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The Establishment of a Computerized Collections Registration System for Kebun Raya Indonesia

Volume 3 Number 1 - December 1998

Jeanine Pfeiffer, Diane Wyse Jackson, and Peter S. Wyse Jackson

Over three years from 1995 to 1998, a jointly managed database project between Kebun Raya Indonesia (Indonesian Botanic Gardens), Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the Indonesian Network for Plant Conservation (INetPC) and funded by the Darwin Initiative for Survival of Species, United Kingdom, has managed to achieve a historical first: the establishment of a computerized collections registration system for the world's largest ex situ conservation collection of Malesian flora.

The most extensive living collection of plants native to Malesia (an area including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea) is housed in Kebun Raya Indonesia (KRI), a complex of four gardens stretching from West Java to Bali and covering three distinct ecological zones: lowland rainforest, montane forest (Cibodas and Bali) and dryland forest (Purwodadi - East Java). The oldest garden and headquarters in Bogor was established 1817 and celebrated 180 years with a seminar on Flora Conservation in Indonesia in 1997. Eka Karya Bali Botanic Gardens is the youngest garden, and the only one established by Indonesians following independence - it was founded in 1959 on the site of a former timber concession. Cibodas (1862) and Purwodadi (1939), like Bogor, were created as experimental agricultural and horticultural gardens by the Dutch.

There are approximately 29,000 taxa in Indonesia (World Conservation Monitoring Center). The collections in the four gardens total more than 24,000 accessions, of about 6,000 species in over 200 families. The ability to electronically database and determine which collections represent rare, endangered or endemic species has only recently been developed in Kebun Raya through the project led by INetPC and BGCI and funded by the Darwin Initiative for Survival of Species.

The database management project involved the installation of specialized botanic garden registration software, BG-Recorder, in newly purchased, specially dedicated computers in all four KRI branch gardens, and training database supervisors to manage the databases at each branch. The consolidated database of all four gardens is maintained at KRI headquarters in Bogor by Ir. Suhendar, database consultant for the project and KRI's staff computer specialist.

Recognizing that the installation of a new computerized database management system in KRI impacted garden staff at all levels, the project hosted three national workshops involving KRI registration, collections and research staff from the four branch gardens. The first was held at Cibodas Botanic Gardens in March 1996, the second was conducted at Eka Karya Bali Botanic Gardens in December 1996, and the final workshop, Protocols and Procedures for Collections Registration and Database Management, took place at the Purwodadi Botanic Gardens in October 1997.

Each week-long workshop consisted of multiple sections where working groups of seventy KRI staff divided their time between lectures on plant collection and registration protocols, applying CITES and Red Data List categories, database structure and use, management of conservation collections, field practicals in local nature reserves, surveys of markets selling native or endangered plant products, roundtable discussions addressing garden policy and practice, and training/reporting sessions on a bank of computers installed especially for each of the workshops.

The workshops illustrated the enormity and complexity of Kebun Raya's mandate to inventory, collect, document, conserve and interpret Indonesia's rare and endemic flora. Discussions carried out in the workshops also demonstrated how the development of new procedures and protocols for plant collections registration is a long-term, constantly evolving process. The third and final workshop involved Kebun Raya's registration staff in intensive review and evaluation sessions with representatives from other divisions to ensure that all garden staff involved in collections management - from those who receive and record the plant specimens to those responsible for propagating and cultivating the greenhouse collections, planting out in garden beds, and painting the signs - participate in designing and implementing improved collections registration and maintenance procedures.

Technically the collaborative database management project has been a long, and at times hard, learning process for everyone involved. The installation of new computer hardware, and the training of KRI staff in new software programmes brought a new series of challenges. Computer viruses and system crashes, frequent electricity shut-downs, data losses, inadequate equipment, the inexperience of virtually all the staff in computerized media, and most recently the conversion of BG-Recorder to a new programming platform (MS Access) for the more complex previous platform (Advanced Revelation) have contributed to making the transfer from a manually-based registration system to a largely computerized one a complicated process.

Kebun Raya, INetPC and BGCI staff have responded to the technical difficulties by working to increase bilingual communication between all the offices involved in the project (West and East Java, Bali, London and California); by heightening data protection using external hard-drives and increased training in making back-ups; by modifying the micro-climate in the computer archive rooms; by conducting mini-training sessions for increasing numbers of registration staff; and by investing in language and programming classes for the database consultant. The new Head of Registration, Drs. Didik Widyatmoko, supervises a department which has been considerably reorganizing itself for the past year and is continuing to strengthen its technical and managerial capacity.

The project has also struggled with historical problems: in the gardens established in the 1800s, the early collections data is scattered through dusty old record books written in Dutch and containing minimal data on the names and locations of collections now over one hundred years old. Many plants are mislabelled or have no visible tags: visiting experts have been working with Kebun Raya staff to check and revise out-dated or inaccurate plant names. In all four branch gardens, the orchid houses, seed banks, herbaria and speciality greenhouses (e.g. the fern and succulent houses at Cibodas Botanic Garden) have separate records and collections numbering in the thousands. Incorporating collection records for these specialized collections has involved another layer of forms, procedures, and personnel.

As the project came to a close in April 1998, our greatest remaining challenges are:

  • establishing a communications network between the four branch gardens to facilitate smoother data transfer and up-dates;
  • implementing the new registration protocols conscientiously;
  • refining software interfaces between the database system (BG-Recorder) and word-processing and spreadsheet software (e.g. MSWord and MSExcel) and training staff in the use of the interfaces; and
  • ensuring the accuracy of all the plant names entered into the database.

Kebun Raya's new Director, Dr. Dedy Darnaedi, will now lead the institution’s work in conservation as KRI enters a new era in the management of its collections, made possible through the completion of this important and extremely successful project.