The Redevelopment of the Limbe Botanic Garden and its Growing Role in Development and Conservation in Cameroon

Nouhou Ndam

Limbe Botanic Garden & Genetic Rainforest Conservation Project
P.O. Box 437 Limbe, SWP, Cameroon

Abstract

The Botanic Garden at Limbe (previously called Viktoria) was established in 1892 by the Germans. The Garden was founded and developed as an acclimatization station for useful exotic plants, as well as a centre for agricultural research and training. After 1961, when Cameroon gained its independence, these roles were taken over by new institutions. With no role to play, the condition of the Garden began to decline. It was in 1988, as an initiative of the Cameroonian Government with assistance from the British Government, that the Garden took up new the roles of conservation, environmental education, scientific research and tourism promotion. The neglected Garden has been rehabilitated, infrastructures are being renovated and a new development plan is being prepared to direct the Garden to meet its new challenges. Two complementary rainforest reserves are being established to enable the Garden to fully take up its role in promoting conservation. In addition, it plays an advisory role in community tree planting in schools and public areas, to increase environmental awareness in the general public. Despite limited resources, the Garden is progressively gaining national and international recognition. When fully established, it will act as a base for scientific research, a source of valuable information for the proper use of natural resources and to promote tourism.

Introduction

It was in the early 1980s that the deterioration of the only botanic garden in Cameroon started to alarm the local people who knew of its past high standard. Campaigns were launched to obtain its renovation by the Government. That work was practically boosted in mid-1988 when the British Government provided technical and financial assistance. In order to appreciate the progress achieved so far, understand the problems that have been overcome, and the plan for the future, it is important to know the historical background of this Botanic Garden.

Background

The Garden has experienced both good and bad times throughout its existence.

The Botanic Garden of Limbe (previously called Viktoria) was established in 1892 by the Germans. It was a centre for plant research, largely with commercial exploitation in mind. Several cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, sugar cane, rubber and banana were introduced into Cameroon and other German colonies through the Botanic Garden. These important crops have set the agricultural patterns and economies of many tropical African countries. Some useful fruit tress were also introduced and constitute a major source of commercially available fruits in Cameroon today.

The Garden's infrastructure provided accommodation, laboratories, a library and herbarium to support research, and offered classrooms for the teaching of agricultural and horticultural students. It is in the garden that pioneer Cameroonian agriculturalists, gardeners and horticulturalists were trained. Later, during a phase of British colonial administration, technical expertise was provided by staff from, or trained at, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

From the 1970s, the activities of Cameroon's newly created agricultural institutions for plant research, agriculture and forestry teaching removed most of the functions initially fulfilled by the Garden. After playing such an important role in development, the Botanic Garden came to experience a period of neglect. The misuse of Garden land started. Farming, dumping of public refuse, soil excavation and the building of private houses became common. The laboratory became a hospital and later a hotel. The Garden's headquarters were shared with other Government services. The Garden was to stay in a poor condition until 1982 when local concern over its progressive deterioration started to be expressed. The Government of Cameroon started some improvement work, but effective renovation started when British technical and financial assistance were provided from June 1988.

Redevelopment

The redevelopment phase is founded on identifying new roles for the Botanic Garden within Cameroonian administration and society. Its aims are to:

To undertake and successfully fulfil the chosen functions, the Garden is having to improve its infrastructures, refine its management and adapt its social approach.

Renovation and public relations

Renovation of the Garden started with intensive maintenance work and social contacts to develop sound public support and amicably stop undesirable practices which had already developed in the Garden. The staff themselves had to be regularly informed of the genuine reasons for the Garden's redevelopment and its new orientation. Once they appreciated the Garden's new function, they were capable of promoting its image to the public and to their relatives and friends during their private contacts.

Good progress initially shown was to be severely hampered by financial difficulties and by slow environmental awareness in administrative areas. It was only in the fourth year of the Project that qualified staff were obtained in sufficient numbers and that Government offices and storage space within the Garden were released for Project use. Since then progress has been encouraging, with a high standard of maintenance in the Garden and improved security. Building work is progressing, with some structures already completed. This will permit the Garden to fully take up its selected roles.

Structural development

The Garden is being designed not only to attract visitors, but also to provide an educational service for the public. Carefully laid-out footpaths permit visitors to discover a range of natural and developed recreational and educational features. The landscape design is attractive but easy to maintain, and complements the beautiful natural features of the Garden. The Garden is currently divided into different fields and each of them has a theme. The Garden has enormous potential, being by the sea, containing two hills, a central lowland with a wetland area, and an important river running throughout its length. These offer possibilities for developing a wide range of habitats naturally found in Cameroon. A lowland evergreen rainforest, maritime, wetland and riverine forests are some of the themes under development to represent local ecology, African/Cameroon plant species for medicine, fruit, timber, dyes, spices and also Asian and Latin American fruits and useful species, constitute some of the other identified themes. One of the objectives is to develop a collection of African palms. Natural source materials are used to develop these collections of scientific, educational and also recreational value. Carefully selected exotic species are also introduced to enhance the collections' value. Security of all these collections is ensured by a well established fence and the recent pedestrianization of the Garden. A service car park was newly established in keeping with this policy. An adequate public parking area is fortunately available opposite the Garden's main entrance. Another site by the eastern gate of the Garden has been identified for parking including coaches.

The existing size of the Garden (48 ha) is too limited to ensure a full conservation role in the tropics. Two complementary rainforest reserves are currently being established in association with the Garden. One (370 sq km) is on Mount Cameroon and has rich and varied biological elements. At least 45 endemic plant species are found there. The other (37 sq km) is on already degraded lowland forest but can be partly enriched to form a 'living gene bank'. The Garden lies between these two reserves, and facilities within it have been developed to provide an institutional base from which scientists can study the reserves. Facilities such as a nursery, living collections, a library, a herbarium, offices, storage space, and shortly a laboratory, are being developed to offer a good working base for national and international scientists interested in studying the nearby rainforest.

Environmental awareness programme

The primary purpose of the Limbe Botanic Garden is environmental education. Through this, there is hope of transforming the attitudes and behaviour of Cameroonian society and promoting the need for the conservation of biodiversity.

A multiple approach to education has been designed, to aim at reaching the various groups that constitute our society.

Outdoor informal education:

Various elements of information are being developed in the Garden to enable visitors to assimilate the educational message. Labels on plants show their common and scientific names, as well as their accession number and geographical range in the wild. Plants of special interest have red labels displaying vernacular names and the different uses of the plant. An orientation map, strategically placed opposite the main entrance, catches the visitor's eye and permits visitors to quickly identify their areas of interest.

Interpretation boards are under preparation to explain the function of selected aspects of the Garden. One of the main causes of forest disappearance in Cameroon is shifting cultivation. To complement the activities of the agricultural services, a model crop farm has been developed in the Garden to show improved farming practices to visitors. Such practices include soil preparation against erosion and disease, crop association and rotation, agroforestry techniques, composting and mulching, and good maintenance. A public information board will be erected on the site and an explanatory leaflet will shortly be available in the education/display room.

Outdoor formal education:

The Garden is blessed with an open-air amphitheatre called the Jungle Village. It is a spectacular venue for holding a range of public events and for serving as an outdoor lecture theatre for schoolchildren. During the dry season in particular, guided tours of the Garden are carried out by Garden staff who are receiving training in this particular skill. They seek visitor's comments during the tours in order to adjust the programme to meet the needs of each visiting group. Schoolchildren and students of different levels, farmers, traditional healers, tourists and many other groups are visiting from near and far. Workshops, seminars and practical demonstrations are being organised in the Garden. This range of activities offers the public an opportunity to discover more about the environment.

Indoor informal education:

In the newly available educational room, information on activities complementary to the Project is attractively displayed. The room is open to the public and its visitors are learning to understand the urgent need for environmental conservation, through attractive texts, good photographs and stimulating designs, all accompanied by easy-to-understand captions. The displays are to be periodically changed to ensure that regular visitors are constantly exposed to new items of information. By doing this, the public is kept interested and up-to-date.

Indoor formal education:

The display room is also used for formal meetings. Staff and workers also meet there regularly to share the experiences gained in different fields of activity, or to review the progress of the Project and its changing circumstances.

Information is presented to suit each type of visiting group. The language used is intended to ease understanding. Slides are carefully selected to build a captivating story for the audience. Slides of local interest are added to professional slides from world-wide conservation organisations and clubs, in order to raise the level of interest. Different combinations of slides and different interpretations permit the lecturers to keep regular viewers interested. Videos are also shown to illustrate the word-wide state of the environment and the international concern over its deterioration. These shows easily capture the viewer's attention. Unfortunately very few videos are about Cameroonian circumstances. However the skilled project lecturers make shows more interesting with linking comments to tie the show in with the local situation. These often generate discussion from the audience which guide future management. There is a plan to prepare videos covering the local conditions of Cameroon.

Outdoor garden education:

Environmental education is taken to villages around the Project's reserves to address those who cannot come regularly to the Garden. Discussion meetings are organised with forest users, so that they may appreciate the importance of, and changes to, the forest. Emphasis is put on children becoming more responsible and environmentally friendly towards the forest. Slide and video shows facilitate comprehension of the need for environmental protection.

Similar contacts are also organised in urban areas to gain the support of people and possibly guide their influence on rural communities during their frequent visits from the town to their villages. Urban carpenters are also encouraged to get their timber from the correct sources.

In order to provide alternatives for the rural community and thus reduce pressure on the forest, tree nurseries have been developed in villages. This permits the raising of important and improved species which will increase farmers' incomes. Beekeeping courses are also organised for selected young people from villages around the forest. The application of modern techniques in honey production has resulted in both improved quality and increased productivity.

Collaboration with local schools has stimulated interest in them beautifying their school compounds. At the moment the Garden provides planting materials. There is a plan to encourage the establishment of school nurseries and orchards. The Limbe Garden is also assisting one of the largest secondary schools at the national capital to establish what can be called a 'school botanic garden' The contribution of the Project covers conception and design, preliminary education of the future managing team through lectures and visits to Limbe Garden, as well as by continuous supervision and the supply of some important plant species.

Politicians, decision-makers and interested people can learn about the Garden's activities through workshops, seminars, exhibitions and the media. Newspapers, radio and television often cover aspects of the Garden's conservation education work.

Conclusion

In conclusion it is to be noted that the development of Limbe Botanic gardens is progressing speedily. Its once attractive appearance is back again, and this time the Garden should also have the function of promoting the conservation of natural resources through public education and awareness. The response is slow but encouraging. Achievements such as the Garden's recent pedestrianization are positive evidence of the public's willingness to change their habits and support the development of the Garden. The Garden's presence has also increased the interest in horticulture amongst local people, and a number of horticultural businesses have sprung up in the area.

There is now, for the first time in the history of Cameroon, a Ministry of Environment and Forest. It is also planned to include environmental teaching in school curricula. The forestry laws of Cameroon have been revised to allow greater participation from rural communities in the management of their natural resources. Although this progress is not directly linked to the Garden's influence, its redevelopment, mainly in the middle of a period of financial and economic crisis, has permitted awareness of the Project's aims at a high level of decision-making. Additionally, there is a plan to create other botanic gardens in ecologically important regions of the country. It is hoped that Limbe Botanic Garden will play an advisory role for the future gardens. Its structures are being revitalized to facilitate the Garden's functioning as internationally recommended for tropical botanic gardens. However if the future of the Limbe Botanic Garden is to be bright, a few problems have to be addressed. Staff have been trained and it is desirable to keep them in the Project to constitute a growing team of good environmental conservationists. The financial power of the Cameroonian Government, like that of many other African governments, has been limited, and it is therefore important to investigate a means of securing funding from other sources.

The British Government is doing its best at present. There is hope that, with the progress achieved so far, that it will be encouraged to continue its support for the next few years. During this period the management of the Garden will aim to attract local sponsors, stimulate more support from the Cameroonian Government and encourage the raising of revenue in the Garden, insofar as this economically possible. There is a plan to strengthen the Garden's links with other botanic gardens in both Africa and the Western world.

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my personal gratitude and that of the Cameroonian Government to the British Government, without whose aid my attendance at this Congress would not have been possible.

I am grateful to Mark Bovey and Martin Cheek for their comments on this paper.

References

Preface  |  Contents List  |  Congress Report  |  Workshop Conclusions  |  List of Authors