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Working Together - Projects Bridging Conventions! Convention to Combat Desertification

Volume 2 Number 1 - April 2005

Gail Bromley




Résumé en Français

Resumen en Español

For the last three years, Gail Bromley from Kew Gardens has been working alongside staff in an Argentinean NGO, Los Algarrobos, to develop and implement education projects in dry-land areas of Argentina. The NGO was originally set up to develop education projects in support of the Convention to Combat Desertification, but soon recognised that conservation of watersheds was intrinsically linked to the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity. Having little knowledge of current efforts and activities in biodiversity education, the director of Los Algarrobos contacted Gail and together they have been working to support a number of rural and community education programmes including a distance learning course for teachers, watershed management for the San Roque and sustaining arid land agro-biodiversity. In this article, Gail explains a little of the work under progress and how certain groups are linking up to help deliver conservation and education in Argentina.


Translating international conventions into education programmes at the local level is a challenge that has always interested me.  It therefore came as an exciting opportunity to work on a joint project with Andrew Joseph Hamilton, Director of Associacion Civil Los Algarrobos (ACLA), an NGO based in Argentina. The organisation acts as a UN ‘focal point’ for the Convention to Combat Desertification; implementing forestry programmes, conducting research and promoting sustainable development at the national level as well as supporting the role of women and capacity-building in local communities. Much of their work supports communities in arid zones of Argentina such as the State of Cordoba and many of the poorer north-eastern states such as Salta, Catamarca and Jujuy. ACLA staff quickly recognised the need to encourage the implementation of specific actions at the local level on drylands and forest ecosystems, and to develop education materials that would contribute to a more effective implementation of the Rio conventions.

Andrew and I looked at how we could enhance the biodiversity education element of a long distance education course on environmental issues they were developing. The 20 week radio broadcast course was targeted at primary teachers in rural areas and offers basic information, with a follow-up programme of activities for the teacher to carry out.  These activities are submitted and assessed by trained education supervisors.

In each state the course is run, the ACLA education team work with staff from the Ministries of Education, Environment, Sustainable Development and Tourism/Culture.  Additionally, the Education Ministry credits teachers who successfully complete the course with the maximum training points available (a reflection of its excellent standing amongst education officials).

In recent times, the challenge posed by the intricate relationships of climate, biological diversity, drought and desertification on the social, economic and environmental fronts has been recognised in many countries.  This course was set up to help people start to implement and encourage corrective measures. This basic course covers a range of issues including climate change and desertification, pollution, biodiversity, sustainability, basic ecology, etc. 

For each state, modules such as the one on biodiversity vary to explore key local issues. In Jujuy, for example, local biodiversity issues include over-exploitation of fuel wood, inappropriate animal husbandry, impact of tourism in a newly designated World Heritage Site, pollution from agrochemicals and the local loss of knowledge in the range of potato and bean species and cultivars – for which the area is a ‘biodiversity hotspot’. In the state of Cordoba, tourism, pollution and removal of local biodiversity have seriously impacted on the watershed of the San Roque area, which supplies all of the water for this region. These local issues are highlighted, discussed and corrective measures recommended, so that the teachers can start to implement a range of teaching programmes to explain and explore these problems with schoolchildren and, through them, their families.  Each teacher who signs up for the course gets a large manual that covers the transcript of the broadcast tapes (made as a series of ‘conversations’ between two women teachers), a series of activities to complete, background resource material and information and resource directories.

ACLA also saw the need for a very pragmatic approach and raised large amounts of money to establish not only radio masts for these remote rural areas to support their communication, but also ‘garden nurseries’. The idea is for children and teachers to use them as a learning resource; grow food and eat more healthily, learn horticultural techniques and celebrate local crops. The course itself is also completely free, as ACLA has managed to enlist the financial support of a number of local and national companies.

The launch of each new state programme is prefixed by meetings and discussions with local teachers and the media (radio and TV).  ‘Biodiversity’ workshops are also run to promote the course and offer ideas and teaching methodologies such as games, artwork and theatre to help children understand environmental issues. One of the greatest spin-offs of the course has been the fact that the school is often the centre of activity and culture for these remote villages. Because of the lack of transport and difficult terrain, many children board at school for up to a year and many schools provide a central cooking and eating point for everyone in the village.  Everybody usually tunes in to the radio broadcast, and often locals are quite keen to help out with activities, the school nursery and any follow-up conservation projects. At the workshops, participants may include not only teachers but local tourism staff, shopkeepers, farmers and craftspeople – in fact anyone who is interested! As you might imagine this usually leads to exciting and innovative workshops – although numbers have sometimes tended to get a bit unwieldy with 400 participants turning up on one occasion!

Increasingly, teachers also hand on or share their materials with other teachers who have not signed up for the course. Ultimately this does not matter to ACLA, as it is hoped that everyone exposed to the messages will become more ‘aware’ of the local issues and thus more likely to support measures to enhance sustainable activity in the community. Currently the course outcomes are being evaluated and include:

  • materials and displays from schoolchildren
  • media reports of ‘conservation, recycling, sustainable resource management and  pollution control' projects in the area implemented by the local communities
  • teacher and school reports
  • oral conversations with local people
  • changes in local constitutions/laws etc. in favour of sustainable practices
  • requests for further information and resources
  • festivals celebrating local culture and natural resources etc.

Some very good materials are being gathered that will demonstrate the impact of the course.  Hopefully this will stimulate the ‘roll-out’ of the course nationally.

As a result of the initial training course, other projects have developed. The first is a ‘basic’ course on ‘Sustainability and Environmental Management’ targeted at such groups as company managers, local authority and utility officials and key tradespersons. The second is the establishment of ‘Biodiversity Interpretation Centres’ (BICs) in each state. These are in the process of being developed ‘by the people, for the people’.  They are being overseen by ACLA in collaboration with various Ministries, local authorities, university departments, local teachers/schoolchildren and NGOs. The centres will comprise a physical structure, set into or near a key biodiversity area, where local staff and volunteers will offer activities, events, displays, information and resources that will highlight local key issues.

We all know that desertification and biodiversity mismanagement or loss can only be reversed through profound changes in local (and international) behaviour. Little by little, with integrated practices such as these, the changes will ultimately lead to sustainable land use and food security for a growing world population. Education empowering communities, conservation and careful water management, let’s have more of it!


Durant les trois dernières années, Gail Bromley des Jardins de Kew a travaillé côte à côte avec le personnel d’une organisation non gouvernementale Argentine, Los Algarrobos, pour développer et rendre effectifs des projets d’éducation dans des zones sèches d’Argentine. L’ONG avait, à l’origine, développé des projets éducatifs en s’inspirant de la Convention sur la lutte Contre la Désertification, mais elle a rapidement reconnu que la conservation du bassin hydrographique était intrinsèquement liée à la conservation et à la gestion durable de la biodiversité. Ayant peu de connaissances dans ce domaine et sur les activités d’éducation à la biodiversité, le Directeur de Los Algarrobos a contacté Gail. Ensemble ils ont collaboré à l’appui de nombreux programmes éducatifs ruraux et communautaires notamment des cours à distance pour les enseignants, la gestion du bassin hydrographique pour le San Roque ainsi que le maintien de l’agro-biodiversité des paysages arides. Dans cet article, Gail apporte des informations sur le travail en cours et comment certains groupes se sont mis en réseau pour délivrer un message de conservation et d’éducation en Argentine.


Durante los últimos 3 años, Gail Bromley, de los Jardines Reales de Kew, ha estado colaborando con personal de una ONG en Argentina, Los Algarrobos, en el desarrollando e implementación de proyectos educativos en las zonas áridas de ese País. Inicialmente la ONG se dedicaba a organizar proyectos educativos para apoyar la Convención de lucha Contra la Desertificación, poco después se reconoció que la conservación de las cuencas estaban intrínsicamente relacionadas con la actividades de conservación y manejo sustentable de la biodiversidad.  Con el escaso conocimiento de los esfuerzos y actividades actuales en la educación de la biodiversidad,  el director de Los Algarrobos se puso en contacto con Gail, desde entonces han estado trabajando juntos brindando apoyo a las comunidades rurales con programas para maestros de educación, en los que se incluye la universidad a larga distancia, manejo de la cuenca de San Roque y la sostenibilidad de agrodiversidad de las zonas áridas. En este artículo, Gail explica un poco de este trabajo y su progreso, así como algunos grupos que están uniéndose en una iniciativa para  cumplir con la educación en la Argentina.

About the Author

Gail Bromley MBE FLS.  Education Development Manager & International Consultant for Biodiversity Education.  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey.  Email:

RBG, Kew is grateful to the British Council and ACLA for their generous support of this project.
Details of this Convention can be found at