The Botanic Garden of the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Morocco
Volume 3 Number 1 - December 1998
On account of its geographical position Morocco, provides a refuge for a rich and diverse flora with about 4,500 taxa, of which 600 to 650 are endemic. Nevertheless, the problems of environmental degradation, which affect plant resources, have not escaped the Moroccan flora, which is exposed to ever increasing destructive pressures.
Major Degradation Factors Facing Moroccan Phytogenetic Resources
Distinction should be made between cultivated species (recent or ancient) and wild species. Essentially, cultivated species suffer from changes in food consumption habits and the shift of agriculture to the use of more high-yielding species, even though they have a narrow genetic narrow base. Many land races and local varieties have been abandoned while others are greatly underutilized or not fully exploited. This leads to genetic erosion of such crops as wheat, barley, millet, maize, beans, peas and many fruit species such as pears, peaches, apricots and so on. As for wild species, it has been demonstrated that grazing pressure on rangelands, forests and alpine vegetation, and the search for fuelwood are the fundamental reasons for the vulnerability of many plant species that are becoming rarer and rarer. It has been estimated that Morocco loses 30,000 ha of forested land annually (including many species of unknown potential). Other degradation factors include urbanization, changes to the underlying water level and various types of pollution. Recent estimates showed that over 1,000 species are rare or endangered in Morocco.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognizes the importance of ex situ conservation of plants and the major role that institutions such as botanic gardens can play in this field.
The Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II (Institute of Agriculture and Vetinary Medicine Hassan II) through its mission is very much aware of the role it needs to play in the context of the CBD and is conscious of the pressures on the phytogenetic resources of Morocco. Accordingly, in 1990 it launched a project to develop a botanic garden on the campus at Rabat.
Objectives of the Botanic Garden of the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II
The botanic garden creation project was set up to fulfil several aims:
Conservation of the Plant Heritage
At the national level more than 200 native species are designated rare and threatened. Further, several local varieties of cultivated plants are endangered. Through the guidance of international organisations responsible for conservation such as IUCN - The World Conservation Union and Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the Institute can provide an essential link in the protection and conservation of our plant heritage. The accomplishment of this mission will in all cases largely depend on the cooperation at the national and international levels with other organisations concerned with the protection and conservation of plants.
Teaching and Research
As an integral part of the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, the botanic garden becomes a new branch which undertakes training and research as one of its principal roles. The scientific work of the Institute is as useful for teaching as research. Other education and research institutions linked to the garden by means of a cooperative agreement benefit from it through the provision of guided tours, research programmes or by using the garden as a source of living material.
One of the priorities of the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II is to raise awareness of environmental issues amongst its visitors. In this area it can play an important role through its diverse and well-labelled collections, exhibitions, workshops and guided tours. Environmental education is one of its principal roles.
Above all, the garden is a public park and can provide an excellent recreational amenity which provides education for the public. The visitors will learn the names of plants and their uses, the importance of conservation of plant resources and the art of gardens.
The project was started in 1990. Since then, the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II has supported the project within the constraints of their other work. It has supplied occasional manual labour with modest funding. The "Administration des Eaux et Forêts" (Administration for Water and Forests) has also contributed significantly to the start up of the project and donated seed of some indigenous species. The "Direction de l'Enseignement de la Reserche et du Développement" (DERD) (Management of Education, Research and Development) has offered to buy materials.
Some progress has been achieved in the preparation of the ground set aside for the garden in the development of a small nursery which will allow the garden to undertake initial work in providing plant material. The garden has the responsibility of setting the masterplan and providing ornamental plants for the management of the parks belonging to the "Association Culturelle et Sportive de l'Agriculture" (ACSA) (Cultural and Sportive Association of Agriculture Club) (8180 plants) and DERD (1808 plants). Under the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, the botanic garden is a major contributor to the management of the parks (supplying more than 21,300 plants) and improving the grounds of the Département d'Ecologie Végétale by a collection of wild plants.
However, in the absence of sufficient funds, the work could not be continued and the garden is still far from achieving its objectives.
Faced with this situation the Insititute has looked for other sources of funding. It waited for a long time before the European Union (EU) agreed after extensive negotiations, to sign an agreement in which the EU has allocated funds to the project with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and BGCI.
The principal objective of this agreement is to support the conservation of the biodiversity of Morocco by developing the capacity of the garden and providing an integrated approach to the conservation of the plants which are rare at a national or international level and to increase the awareness of politicians, decision makers and the public of the importance of phytogenetic resources.
To achieve this objective, the agreement encompasses many activities of which the most important are the:
- link of the botanic garden of Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II to national reserves and the international world of biodiversity conservation;
- improvement of the infrastructure of the garden by purchase of equipment;
- conservation of plant species ex situ through expeditions to collect living material and propagation in the garden or conservation in a genebank;
- increase of the technical ability of the staff by organizing training sessions;
- contribution and participation at a national level in programmes to evaluate and conserve biodiversity.
The contribution of the EU, which is about 118,000 ECU, will help to establish the basic elements of the botanic garden.
The full implementation of the project for the creation of the botanic garden will however require additional resources which are being sought from within the budget of the Institute as well as from international agencies that support projects for the conservation of biological diversity and environmental sustainability.