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Report of a Workshop to Revive the Migombani Botanical Garden, Zanzibar

Volume 3 Number 2 - June 1999

Sanjay K. Raja

The British High Commissioner, Sir John Kirk, who was also a botanist and zoologist, established the Migombani Botanical Garden which is the only botanic garden in Zanzibar in 1870. He established the Garden as a testing ground for newly introduced economic plants and the Garden played an important role in the development of agriculture in Zanzibar. Later the collection of exotic and indigenous species was developed and the Garden was used as an arboretum for educational purposes and as a nursery for the sale of seedlings. The Garden is also one of Zanzibar's historical sites, reflecting past links and past cultural needs. The Garden is currently under the management of the Zanzibar Municipality Council and the Commission for Cash Crops, but has been neglected in recent years. The most obvious problems are sand mining, encroachment by unlawful buildings, cutting of rare trees and a poor drainage system. The Garden is thus in danger of disappearing.

The main objectives of the workshop were:

  • to bring together the key stakeholders, including the community living in the vicinity of the Migombani Botanical Garden, to discuss in depth the problems facing the Garden and to suggest solutions to improve the site;
  • to create awareness, not only among the key stakeholders, but also amongst the general public with the aim of sharing the concern and inculcating a sense of responsibility for the Garden among and between all stakeholders;
  • to design a simple local action plan after assessing and analysing the problems, using a well-defined conceptual framework.

The workshop was organised by Sustainable Advancement of Zanzibar (SAZ), which is a youth-based and run organisation concerned with the environment and sustainable development. The workshop was held at the end of October 1998 and was financed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the LIFE programme based in Dar Es Salaam.

The Workshop

The workshop was attended by 60 people. The SAZ Acting Chairperson, Sanjay K. Raja and the LIFE representative, Firdaus Rashid, made introductory remarks. The Hon. Mayor of Zanzibar, Maulid Salum Abdalla, welcomed the participants and the Opening Speech was delivered by the Hon. Ali Juma Shamhuna, Minister of State, Planning and Investment.

On the first day, there were talks on the present state of the Garden by Mr. M.A Ghassany and Mr A.U. Basha and a tour of the Garden site for participants. Mr. Ghassany who knows the Garden very well was able to describe it in detail. On the second day, Saleh K. Khiari and Khamis A. Said presented two papers on the possible future role of the Garden. The second paper summarized the current uses, existing problems and proposed activities of the Garden in order to stimulate debate among the participants and come up with further recommendations and suggestions to improve the current ailing situation of the Garden. After the presentations, the participants were divided into four groups to discuss what activities should be undertaken, what strategies should be used, and what institutions should be responsible for implementing the activities. A detailed and comprehensive plan of action would then follow the workshop based on its recommendations and suggestions.

General Recommendations of the Workshop

There was intense discussion on the issues raised. The following are some of the recommendations:

  • To overcome the problem of coordination between the management organizations it was suggested that the Zanzibar Municipal Council should have absolute autonomy over managing the Migombani Botanical Garden. Other institutions such as the Commission for Cash Crops, Department of Forestry, and Commission for Land and Environment should act as consultants and provide technical advice and ngos such as SAZ, Community Development and Environmental Conservation of Zanzibar (CODECOZ), Jumuiya ya Mazingira Zanzibar (Environmental Society of Zanzibar - JMZ) should be co-partners. 
  •  Taking into consideration the fact that the initial boundaries of the Garden are not known it was recommended that the entire area should be mapped and the original boundaries sought. However, some participants would prefer to demarcate the area with new boundaries using the present available space.
  • To counteract the problem of gross encroachment spearheaded by the increasing scale of house building, it was recommended that the Garden area be fenced using trees of mandrothorn type instead of walls.
  • Security guards will need to be recruited to patrol the Garden area to check any irregularities in terms of usage.
  • To overcome public ignorance of the importance of the Migombani Botanical Garden for national development it was recommended that the entire population especially those living in the vicinity should be made aware of, mobilised and above all actively involved in preserving this natural heritage for the benefit of the present and future generations. To accomplish this task, mass media should be used.
  • The services supporting the Garden should be revived and improved. The services which are dilapidated such as drains and sewers have to be repaired and the water supply established.
  • Traditional plant species that are rare in the Garden should be re-planted and a nursery of endemic plant species established to make the Garden more attractive and botanically useful (e.g. plants for reference, research, plant breeding, conservation).
  • Moving people who live in the Garden area should be undertaken with great care because of the strong social and political sensitivities involved.
  • Appropriate laws should be made so that people do not build more houses in the Garden and to protect the people who live there at present, because they were given permission to build by the municipal council.
  • It was proposed that, this area should not be regarded primarily as a recreational site, but as a ground for developing the agricultural sector in Zanzibar. In that case it has to be used more for educational and research purposes rather than for recreational activities.
  • If resources are available, other botanic gardens of this nature should be established at the district level.
  • Government institutions were advised to collaborate with ngos to develop gardens within the Municipal area.
  • It was suggested that the Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania be contacted in order for SAZ to establish a link between the management of the Migombani Botanical Garden with the National Environmental Council of Tanzania.
  • The instructions offered by the President of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Government (October 1993) about the demolition of houses built within the Garden area be enforced. However, proper procedures and systems need to be followed to avoid possible adverse repercussions.
  • A long term Plan to review, develop and update the Migombani Botanical Garden needs to be prepared.
  • It was also recommended that the Garden be used as a source of generating revenue by charging a modest fee for tourists who visit the place. In this case the need to make it more attractive is vital.


The Minister of Land, Environment, Water and Energy, the Hon. Kamal Basha Pandu closed the workshop. The Minister was hopeful that a plan of action based on the workshop would be drafted very soon to stop the situation of the Garden from becoming worse. The major success of this workshop was that it brought community and government institutions together to discuss, brainstorm and plan development activity. This was a rare opportunity for the community to meet the government and discuss an issue that is of utmost priority.

Sanjay K. Raja
Sustainable Advancement of Zanzibar (SAZ)
PO Box 4204