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Promoting education and awareness about plant conservation the Ghanaian way

Volume 8 Number 1 - April 2011
George Owusu Afriye

French:  Promouvoir l' éducation et la prise de conscience pour la conservation des plantes: l'approche Ghanéen

Spanish: Promoviendo la educación y el conocimiento sobre la conservación de las plantas - la manera ghanesa

Offering an African perspective on community action for sustainability, George Owusu Afriye describes the approach adopted by Aburi Botanic Gardens in Ghana. Aburi’s education programme emphasises plant conservation and local communities are being offered cultural incentives to undertake conservation and restoration projects, especially for medicinal plants.

The name Ghana means ‘warrior king’ and was the title accorded to the kings of the medieval West African Empire of Ghana.  Located on the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana is only a few degrees north of the Equator, and the Greenwich Meridian passes through the industrial city of Tema. Ghana is cartographically closer to the centre of the world than any other country, though the actual centre (0o, 0o) is located in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 614 km south of Accra, the capital city. With an area of 238,540 km2 and a population of 21,110,000 (in 2007), the country’s major exports are gold, cocoa, timber, tuna, bauxite, aluminium, manganese ore and diamonds. In Ghana, forest covers about one- third of the country and the primary forest provides a basic indicator of biodiversity.

Importance of Ghana’s biodiversity

The Ghanaian forest harbours enormous biodiversity, all of which is necessary for the maintenance of natural resource productivity and vital for supporting livelihoods. Furthermore, the forest is home to numerous animals, birds, butterflies and important tree and plant species (for example,  Khaya senegalensis, Vocanga Africana, Paullinia pinnata, Piper nigrum) that provide sustainable medicinal resources, maintain the ecosystem and serve as a bank of biodiversity.

Stakeholder groups

A careful look at the stakeholder groups in biodiversity arrangements for Ghana uncovers a large agglomeration of government ministries, departments and agencies, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, the UN Agencies and other development partners. The concept of stakeholders is taken in its broadest sense and includes all groups whose activities directly or indirectly have a positive or negative effect on biodiversity.

Aburi Botanic Gardens

Aburi Botanic Gardens is one of the foremost Institutions of State playing a key role in promoting conservation and supporting education for sustainable development.

The Garden is situated on the Akwiapim Ridge, 38 km north-east of Accra, the national capital. It overlooks the Coastal Plain at an elevation of 1200–1500 ft (365–457 m) above sea level and covers an area of 160 acres (64.7 hectares).  The Garden was officially opened to the public in March 1890 and at that time covered an area of 20 acres (8 hectares), developed around a sanatorium built by the British in 1875 for convalescent government officials. The first curator of the Garden (1890–95) was William Crowther, a student from Kew Gardens. At that time, the Garden contained primary forest and a few introduced ornamental plants. (The only survivor of that original forest, a Ceiba pentandra, or Kapok tree, is about 350 years old and stands majestically in front of the sanatorium.)

At the time of establishment, the Garden had the following main objectives:

a)    The experimental planting of both economically valuable and decorative plants from other tropical and sub-tropical countries with a view to finding those which could thrive under local conditions;

b)    The exhaustive exploration of the agricultural resources of the country, with a view to finding suitable economic plants for European markets; and

c)    The teaching of scientific methods of agriculture.

Now, 120 years on, the main objective of Aburi Botanic Gardens is the conservation of indigenous plants especially medicinal ones. To this purpose, the garden’s activities involve conservation, horticultural training and education. Today, Aburi is one of over 2,000 botanic gardens worldwide which are leading the fight to save plant diversity.  It has established a 50 acre (20.2 hectares) farm as a resource centre for training and distribution of medicinal plant seedlings to herbalists, schools and NGOs and strives to create understanding and awareness of the methods of conservation and development of plant resources.

Education at Aburi

The aim of the Education Programme at Aburi is to ensure that all sections of the population within the community, especially school children, religious groups, farmers, herbalists and social clubs, understand environmental systems and processes for biodiversity conservation and sustainable living.

The Education Unit at the Garden is run by one fully trained and permanent member of staff, who is occasionally assisted by volunteers. The Garden is visited by 65,000 visitors on average each year and the education programme is designed to include lectures, guided tours, plant identification, leaflets and posters.  All elements of the programme have a plant-based focus. Aburi also runs outreach programmes for communities within a radius of 20 km from the Garden.

Surveys are carried out to select the most appropriate communities to work with.  The surveys look at the impact the communities have on their environment, the number of medicinal plants in the area and threatened species.  The selected communities are offered assistance to undertake restoration programmes, which are generally carried out on nearby areas that are degraded due to bushfires, unsustainable agricultural practices and the over-harvesting of medicinal plants, etc. There is a real need to restore these areas for environmental quality and to protect lives and property during storms. In communities with a large number of herbal practitioners, medicinal herbs are commonly planted.   For example, Konkonuro, a community about 10 km from Aburi was assisted in setting up a community medicinal herb farm on a degraded area in the outskirts of the community.  This community specializes in the setting of broken bones after motor accidents and the removal of bullets from gunshot wounds which often occur during night hunting expeditions.  This occurs because farmers and hunters wear strong lights on their foreheads to help them identify animals by the reflection of their eyes. Unfortunately this also increases the risk of mistaking fellow hunters for game. Aburi has also developed a First Aid Garden to encourage herbalists to establish backyard herbal gardens that include threatened species, with the aim of helping to reduce pressure on wild plants. The slogan used during the outreach programmes is ‘THE FOREST IS YOUR PHARMACY, USE IT WISELY’.

Other initiatives include the use of festivals and songs for education programmes. Currently through collaboration between a private company, ZOIL Services Limited (a subsidiary of Zoomlion Ghana Limited), and the Forestry Commission, an environmental song entitled ‘Plant a tree today’ has been produced on CD-ROMS and cassettes.   The Director of Aburi Botanic Gardens provided the words for a local artiste to produce the song while ZOIL Services Limited funded the project. Hundreds of copies have been distributed free of charge.

Another major education programme in which Aburi participated was the launching and setting up of the Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) in Ghana by the United Nations University. The programme was launched by Prof. Dr Hans Van Ginkel, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Rector, United Nations University, Tokyo. RCE is a network of Institutions of formal and non-formal education which are mobilized to deliver Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The goal of RCE Ghana is to become a centre of expertise in the area of sustainability in Africa, through enhancing public awareness and understanding of Sustainable Development (SD) and ESD and generation of innovative programmes in the areas of learning and research. RCE Ghana Institutions include Aburi Botanic Gardens, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana Chamber of Mines, Forestry Commission, Kumasi Zoo, Friends of Rivers and Water Bodies, Anglogold, Environmental Protection Agency, University of Education.

Growing participation from schools

Aburi’s participation in the RCE Ghana and the publicizing of the programme through the electronic and print media impacted positively on its education programme. For example, in 2007 we had 4,650 schoolchildren from 50 schools visiting the Garden. This rose to 7,350 from 187 schools in 2008 and in 2009 we had a total of 10,200 school children from 203 schools visiting Aburi.
Based on the monitoring and evaluation report on the performance of the Education Unit of the Garden, Aburi intends in the future to develop an even wider schools/communities participation in education programmes, through the institution of awards and competitions for efforts made in environmental and plant conservation.

 

Résumé

Le jardin botanique d’Aburi, au Ghana, occupe une surface de 65 hectares, à une courte distance de la capitale, Accra. La forêt primaire recouvre environ un tiers de cette surface et joue un rôle de référence important pour la biodiversité locale. Les activités du jardin sont centrées sur trois domaines principaux :

  • l’éducation aux communautés, pour leur faire prendre conscience de l’importance de conserver la forêt primaire.
  • l’identification des plantes locales ayant un potentiel économique en Europe.
  • l’enseignement de méthodes scientifiques en agriculture.

Le service éducatif d’Aburi travaille avec les communautés locales pour entreprendre des projets de restauration, en insistant en particulier sur le besoin de conserver les plantes médicinales. Des festivals et des chansons sont utilisés, avec le soutien des industries locales, pour inciter une plus large participation des écoles et des communautés. Un « Centre régional d’expertise » des Nations unies se trouve à Kumasi et est en lien avec d’autres CRE dans le monde entier afin de valoriser la sensibilisation et la compréhension de l’Education au développement durable. Le CRE-Ghana a permis de mettre en relation le jardin botanique avec les universités, les agences environnementales et les industries pour initier des programmes efficaces en faveur du développement durable.

 

Resumen

El Jardín Botánico de Aburi en Ghana tiene 160 acres de superficie; se encuentra a una distancia muy corta de la capital Accra.  La vegetación en el área es un bosque prístino y éste ocupa un tercio del área total, de tal manera que representa un lugar clave para biodiversidad local. Las actividades del jardín se enfocan principalmente en:

  • Educación comunitaria, promoviendo el entendimiento de la urgencia y necesidad de la conservación.
  • Identificación de las plantas locales con uso potencial económico en Europa.
  • Enseñando agricultura con métodos científicos.

La sección educativa en Aburi trabaja con las poblaciones del área emprendiendo proyectos de restauración con énfasis en la necesidad de conservar plantas medicinales. Las industrias locales apoyan festivales, incluyendo musicales, para animar a un rango amplio de escuelas y su participación en la comunidad. En Kumasi existe un centro regional de expertos de las Naciones Unidas (UN) y establece redes de comunicación con otro del Centro Regional de Experticia (CRE) que actúa a nivel mundial para mejorar la concienciación y entendimiento del desarrollo de una educación sustentable. CRE – Ghana  junto con universidades han traído al jardín botánico agencias del medio ambiente e industrias para inicial programas efectivos de desarrollo sostentable.

 

George Owusu-Afriyie
Director
Aburi Botanic Gardens
PO Box 23
ABURI
Akwiapim, Ghana
Email:  georgeoa@4u.com.gh