants species. This collaboration is strongly advocated, because, apart from benefiting conservation directly by expanding the areas available for holding ex-situ conservation, collections bring the importance of such works to the attention of the public. General advise, support and technical assistance should be developed amongst the countries. Above all, there should be co-operation with the Botanic Gardens Conservation International to help build a strong international network in order to participate fully in its programme.

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Training ( Manpower Development and Capacity Building )

Access to a well trained and experienced staff resources must rank as one of the most important factors in promoting the development of these old gardens. Training of staff should be in the field of horticulture, ecology, herbarium, techniques of conservation, botanic gardens management and administration. Equally important too are public education, fund-raising, landscape design, media skills and plant physiology amongst others. Managers of these gardens should develop strategies for manpower development and also organise vigorous training programmes for staff. Horticultural training is especially relevant in the conservation programmes of the old gardens. Emphasis should be in the traditional skills of raising plants, vegetative propagation and seed germination. Newer techniques such as tissue culture could be gradually introduced over time. Conservation is important for gardens' staff to understand the main approaches and ways in which they may be applied to garden materials. Landscaping is an important element in presenting the plant displays, including conservation plants, in such a way as to make them attractive to the public. Training in the area of fund-raising is a desirable area for the senior staff of the old gardens. They must devote time and effort, seeking financial support for the operation and expansion of their gardens. Finally, managers of the gardens should ensure that they have trained quality staff in appropriate numbers to achieve objectives.

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The Role of the Community

The old gardens have a responsibility of involving the local people in the conservation and development of plant resources. They should develop community based conservation programmes to enable the local people control and manage protected areas. The objective is to ensure the following: i.to make sure the programme works ii.to increase awareness in Conservation iii.to ensure restoration iv.to ensure that they benefit in order to make the programme sustainable. Local flora should be enhanced by promoting their planting on special occasions, like independence day, arbor day, traditional festivals and religious day celebrations by schools, social clubs etc. The community should be made to see the active role gardens play by organising lectures and allowing garden facilities to be used for charity events. Where possible, education officers should mandate all schools in the community to visit their gardens and organise treasure hunts and other educational programmes for the schools. Witnessing and appreciating the work and interactions with the local community will prompt them to actively participate and readily be receptive to whatever regulations and laws aimed at plant Conservation. This will ensure community support for the activities of the gardens.

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Documentation

One important criteria that should be met by Tropical African old gardens is the proper documentation of their collections, including those of a wild origin. Information on plants held by these gardens is essential for the use of those plants in conservation. It is necessary for their use in science, horticulture and other research. The information should be held in a systematic and organised way, using card indexing or preferably, computerised database, so that it is readily accessible to different users within the gardens. This will ensure that information is not lost when staff changes occur. In addition to formulating their accession policies and ensuring proper documentation, the gardens should publish and circulate their observations.

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Publication

The old gardens in Tropical Africa possess information that has not been published and circulated. African Traditional healers have died with a lot of information on many herbal plants. A lot of activities naturally unnoticed go on in these old gardens and are not researched into even if noticed. At times, no publication appears anywhere on these research findings. The Speaker therefore, recommends that the gardens publish catalogues of their holdings, research findings and produce brochures for their staff, botanic gardens, communities and their visitors. Their staff should be encouraged to write articles especially on their findings and observations peculiar to their area. Periodically, garden puzzles could appear in catalogues. Persons who patronise the catalogues and successfully solve puzzles can be rewarded with plant seedlings with information on their cultivation well documented on a tag. Award winners could be encouraged to publish their observations on the plants awarded them in subsequent publications.

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Education Awareness Programme

Some of the old gardens in Tropical Africa contain some of the richest assemblage of plant life known on the continent. As such, the gardens still constitute appropriate institutions with the necessary capacities and plant diversities for use in environmental awareness programmes. They also have considerable potential to contribute to the education, directly applicable to the curricular and the teaching of national schools of horticulture. In addition, the general public should be well informed, sensitized and motivated towards adopting specific plant conservation practices and the sustainable use of plant resources. To this end, high priority should be given to the establishment of an effective education programme for the old gardens.

Appointment of Education Officers

Ideally, the education programme should be organised by full-time and qualified education officers, probably those with teaching experience in primary or secondary schools. The role of the education officers would be to:

The management's of the gardens should always ensure that any educational programmes they embark upon, would help raise the level of public awareness of environmental issues to a point, where individuals, groups and organisations will on their own accord, fully assume responsibilities in safeguarding the environment.

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Establishment of Medicinal Farms

The majority of Africans are reliant upon medicinal plants for their primary health care, since most of them have limited access to hospitals and generally do not have the economic resources to purchase Western medicine. All of the plant species used in primary health care in Africa are collected from the wild. Habitat destruction in the form of logging, charcoal burning, bush fires and agricultural encroachment is destroying the habitat of medicinal plant species at an increasing rate. There is therefore an urgent need to encourage local people to cultivate medicinal plants for use in their community. To this end, the old gardens in Tropical Africa have a crucial role to play in the collection and establishment of First-Aid Gardens to preserve Africa's medicinal plants, as well as the preservation of information and knowledge on their use in health care. The Aburi Gardens in Ghana for example, receives requests all over the country to harvest medicinal plants and spices from within the garden, as well as request for seeds and information on herbs. It is therefore recommended that new emphasis be given in the old gardens to the collection and cultivation of native plants, especially those that are rare and endangered. The old gardens should foster the preservation of the traditional knowledge on medicinal plants and preserve it for the future, as well as promote the use of plants for everyday medicinal usage. The approach to this work could be done in three ways, namely:

Establishment of National Herbana

The aim and purpose of recommending National Herbarium in the old gardens is to create and provide a reference collection point for important native and exotic germplasm in the gardens as an aid for identification, research and documentation, and to provide data and plan its utilization and conservation. Managers of the old gardens should ensure that the herbaria contain specimens collected:

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Convention on Biological Diversity

The convention on biological diversity provides new opportunities for old gardens in Tropical Africa to become involved in national issues of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. The Convention also offers gardens new chances to gain greater influence, profile and recognition of their central role in plant conservation and in the implementation of the Convention nationally and internationally. It is recommended that managers of old gardens obtain copies of the text of the Convention on Biological Diversity and make it available to their staff. This would enable them review the current activities of their gardens that are relevant or contribute to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Constraints

As had been mentioned already in this presentation, budgetary inadequacy in African economies is very common. Meanwhile every role to be played by these gardens from research to publication cannot materialise without finance. There are other constraints, which although depend on finance, become major on their own, as long periods of time are needed to put them in place, even when finance should be available. Such constraints are the lack of trained personnel and infrastructure. The lack of positive action on the part of the international community to support the gardens in Tropical Africa, both technically and financially, has resulted in considerable frustration within the communities of these gardens. The absence of networking and the sharing of resources among the old gardens is also a major constraint in conservation and training activities. An effective networking and co-operation can lead to increased in awareness of plant conservation needs, exchange of ideas and on a personal level and international friendships which in turn will nurture positive action in response to the plight of the old gardens. In sum, the identified constraints are:

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Conclusion

In conclusion, the gardens in Tropical Africa have very important new roles to play. Primarily, the public should be made to understand that the purpose of establishment of the old gardens have been outlived and there is the need to adopt to the changing environment. Emphasis on conservation in the new roles of the gardens should be made and geared towards local plants. Education and awareness programmes should be for local groups - with local people - taking into consideration, local environmental issues. The successful implementation of the new roles outlined in this presentation will largely depend on the availability of professionally qualified and well motivated staff, logistic support, appropriate policies and a congenial political environment. Finally, for the old gardens to effectively realise their potential role in implementing the suggestions and recommendations they would need the support and encouragement from Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), well-established Botanic Gardens, other international bodies in America, Asia and Europe through international networking and exchange programmes.

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References


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