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Plant Conservation and Information Management for Botanic Gardens in Colombia: A Project Report for 1998-99

Volume 3 Number 2 - June 1999

Hernando García

This article reviews the results of three regional workshops undertaken during the first year of a joint project between BGCI, the Red Nacionales de Jardines Botánicos (National Network of Botanic Gardens of Colombia), the von Humboldt Institute and Colombian botanic gardens, which is funded by the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species. The project supports plant conservation and information management for botanic gardens in Colombia.. The initial national meeting held in October 1998 at the Jardín Botánico "Jose Celestino Mutis" in Bogotá was reported in BGCNews 3(1) December 1998.

The first regional workshop took place in Tuluá (February 19 – 21) with participants from Tuluá Botanic Garden, Quindío Botanic Garden, Pereira Botanic Garden, Marsella Botanic Garden, Torremolinos Botanic Garden and Popayán Botanic Garden; Medellín. The second workshop took place in Medellín (March 5 – 7) with participants from Medellín Botanic Garden, Bucaramanga Botanic Garden, Cartagena Botanic Garden, San Andrés Botanic Garden and Bogotá Botanic Garden. The third workshop took place in Villavicencio (March 19-21) ) with participants from Villavicencio Botanic Garden, Mocoa Botanic Garden, Cubarral Botanic Garden, Vichada Botanic Garden, Ibagué Botanic Garden and Neiva Botanic Garden.

The goals for this cycle of workshops were:

•   to discuss the importance of information management in botanic gardens;
•   to train botanical garden staff in the management of information on living collections, using BG-Recorder 2 software (BGCI's computer software programme for plant records management);
•   To establish the general principles for the development of a National Information Management Strategy for the Botanic Gardens of Colombia.

To achieve these goals, the following methodology was devised:

1.   Information management Discussion workshop A short questionnaire was designed to explore the requirements for an information system in a botanic gardens. This questionnaire was distributed among the participants. Discussion began in small groups and conclusions were then analyzed in a round-table forum.
2.   Training in the use of BG-Recorder2 software There was an introductory presentation about databases in general and their importance and use in the management of living collections information to understand the use of the software. Then, a presentation specifically about BG-Recorder and a demonstration, using sample accession information, to illustrate how the software operates. Finally, we incorporated actual accession details, given to us for the Jose Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden, Bogotá. The results of this exercise will form the basis for this garden's plant records management system.
3.   Discussion workshop about the “Strategy for the Management Information”. The final stage of the workshop was a discussion on the creation of a strategy for the management and interchange of information on living collections in Colombian botanic gardens. This discussion identified the most important themes for inclusion in the final document.


The workshop participants' response was very positive. It was felt that the discussions had presented an important opportunity for project feedback that will help to the strengthen BG-Recorder2, and work towards the development of a National Information Management Strategy for Botanical Gardens in Colombia.

We explored the relationship between obtaining, processing and using information. We emphasized that record management is not a process limited to the digitization of information or the data itself but the maintenance of an entire information system, highly dependent of the level of feedback. We concluded that it is only by having an institutional rationale for the gardens' collections and by developing clear management projections, that the strategic development of each garden can be effectively achieved.

We agreed the necessity for the creation of the National Information Management Strategy and the importance of a clear exchange of information between individual botanic gardens, the national network of botanic gardens, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute and other international institutions.

National Information Management Strategy

It was unanimously agreed that the National Information Management Strategy should be included in the National Biodiversity Strategy.

Criteria for the national information management strategy:
•   a minimum set of basic information* to be held common by all the botanic gardens;
•   additional information, related to the mission and the unique identity of each botanic garden, will be freely available between gardens;
•   information which directly relates to the goals and to the management of a particular garden.

*   The minimum amount of information about the living collections will be documented under the identification number of the collection. This will consist of the taxonomic identification (family, genus, species and common names), collection date and the information about the origin (country, primary division, secondary division locality, coordinates and habitat) and uses.

Regional Workshops

The workshop of Tuluá discussed the criteria for the National Strategy and the issue of security and access to gardens' information. Discussion focused on what could be the base-line for the free exchange of information which would present the least restrictions and what information was of such a sensitive nature i.e. on scientific, economic or community grounds. that it should require greater security.

The Annual Meeting of the National Network of Botanical Gardens held in the city of Medellín, consisting of legal representation of the Botanical Gardens network, unanimously agreed on a minimum of specific information which would be freely available for exchange.

The workshop of Villavicencio discussed the National Strategy and agreed to keep the parameters for the National Strategy agreed at the previous two workshops.

The participants unanimously agreed by to support the proposals developed in the three workshops. Participants were enthusiastic about continuing with the project.

Such positive results were the consequence of the openness and the active commitment of the participants in the workshops. It was also clear that the structure of the workshops, training and the discussion forum, were an appropriate mechanism with which to achieve the project goals.

Future Projections

With the results of these regional workshops, the short-term goals are now:

•   finalisation and the publication of the National Strategy for the Information Management of living collections in botanic gardens;
•   production of the final version of BG-Recorder2 in Spanish, with a list of family and genus of vascular plants specific to the neo-tropics;
•   finalisation of the agreement for the standardization and exchange of information on living collections between the botanic gardens of Colombia;
•   establishment of plant records management databases in eight botanic gardens.

The following people have been involved in managing this project in-country and establishing an effective inter-institutional collaboration between the Alexander von Humboldt Institute and the National Network of Botanic Gardens of Colombia: Cristian Samper (Projects General Direction) Instituto Humboldt, Hernando García (Projects Coordination) Instituto Humboldt, Juan Carlos Bello (Support and systems assessment) Instituto Humboldt, Alberto Gómez (Networks' President Botanic Gardens’ Network), Lina Baez (Networks' Assistant Botanic Gardens’ Network). For BGCI, Fiona Dennis and Peter Wyse Jackson provided the international linkages and involvement required for the Project.

Hernando García
Instituto de Investigaciones y Estudios Biològicos Alexander von Humboldt
Calle 37 No. 8-40 Mezannine
Tel: +57 (1) 2889896
Fax: +57 (1) 3406925