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Integrating Environmental and Development Education into Botanic Gardens

Contributed by Abel Barasa Atiti, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi Botanic Garden, PO Box 40658, Nairobi.


Education in botanic gardens worldwide must prepare individuals for the challenges of the next decade by radically reviewing global development practices that affect life-supporting systems. Agenda 21 (UNESCO 1992) argues that the only way to assure ourselves of a softer, more prosperous future is to deal with environment and development issues together in a balanced manner. This can be effectively done in botanic gardens by integrating environmental education and development education.

To ensure that there is widespread environmental and development literacy, botanic gardens should address all the core issues as identified by the Brundtland Report (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987). These are population and development, species and ecosystems, energy, industry and the urban challenge. Despite the rising interest in integrating environmental and development education, good practice especially in many of the African botanic gardens is not widespread. Much needs to be done to foster professional development opportunities so as to enhance the integration of the two fields of education into botanic gardens.

It will be helpful at this stage to look at definitions of environmental education and development education so as to uncover their links. According to Huckle (1990):

Education for the environment should be a shared speculation with learners on those forms of technology and social organisation which can enable people to live in harmony with one another and with the natural environment.

On the other hand, according to Hicks and Townley (1982):

Development education is concerned with issues of human rights, dignity, self-reliance and social justice in both developed and developing countries. It is concerned with the causes of underdevelopment and the promotion of an understanding of what is involved in development.

Looking at these two definitions, it is very difficult to think of environmental education and development education as being distinct fields. A broad understanding of environmental education inevitably leads to questions of development.

Since environmental and development education have a common content, similar approaches and both involve education for the future, they should be integrated to provide the core of education in botanic gardens. A framework of such core education is briefly discussed in this presentation. The current efforts being made by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) to develop guidelines on education for sustainability is a move in the right direction. These guidelines will bring together the educational concerns of the development and environmental worlds.

A Framework for Teaching Enviornmental Education in Botanic Gardens

It is important to convert every opportunity in botanic gardens into an educational experience. Such an educational experience must integrate knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and actions. This is the basis of bringing together environmental and development education.

Teaching Environmental Ethics

The teaching of values for sustainability must be emphasised in botanic gardens education. Environmental ethics that have sustainable living at their core should be taught to promote the transformation and construction of society. This can be done by developing in learners, values of social responsibility, concern for all life forms and commitment to work with others.

Encouraging Issue-Based Learning

Learners in botanic gardens should be involved in the issues surrounding the environmental and development problems. The use of issue investigation as a context for the exploration of moral, social and political values, required for the development of environmental ethics, must be encouraged in botanic gardens as much as possible.

Adopting a Holistic Curriculum Approach

Education in botanic gardens should treat environmental and development issues holistically through all areas of understanding and experience. Such an approach will no doubt immensely contribute to the education of the whole person.

Making Education Relevant

Learners should be encouraged to explore links between their personal lives and wider environmental and development concerns. Education should help learners to develop an understanding of themselves and the world around them. In this way, education will be made relevant to the needs of learners and society.

Adopting a Socially Critical Orientation

Education in botanic gardens should prepare learners to be socially critical. Critical thinking skills, critical reflective knowledge, democratic skills and experience of the processes of environmental politics need to be developed in learners in order to improve their capacity to address environment and development issues.

Incorporating a Futures Perspective

Incorporating a futures perspective entails examining probable futures that occur as a result of existing environmental relationships, and of possible alternative environmental futures. In this respect, learning should involve looking to the future as well as the present and the past.

Making Learning Action-Oriented

Education programmes in botanic gardens need to involve learners in real and simulated environmental action through active learning strategies. There is a need to provide knowledge and experience in a variety of environmental actions e.g. ecomanagement, legal action, political action, consumerism, negotiation and persuasion.

The Global Crises of Environment and Development

Issues of environment, development and social justice pose important questions for the future of human society. Many countries suffer both from the shadow of inappropriate development practices and increasing poverty amongst those pushed aside in the wake of industrialisation. Human environment in countries with developing economies is characterised by rapid population growth, rising numbers of people in absolute poverty, increasing ill health, mounting foreign debts and high levels of unemployment. There is no one big solution to these human environment issues. Many diverse ways of responding to them are required; this will be discussed later.

Environmental crisis has been linked to the modern way of living and our modern world views. In the so-called developing countries, development is considered only possible by emulating the ways of developed nations; their aspirations, values, culture and even technology. However, this approach has obstructed the evolution of indigenous alternatives for societal self-expression and authentic progress. It is also important to note the role that colonisation played in alienating people from their environment. Colonisation promoted intellectual impoverishment of local indigenous knowledge and vital information that is important to sustain local social systems. These local social systems are very crucial in sustaining the environment. Such destruction, which is even continuing to this very day, took place through education and religion.

There is no doubt that the pursuance of the social and cultural evolution of the industrialised countries has produced disastrous results in our developing economies. It is therefore imperative to create development awareness that direct transfer of knowledge from the West is often counterproductive and that the implication of high economic growth has been the environmental crisis. In the industrialised countries there is a rising awareness of the environmental effects and the wasteful use of resources with their own style of development. This is not true for the countries of developing economies.

Emerging Responses to the Crisis

We educators in botanic gardens must join others in finding and promoting ways of addressing the global crisis of environment and development. This is because botanic gardens can effectively be used to raise concern about problems associated with global inequalities, regional conflicts and imbalances in consumption of resources. They are also well placed to analyse the relationship between education and the processes of the world economy.

There have been historical shifts in finding solutions to the global crisis of environment and development; from preservation to conservation through resource management and sustainable development to sustainable living. The following is an outline of some of the emerging responses to the crisis and how they can be incorporated into botanic gardens.

International Conventions

With increased recognition that environmental and development issues are not confined within borders of one or more countries or regions, intergovernmental meetings have established agreements to limit environmental degradation. To this end, governments have ratified these agreements and have committed themselves to develop regional and national strategies to address global issues. Some of the conventions that have been established include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Convention to Combat Desertification. Botanic gardens are in a good position to promote these conventions among their staff and audience.

Sustainable Development

This is a term currently used to refer to the challenge facing contemporary human society of reconciling development with the protection of the environment. It is a global response to environmental crisis that entails improving the quality of life for all within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems. Various options and solutions have been introduced towards this end. These include:

Community-Based Natural Resource Management
In this response, selected development activities are planned and implemented by the people of a community. This is primarily a response to rural poverty ascribed to a lack of access to a natural resource base.

Through community outreach programmes, botanic gardens can support development activities that utilise plant resources. Community outreach educational processes should seek to broaden the range of development possibilities of rural communities.

Competencies of learners in this context should be developed to act locally within a global perspective. More important, community outreach programmes must aim to encourage the participation of local communities in development activities. Such participation will require a critical awareness of local, national and international development processes.

Through community partnerships with areas of unique flora, botanic gardens can promote ecotourism as a means of alleviating poverty while protecting the environment. Tourists visiting botanic gardens with such community partnerships can easily receive information on areas to visit.

Sustainable Agriculture
Education in botanic gardens can easily promote sustainable forms of gardening as a response to food insecurity. Through compost education programmes, botanic gardens are well suited to show the need to minimise the dependency on external inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides.

Creating Partnerships with Industry and Local Government

In developing nations, urbanisation is occurring independently from industrialisation. This has led to high levels of unemployment and poor living standards. The trend in these countries has been to emphasise industrialisation without considering its effects on the environment.

Challenges of Urbanisation
Most of the world’s botanic gardens are found within urban settings. Through partnerships with local governments within cities where they are found, botanic gardens can provide programmes that address urban poverty and the environmental challenge. Such programmes should empower the urban poor to take control of their own development so as to achieve levels of urban development.

Changes in Business Concepts and Management
Increased pressure on industry to clean up its act has led to wide ranging responses to environmental issues and risks in this sector. There has been changes in business concepts and management in the industrial sector. New concepts such as eco-efficiency, life cycle analysis and accounting for the environment have emerged. Botanic gardens should create partnerships with the industrial and commercial sectors with a view of encouraging these sectors to embrace and practice these new concepts.

Capacity Building Programmes

Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 (UNESCO 1992) calls for expanding education, public awareness and training. Many botanic gardens worldwide are already offering a wide range of activities and courses to the public as outlined in Roots 18 (BGCI 1999). Making environmental information widely available is thus strengthening the capacity of people in addressing environmental and development concerns. This is being effectively achieved by botanic gardens working in a broad series of partnerships with business, non-governmental organisations, local and national governments, universities and other botanic gardens.

Integrated Environmental Management

It should be appreciated that a modernistic framework of development is the root cause of many environmental issues. Botanic gardens must work towards changing this prevailing model of development and the belief that economic growth is the only solution to the global crisis of environment and development. Approaches that recognise that diverse processes ranging from technical and scientific solutions to public participation are all required in trying to resolve the crisis, should be adopted by botanic gardens. Tools such as environmental audits, participation action research and environmental impact assessments, all designed to implement integrated environment processes in different settings, should be made understood through education in botanic gardens.


It is disheartening to note that it took such a long time for the environment to reach a prominent position within the development debate. We cannot have a healthy society in a world with so much poverty and environmental degradation. Economic development cannot stop, but it must change course to become less ecologically destructive. Botanic gardens globally have a major role to play in changing this course.

Nevertheless, it is individuals who hold the key to sustainable resource using practices. They ultimately decide how resources are to be used. However, it is only when individuals have security for meeting their basic needs that they will be able to take a long-term view of environment and development.

Integration of environmental and development education that culminates into education for sustainability is destined to become a dominant focus for education in botanic gardens. This new focus will however require a great deal of creativity. Educators in botanic gardens will need new ways of looking at old problems and new challenges will no doubt appear on the agenda. These challenges should be put into action through the guidelines for education for sustainability that will soon be published by BGCI. We should all work towards increasing public sensitivity to environmental and development problems by teaching for development and for the environment.


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