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North-South partnerships between Francophone botanic gardens

Volume 8 Number 1 - January 2011

Maite Delmas and Fanch le Hir

The association Botanic Gardens of France and Francophone Countries (JBF) organised a workshop on North-South exchanges between botanic gardens in November 2010 at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium in Meise.

Objectives of the workshop:

1. Exchange of experiences and communication within the network.
Numerous examples of North-South collaboration exist in botanic gardens, but these are not always well known. The main objective of the workshop was to share experiences of partnership projects and exchange information on the difficulties encountered.

2. How to develop new projects in the framework of the francophone network.
Based on experiences to date, and with the help of relevant tools, the workshop discussed the possibility of developing new projects with countries in the South, while at the same time extending the francophone network.

Examples of partnerships

Seven institutions (from Belgium, France, Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] and Switzerland) presented their North-South projects.  These are very variable, ranging from the development of regional floras in Africa and South America, to the restoration of botanic gardens (Tsimbazaza in Madagascar, Cochabamba in Bolivia and Kinshasa, Kisantu and Elea in DRC) and national herbaria (Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Ventiane in Laos).  Projects also addressed research needs (e.g. on the ecology and conservation of metallophytes in Katanga) and the development of plant inventories involving botanists from the South and the North (e.g. the river Congo expedition).  Other activities include the stimulation of botanic garden networks (CABGAN), the restoration of degraded areas using indigenous tree species (Madagascar) and finally education activities (Senegal and Paraguay).

Tools to support project development

A part of the workshop was dedicated to the different tools that can help support projects involving cooperation and exchange between botanic gardens of the North and the South.

‘Decentralised cooperation’ is a French system that allows a local collective (region, department, commune) to work with a region in the South in various areas (health, education, development). Increasingly, ‘decentralised cooperation’ includes environmental issues and the conservation of biodiversity.  For public botanic gardens, ‘decentralised cooperation’ can be used to propose exchanges with partners in the South.  The twinning of towns can also provide opportunities to develop actions between botanic gardens.

The project Sud Expert Plantes developed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the subject of in-depth discussions because it had been established specifically to build capacity and scientific expertise in plant diversity in Africa, Asia and the Indian Ocean in a sustainable manner.  It has supported exchanges between scientists and policy makers so that they can participate in large international initiatives. It is co-financed by the Ministry of Research and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and includes 22 countries in four regions. Activities are divided into three main themes:

• Training (Masters of Tropical Botany) and seminars (botanical congresses, CBD, CITES etc.);
• Support to institutions (herbaria and botanic gardens) and to networks;
• Research projects – 31 projects have been selected and financed.

The first phase (2007-2011) will end soon. The workshop provided an opportunity to discuss with the Project Coordinator the possible involvement of the francophone botanic garden network in the second phase.

The presentation by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) highlighted the support it provides for actions taken at local, regional and international level. Although this approach at several levels represents considerable work, it does allow BGCI to respond in a focused manner to plant conservation needs. This includes conservation projects for critically endangered species (e.g. in China and Cambodia), the coordination of regional botanic garden networks (e.g. the Southeast Asia botanic garden network) and providing support for the development and implementation of relevant policies, notably the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation of the Convention (GSPC) of the Convention on Biological Diversity.


The workshop showed that cooperative actions between botanic gardens in the North and the South do exist, but greater efforts are needed to define these further and give them greater visibility.  The workshop noted the types of technical support being provided by the existing partnerships, initiatives for conservation in situ and ex situ, initiatives focused on environmental education and the creation of networks to facilitate the implementation of the GSPC

Among the difficulties identified, the following were noted: the political situation in some countries, the weakness of partners, remoteness of sites, the lack of joint actions and resources, problems of financial management and of personnel (lack of training and job security), the lack of visibility of relevant actors at the local and international level, the absence or difficulty of access to the internet and, for regional networks, difficulties of coordination due to the lack of secretariat support.

The criteria identified for the success of projects are: importance of contacts with international actors and links with other regional partners, working in partnership with local NGOs and a preference for micro-projects (large budgets require local personnel to manage the funds).

Amongst the priority needs of the botanic gardens in the South are the needs for training in the areas of conservation, environmental education, management of collections and landscaping.

Next steps

A partnership between JBF and BGCI would provide opportunities to further develop the network of francophone botanic gardens.  Similarly, a better synergy between these programmes would allow more efficient use of the funds available.  A system of ‘sponsorship’ for gardens in the South by gardens in the North will be proposed to the members of the association JBF.

Among the work themes envisaged is the carrying out of a survey of the francophone network to identify the organisations and human resources that have the capacity to provide support in conservation and education.  The organisation in Africa, of a francophone training course on conservation (similar to those of BGCI and Kew) will be explored.  Finally a study will be made of the on the educational tools available to develop education activities with partners in the South.  JBF proposes organising a session on this at the next global botanic gardens education congress, which will take place in Mexico in October 2012.


Maïté Delmas and Fanch le Hir,
Association JBF