Botanic Gardens Using Plant Diversity to Alleviate Financial Poverty
Plants support livelihoods and provide income for millions of people around the world. For example, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment estimated in 2005 that 22% of the world's population (46% of the total labour force) are employed in agriculture alone. In a world where more than 1 billion people exist on less than US$1 per day (UN, 2005) it is important that the potential of plants to support income generation is fully realised.
The Role of Botanic Gardens
Botanic gardens can play an important role in supporting and enabling plant resources to support sustainable livelihoods and enable the generaiton of income. Economic botany has always been an important subject for botanic gardens, informing much of their collection of plants, and research into plant properties. For example, the Centre for Economic Botany Research at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew was founded in 1847 by the first official director, to "render great service, not only to the scientifc botanist, but also to the merchant, the manufacturer, the physician, the chemist, the druggist, the dyer, the carpenter, and the cabinet maker and artisans of every description".
- Research is an important tool for investigating useful plants and their properties. Much of this research is related to agriculture and healthcare, often for minor crops that if local importance. Examples of other types of research focuses on developing local plants with potential for cultivation for the lucrative ornamentals market. This can then be used to assist the local community and/or to breed new useful properties into useful plants.
- Training and education allow botanic gardens to educate communities about plant products that are useful and can be sold, and to show communities how to produce these plant products. Soaps, dyes, handicrafts, furniture, cosmetics, medicinal products, foods and drinks are just some of the sale-able products which botanic gardens have enabled their local communities to produce.
- Access to plant resources inside botanic gardens can in some situations enable local people to develop or produce saleable plant products more easily than if the only source of plants was in the wild.
- Botanic gardens often offer one or more shopping opportunities for tourists and visitors, and this can be an opportunity to promote sustainably produced plant products, promote sustainable tourism, and can provide an outlet for local people to sell their handicrafts or other plant products.
For an example of a garden founded with a focus on economic botany, visit the page: Plant conservation - NBRI: A national institute for conservation and exploitation of plants in India