Journal Archives > BGjournal > Responsibility and cooperation: the educational cooperation policy of the Conservatory and Botanical Garden of the City of Geneva (cjb), Switzerland, with southern-hemisphere countries
Responsibility and cooperation: the educational cooperation policy of the Conservatory and Botanical Garden of the City of Geneva (cjb), Switzerland, with southern-hemisphere countries
Volume 8 Number 1 - January 2011
Didier Roguet and Pierre-André Loizeau
The Conservatory and Botanical Garden of the City of Geneva (CJB) is an institution with a great international reputation, and is also the living museum of the City of Geneva. Like most established botanic gardens, it is in the northern hemisphere, outside the belt of tropical biodiversity that encircles the planet. Unfortunately, there is no correlation between the geographical distribution of botanic gardens around the world and the areas of maximum natural and cultural diversities. This situation stems from the history of botanic gardens and above all the extremely unfavourable economic situation in the countries that are home to the tropical forests, which contain 80% of the world's biodiversity.
“We believe it is a responsibility of botanical gardens in the northern hemisphere to cooperate with those in the southern hemisphere in their geographical field of floristic expertise”.
One of the crucial missions of botanic gardens at the beginning of the 21st century is to try to check the dramatic loss of plant diversity that is occurring. The original 2010 objectives set by the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) have not been achieved in this International Year of Biodiversity, although revised targets for the next ten years have been adopted. This is despite the considerable sums of money that are being devoted to the protection and conservation of environments and species. Although it appears that the overall number of species living on Earth has been underestimated, we are continuing to lose numerous species daily, in particular in the intertropical zone.
Teams of scientists and botanical gardeners at the CJB in Geneva and many other botanical research institutions around the world are working to record, classify, conserve, reproduce and cultivate plant species, and our specialist educators, writers, botanical editors, and database administrators are informing, educating and publishing papers devoted to this conservation work. However, despite this great effort, the loss of natural and cultural plant diversity appears to be inexorable.
The CJB's cooperation policy
For more than 10 years the CJB has been attempting in a modest way to provide practical solutions to the very negative state of affairs described above, through a concerted cooperative policy of applied ethnobotany and targeted environmental education. This has taken the form of educational micro-projects set up in those tropical areas where we have floristic expertise (mainly South America and Africa). These projects, based on principles of sustainable development, must fulfil certain conditions and prerequisites if they are to be implemented by us:
“The objective of these projects is to improve the ability of southern-hemisphere botanical gardens to respond to the wholesale loss of natural and cultural diversity.”
These projects are supported financially through the CJB by the City of Geneva's Solidarity Fund and are encouraged to seek additional funding locally (local municipalities and universities, local associations and clubs, the Swiss Red Cross local office, etc.).
The CJB has developed educational cooperation projects in the following countries:
In addition to these examples, we have been running two "pilot" projects, the development and objectives of which are described below.
The AEPY project in Asunción (Paraguay)
This project, the CJB's longest standing in terms of cooperation with a southern-hemisphere country, is based on the widespread traditional use of medicinal plants in Paraguayan popular culture. Used both for sweetening and flavouring maté and for treating medical complaints, medicinal plants are omnipresent in the markets of this South American country. The trade provides a living for many families of gatherers, peasant farmers, street sellers and market traders. A number of laboratories and dispensaries export these plants, packaged to varying degrees, mainly to Argentina and Brazil. Paraguay is also one of the countries that have seen the highest levels of deforestation in the world in the last fifty years, largely due to forest clearance for timber and coal mining and more recently for growing GM cotton and soya, and pasture.
An ethnobotanical study carried out in the markets of Asunción in 1996 by the first author of this paper showed the richness of the local medicinal plant heritage, with more than 700 species being used in the country, 70% of which were gathered in the region. In parallel, this ethnobotanical research was used to develop an approach and a methodology for applying ethnobotany to environmental education within the framework of the Asunción Botanical Garden. This programme is governed by an agreement between the municipalities of Geneva and Asunción. It has resulted in:
This project is currently in the process of becoming self-sufficient through a new independent intermediary association called AEPY (Asociación Ethnobotanica Paraguaya) that has been set up in Paraguay and is championing and promoting the project while seeking funding.
The CEEH project (Hann Environmental Education Centre) in Dakar, Senegal
This Senegalese project is based on the same fundamental principles as the AEPY project in Paraguay.
It is made up of several sections and an extension project:
These two examples clearly demonstrate our readiness to work in the southern hemisphere using both our floristic and ethnobotanical expertise and that of our partners to develop together socioeducational micro-projects that meet the requirements of quality sustainable development.
In our opinion, the botanical gardens in the developed countries of Europe, North America and Asia have an obvious – and often post-colonial – responsibility to collaborate and work to restore and use the gardens of the intertropical belt in developing countries. This initial collaboration should be followed by cooperation to establish a concerted ethnobotanical policy applied to environmental education.
The methodology is the same for all our projects:
In the light of our accumulated experience, projects that are developing positively, the socioeducational impact locally and the impact in terms of environmental policy at regional level, we can surely and definitely encourage and recommend that other botanical gardens form this type of partnership with our colleagues in the southern hemisphere.
L’article abordera la responsabilité des jardins botaniques du Nord à coopérer avec ceux du Sud dans leur domaine géographique de compétences floristiques. L’objectif de ces projets est d’améliorer la capacité de ces derniers à répondre à la perte massive de diversité naturelle et culturelle. A l’exemple des programmes menés depuis plus de 10 ans par les Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève au Paraguay et au Sénégal, cet objectif est atteint par une politique d’éducation à l’ethnobotanique appliquée et à la conservation. Un Centre d’éducation environnementale, un jardin ethnobotanique thématique sont créés. Une politique informative et pédagogique est développée en partenariat avec les municipalités et les acteurs de la société civile locale.
Didier Roguet and Pierre-André Loizeau