Botanic Gardens Conservation International
BGCI provides a global voice for all botanic gardens, championing and celebrating their inspiring work. We are the world's largest plant conservation network, open to all. Join us in helping to save the world's threatened plants.

Botanic Gardens, Biodiversity and Human Well-being: Questions and Answers

This page has questions and answers about the role of botanic gardens in linking plant diversity with improvements to human well-being

Please first visit our introduction to well-being for a general overview of this subject. Links within this document will direct you to relevant sections. This site also contains links to other useful BGCI pages and related web-sites (please note that BGCI can accept no responsibility for the content of external sites).

Q: Who should I contact with comments, information or questions about this subject?
Q: Why is Botanic gardens linking biodiversity with human well-being one of the core themes of BGCI's work?
Q: What is "human well-being"?
Q: What is "sustainable development"?
Q: What international policies are relevant to this topic?
Q: Where can I read more about well-being and sustainable development?
Q: Is this topic more relevant to less developed countries?
Q: Can you provide examples of case studies?
Q: I know of an example that is not in your list: what can I do?
Q: Can I discuss how my garden can get more involved with work that addresses this issue?
Q: Can I work with or support botanic gardens to do more work on this subject?

For a general introduction to this subject, please see first our introduction to well-being. However, if you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Q: Who should I contact with comments, information or questions about this subject?

Suzanne Sharrock
Director of Public Awareness
Tel: +44 (0)2083 325953
Fax: +44 (0)2083 325956

Botanic Gardens Conservation International
Descano House
199 Kew Road
Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3BW, UK

Back to top

Q: Why is Botanic gardens linking biodiversity with human well-being one of the core themes of BGCI's work?

Botanic gardens already have many policies to follow and targets to achieve, and the concept of "human well-being" may seem like something new. However, it is actually part of the many existing policies and conventions that are followed by botanic gardens in conservation. Well-being is part of these policies because addressing human needs is seen as necessary for widespread and long-lasting success with our conservation efforts, as well as being a valuable aim in itself. This idea is linked to the emergence of the concept of sustainable development.

Plants are an especially important aspect of biodiversity for human well-being, as they contribute in so many ways: the majority of our food and healthcare are directly based upon them, as are many important industries. Of course, plant diversity also underpins other aspects of biodiversity that we rely, such as livestock, and provides many services that our well-being depends on, such as watershed regulation. We consider that they can directly contribute to human well-being in four main ways: improving nutrition, improving healthcare, local poverty alleviation, and community welfare.

We hope our new report on well-being will inspire gardens on this subject, as well as informing a wider audience about the relevance of botanic gardens to the modern conservation agenda.

Biodiversity can indeed help alleviate hunger and poverty, can promote human health, and be the basis for ensuring freedom and equity for all.
The heads of the five biodiversity-related conventions, in the statement "Biodiversity: Life insurance for our Changing World", September 2005.

Back to top

Q: What is "human well-being"?

Human well-being is the term used by this study to refer to human quality of life or standard of living. As the term implies, it does not focus on any one aspect. You may be familiar with the term from its use by other organisations, policies and programmes (such as the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment programme). Other organisations and programmes (such as the Millenium Development Goals) convey a similar meaning with phrases such as "poverty alleviation" or "reducing poverty and improving lives".

Human well-being is divided into four main aspects. These are 1) nutritional 2) healthcare 3) financial poverty alleviation 4) community welfare.

Aspect 1: improving nutrition
This aspect of well-being is primarily concerned with the provision of a diverse, healthy and secure food-supply. Food can be sourced in a variety of ways, and from both wild and managed ecosystems: plant biodiversity supports the functioning of these systems, and provides genetic resources that can be used to improve productivity, disease resistance, or adaptation to local conditions. Any project that supports well-being through promoting security, quantity, quality or diversity of food production for human needs.

Aspect 2: improving healthcare
Reducing disease and promoting health can be achieved through better access to healthcare, and increasing the security and diversity of options. Many pharmaceuticals are derived from plants, but the direct use of plants for medicinal purposes (herbal medicine) is widespread, and especially important for those living in the poorest countries. Any project that contributes to the ease of access, security or diversity of this plant supply therefore contributes to this aspect of human well-being.

Aspect 3: financial poverty alleviation
This aspect is primarily concerned with giving people the opportunity to support themselves through a secure livelihood. Natural resources can be used to support livelihoods in a variety of ways, for example, through crop farming, or through providing materials for handicrafts. Botanic gardens can contribute to this through enabling local livelihood alternatives, boosting income or improving livelihood security.

Aspect 4: community and social benefits
This refers to important but less quantifiable benefits. For example, it can refer to community empowerment (especially of minorities, women, or the less privileged parts of society). Other examples of improving community welfare can come from improvement in community relations, or an improvement in a community's surroundings.

Click here for references on this topic.

Back to top

Q: What is "sustainable development"?

Traditional approaches to conservation, which usually relied on protecting nature from use by local communities, often failed. If people can not benefit from natural resources (or perceive the benefits of natural resources), they have little incentive to conserve them. Complementing this idea, proponents of socio-economic development have recognised the importance of natural resources in supporting life, especially for the very poorest people. This thinking has led to the concept of "sustainable development", which requires balance in the progress towards economic, social and environmental goals. It has been most famously defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) as:
Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Therefore, working towards sustainable development means that both socio-economic and environmental considerations should be integrated into all programmes and projects: development agencies needs to better value and adapt to environmental needs, whilst conservationists need to value and adapt to human needs. Sustainable development is such an important influence on modern conservation policies that all modern ideas about conservation emphasise the importance of addressing human needs.

Although we may be more familiar with thinking more about the environmental and ecological aspects of sustainable development, gardens should consider if they can use their resources to contribute to human well-being and meet human needs.
Click here for more BGCI information on sustainability and sustainable development

Click here for references on this topic

Back to top


Q: What international policies are relevant to this topic?

Many international policies, strategies and dependent targets relevant to conservation and botanic gardens consider well-being to be an important goal. This is especially true of more recent policies, which explicitly recognise how biodiversity conservation and socio-economic development can be interlinked (see also the concept of sustainable development). Because human well-being is part of these policies, any garden involved in conservation should consider this issue. We hope our report on well-being will inspire gardens on this subject, as well as informing a wider audience about the relevance of botanic gardens to the modern conservation agenda.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
This convention states that human needs provide important justification for the conservation of living things and the ecosystems, and that human needs must be taken into account when conserving natural resources. It aims to conserve the world's biological diversity, but also to promote the sustainable use of this biological diversity, and for the equitable sharing of any benefits arising from this. It is recognised as one of the means for delivering the Millennium Development Goals. Botanic Gardens' skills and collections can support implementation of the CBD in several ways, including identifying and developing useful plants. The website for the CBD can provide more information, and is found at


“Plants are a vital part of the world’s biological diversity and an essential resource for human well-being.

Besides the crop plants that provide our basic food and fibres, many thousands of wild plants have great economic and cultural importance and potential, providing food, medicine, fuel, clothing and shelter for vast numbers of people throughout the world.

Traditional Chinese medicine alone uses over 5,000 plant species and traditional medicines in India are based on 7,000 different species. Plants also play a key role in maintaining the planet’s basic environmental balance and ecosystem stability and provide an important component of the habitats for the world’s animal life.”

Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary of theConvention on Biological Diversity, Foreword, Global Strategy for Plant Conservation brochure, SCBD, Montreal Canada.


Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC).
This strategy arose from the CBD at the 6th COP in 2002, to provide a framework for action for plant conservation. It recognises that plants are an essential resource for human well-being (see box opposite), and has 16 global targets to be achieved by 2010. For example, objective c)ii) "to support the development of livelihoods based on sustainable use of plants, and promote the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of plant diversity" is supported by targets for sustainable use and the conservation of plant resources. Download the GSPC at
The implementation of the GSPC is supported by the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (GPPC), and BGCI is its secretariat. More information on the GPPC is given by its website

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
These are an ambitious agenda for reducing poverty and improving lives, through environmental sustainability, which were agreed by world leaders in 2000. ("Poverty alleviation" or "poverty reduction" is the term used instead of "improving human well-being".) Most governments and international agencies have committed themselves to these goals. For each goal one or more targets have been set, usually for 2015 (see box right). The full list of MDG goals can be found at


Two of the eight Millennium Development Goals

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Target for 2015 : Halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger.

4. Reduce child mortality

Target for 2015 : Reduce by two-thirds the mortality rate among children under five.


Arising from this, the Equator Initiative is a partnership of several international conservation agencies and government departments. It specifically champions the importance of reducing poverty through natural resource use in the poorest communities, as the economically poorest countries often have greatest biodiversity. More information is provided at its website

Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development
This is comprehensive plan of action to be addressed globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts on the environment. Objectives in section 1 address the social and economic dimensions of development, whilst objective 2 objectives promote the conservation and management of resources for development. It is non-binding but was adopted by over 178 governments when it was launched in 1992, and its importance was reiterated at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002. For more information, please see its website

The Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972 (World Heritage Convention).
This emphasises the need to conserve and promote both biological and cultural heritage. As such, human society and its uses of biological diversity are as valuable as the biological diversity, and the best interventions are those that promote both (through, for example, improving livelihoods through sustainable traditional use of natural resources).
For the website of the World Heritage Convention, click here

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA).
This is a practical and international work programme designed to collect and provide information for the major biodiversity conventions (CBD, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on Migratory Species). It focuses on ecosystem services, and how changes in these services have affected human well-being. It also predicts how ecosystem changes may affect people in the future, and the appropriate responses to improve ecosystem management and thereby contribute to human well-being and poverty alleviation. Further information is provided at its website

International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation (IABGC). This was prepared by BGCI, and based on contributions from and consultations with over 300 institutions and individuals throughout the international botanic garden, botanical and conservation communities. This document provides a global framework for botanic garden policies, programmes and priorities in biodiversity conservation, especially as it relates to implementation of the CBD, defining the contemporary global mission of gardens. Part of this agenda is to promote plant conservation and sustainable use, especially of those plant resources which have economic importance to human societies. For example, aim 2.8 is for the sustainable use of biodiversity, whilst section 2.18 is to promote sustainable development.
The policies section of our website provides more information about the agenda and its targets.

Back to top

Q: Where can I read more about well-being and sustainable development?

Human Well-being
When searching for relevant documents, remember that this term is used by authors and policies such as the MA programme, UNEP or the GSPC, but other sources may use different terms or phrases, such as "poverty alleviation" or "reducing poverty and improving lives".

A good evaluation of the role of ecosystem services in supporting human well-being is given by the second Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report:

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis. Washington D.C., World Resources Institute.
An interesting summary of the rationale and justification for the consideration of human well-being issues (through poverty reduction) by conservation organisations is given by: Roe, D. (ed.) 2005. The Millennium Development Goals and Conservation: Managing Nature's Wealth for Society's Health. IIED, London. Available from IIED's website

This is also well summarised and explained in:

Duraiappah, A.K., 2004. Exploring the Links: Human well-being, poverty and ecosystem services. Canada, UNEP, IISD.

Sustainable development

Many sources refer to sustainable development. However, when reading about it, do remember to check the reliability of the source and take into account their potential bias.

The best known definition is that of the Bruntland commission:

World Commission on Environment and Development 1987. Our Common Future. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

For a range of definitions input "define: sustainable development" into the Google search engine at

A good introduction is provided by the Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia at

A good description of three aspects of sustainable development is given at:
Anon., 2005. Sustainable development: definition and constitutional status in Switzerland, Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE).

A more authorative overview is given by:
United Nations 1999. Sustainable Development. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development, New York.

Back to top

Q: Is this topic more relevant to less developed countries?

No! Improving human well-being is relevant to all botanic gardens. It is true that the poorest people tend to be the most directly dependent upon natural resources, and therefore suffer (or benefit) most from a change in the condition or availability of those resources. However, we are interested in aspects of human well-being, which go beyond provision of the most basic needs of life: for example, empowerment of poor or marginalised communities, or an improvement in neighbourhood surroundings can benefit those in more affluent countries. Botanic gardens in these countries may also be involved with work that benefits communities in other (poorer) regions.

Back to top

Q: Can you show me some case studies?

Please visit our online database of case studies. We provide examples for all of the four aspects of human well-being, and we hope they will inspire you. However, they are by no means indicative or exhaustive, for different botanic gardens are involved in a variety of projects! We are continually adding examples to this list. However, if you would like to know more about these examples, or discuss examples not listed on this page, please contact us.

Back to top

Q: I know of an example that is not in your list: what can I do?

We would love to hear of as many examples as possible. If you would like to share your knowledge with us, please contact us at (alternative contact details are given here). We are continually updating the online database, and we warmly welcome further examples to add to it. We hope that documenting the wide range of examples will promote the work that gardens do for this subject, and help our members to consider how they can get involved. If you have already submitted information to us but it does not appear in the list, please be patient while we add it to our records.


Q: Can I discuss how my garden can get more involved with work that addresses this issue?

If you are involved with or represent a botanic garden, and would like to get involved with work that addresses this issue, we would love to hear about your ideas. Please contact us at (alternative contact details are given here).

Back to top

Q: I would like to work with or support botanic gardens to do more work on this subject.

We think that partnership with non-botanic garden organisations is extremely important, for it helps us to effectively and efficiently work to identify and meet human needs. Working with a variety of organisations and institutions, from local to national or even international levels, is equally valuable (for example, collaboration with other non-governmental organisations can allow us to pool resources and expertise). Browsing the examples included in our report on well-being illustrates a variety of collaborations and partnerships. For example, in South Africa, a healthcare clinic can work with a local botanic garden to provide plants that are used to meet local healthcare needs. It is also important that gardens receive support and resources that enables them to engage in these types of projects. If you are interested in supporting or partnering with botanic gardens to support their work on well-being, please contact us at (alternative contact details are given here)


Back to top