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Botanic Gardens Linking Plants with Improvements to Nutrition

It is obvious that human well-being depends upon a food supply that relies upon plant products. Plant diversity also supports the functioning of ecosystems that support food production, and provides genetic resources that can contribute crop qualities such as disease resistance, productivity or adaptation to local conditions. Botanic gardens have several skills and activities that are particularly important to this issue:

Collection and Conservation of Plant Diversity

Botanic gardens have many crop species and wild crop relatives kept within seed bank and living stocks. In a world of declining species richness these stores are an essential and accessible tool for conserving and recording our biodiversity. These collections are an essential foundation for efforts to alter or improve the properties of plants that we use for food (such as improving nutritional value, or drought-hardiness). The genetic diversity within these stores are also essential for protecting our food production, as crop relatives and variants can be the key to breeding disease resistant crop plants.

For example: Botanic Gardens and Agricultural Genebanks: Building on Complementary Strengths for More Effective Global Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources

For example: Conserving Diversity of Wild Plant Genetic Resources: A Case Study of Wild Coffea Taxa in the Mascarenes Island.

For example: The Introduction Nursery for Food, Crop and Medicinal Plants at the Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences: its role in the conservation of biodiversity

Cultivation of Food Plants

The long history of horticultural expertise within botanic gardens mean that they are well placed to bring wild food plants into cultivation. This has several purposes - as well as conserving the plants within the garden's collection, the plants can then be more amenable to research and investigation of their properties, and to crop breeding. Discovering the most practicable means of cultivating a food plant can also help local people to cultivate their food without the difficulty of searching for it in the wild.

For example: Botanic Gardens - Fruit Germplasm Collection at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

For example: The Role of Siberian Botanical Gardens in Food Security Principles Development

Research and Investigation into Food Plants

Research can help to identify and investigate useful food plant and crops, and important plant traits (for example, the toxicity or nutritional value of a plant species). Using the information collected, useful traits can be bred into crop plants. For example, botanic gardens can help to breed longer-lasting fruit plants, so local farmers have time to transport their fruit to market. Alternatively, drought resistant species could be bred, which is particularly important given the predicted effects of climate change.

For example: Australian Bush Tucker: New Crops, New Industry

For example: The role of Russian botanic gardens in the study and development of economic plants

Education and Communication

Education and communication are essential for ensuring the benefits of botanic garden expertise, collections and research can be shared with the people that it will benefit: for example, to teach people how to cultivate their food plants. Educational tools can also be used to explain the nutritional value of eating a diversity of vegetables, which is important in cultures where traditional indigenous vegetables may be falling out of fashion, and also in developed countries, where many eat a diet over-processed and too calorific.

Case Studies

Visit our list of well-being case studies for some current and recent projects which have contributed to improved nutrition.


Find Out More

Food and Trees for Africa
The first and only national, public benefit, civil society greening and food gardening organisation in South Africa addressing climate change.

Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux International (CABI)
CABI is a not for profit, intergovernmental organization that provides information and applyies scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. CABI activities encompass scientific publishing, research and communication, and links science directly with rural communities.

Bioversity International (formerly IPGRI)
Bioversity is an international research institute with a mandate to advance the conservation and use of genetic diversity for the well-being of present and future generations. It is a Centre of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

International Centre for Underutilised Crops
The mission of the ICUC is to promote the use of underutilised crops for the benefit of humankind and the environment. ICUC provides expertise for tropical, sub-tropical and temperate crop development, in close collaboration with partners in 19 countries in Asia and Africa.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust
An increasingly unpredictable and changing climate, and a world population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, will place unprecedented demands on agriculture. Our mission is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide.

International Plant Breeding Symposium
"Growing a more secure future through scientific excellence." The International Plant Breeding Symposium (IPBS) will bring together scientists from diverse backgrounds and settings. Symposium participants will define breeding methodologies to address the challenges facing global agriculture today.

Cultivate E-Bulletin
Cultivate, BGCI's regular e-bulletin brings you opinion, comment, case studies and surveys for and about the world's botanic gardens. Sign up today - click the link.
So Shall We Reap (2004)
Subtitle: How Everyone Who Is Liable to Be Born in the Next Ten Thousand Years Could Eat Very Well Indeed; and Why, in Practice, Our Immediate Descendants Are Likely to Be in Serious Trouble. Colin Tudge highlights how intensive agriculture is placing our future in peril.