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Traditional Botanical Gardens as a Tool for Preserving Plant Diversity, Indigenous Knowledge and Last Threatened Relic Forest in Northern Benin

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"In most West African regions, phytodiversity is under a great threat due to the increasing human impact and changing climatic conditions. In Benin and especially in Pehunco, Sinende and Kouande commune, we notice that desertification phenomena is become more and more important and vegetation is mainly composed of savannahs with trees of small size. The widespread savannah ecosystems are subjected to an increasingly intensive land use (rising cultivation of cash crops, especially cotton, general extension of agricultural areas, stronger pasture pressure on the remaining areas). In this changing environment, numerous plant species are becoming noticeably rare, and this shortage of species used in traditional medicine may jeopardize the local health systems. Considering all those threats, botanical gardens were created to serve as tool for preserving threatened plant species and habitat and indigenous knowledge on a local scale. A project conducted by the CERGET-NGO and the Laboratory of Applied Ecology establish conservation measures for the safeguard of the last remaining forest area and its biodiversity (plants and animals), contribute to the re- introduction of threatened, rare and locally extinct plants species, create a source of provision in plant based medicine for healers, use the garden as a tool for awareness and environmental education for school, children, teachers, students, NGO and establish permanent site for research on monitoring reintroduced threatened species. This project was initiated by local communities who were strongly involved in the project implementation."
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1
Traditional botanical gardens as a tool for preserving plant
diversity, indigenous knowledge and threatened relic forest in
Northern Benin.
E. SOGBOHOSSOU
1,2
, H.A. AKPONA
1,2
, B. SINSIN
1
Presenter: Hugues Adéloui AKPONA
Abstract
In developing countries, human activities (farming, grazing, logging, and bushfires)
account for a big part of the causes of the deforestation of thousands of hectares of
forests and natural vegetation each year. This deforestation is one of the major
factors of loss of biodiversity and desertification especially in dry and subhumid
savannas regions. In Benin, species such as Kigelia africana, Afzelia africana, and
Khaya senegalensis are threatened and becoming increasingly rare due to above
mentioned human activities but also overexploitation for medicinal and food use. The
conservation of these species can hardly be envisioned without the participation of
local communities. To contribute to the conservation of biological diversity we created
local botanical gardens. This new concept has been adopted by local communities
which are increasingly requesting help with the establishment of their own gardens.
The trend motivated CERGET (a Benin-based NGO) to set up three botanical
gardens in Pehunco (Dakererou and Koungarou gardens) and Sinende (Gnaro
garden) at the request of these communities. The botanical gardens which were
initially made of degraded forests, have now been restored, delimited, reforested, and
managed by the populations. Some follow up was also completed through the
support given to individual farmers in setting up private plantations and raising
awareness. These efforts should be pursued at current project sites and extended to
other sites as well, so as to sustain biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.
Key words: Medicinal plants, Threats, Biodiversity conservation, Botanical gardens,
Local populations.
1- Background
Traditional approaches of conservation often assumed that nature must be protected
through the promotion of the sustainable use of the resources by humans. Although
this has been useful in some situations, it has not enabled us to effectively prevent
the widespread degradation of our natural resources. The loss of biodiversity is
increasing. Tens of thousands of plant species are threatened with extinction (IUCN,
2004; Walter & Gillett, 1998) and today we are seeing the greatest rate of species
extinction in Earth’s history (Wilson, 1992; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment,
2005).
In Benin, rural populations rely on the uses of medicinal plants for their health.
Unfortunately most of concerned species are disappearing due to overexploitation.
As a consequence, in 1999 an international workshop was held by IPGRI to establish
a national priority list of endangered medicinal tree species (Eyog Matig et al., 2001).
The disappearance of these species that are always used by populations will be a
1
Laboratoire d’Ecologie Appliquée, Université d’Abomey – Calavi, 01BP526 Cotonou, Bénin
2
Centre de Recherche pour la Gestion de la Biodiversité et du Terroir (CERGET) 03 BP 385
Cadjehoun, Cotonou, Bénin.
2
great problem not only for biodiversity conservation but for population health and
food. The conservation of threatened medicinal and food species will help to preserve
and restore biodiversity and to fight against starvation and reduce poverty in local
populations that rely for life on these resources.
It is now generally admitted that people are less likely to have an incentive to
conserve natural resources if they do not appreciate their value (Adams et al., 2004).
Conservation actions which takes into account the sustainable use is likely to be
most effective and avoid negative impacts on local communities, which in the past
has been unfortunate victims of the “protectionist” approach to conservation
(Colchester, 2002). If conservation is to succeed, it should take into account of
human needs. To attend this goal, a project was conducted by CERGET NGO with
the scientific collaboration of the Laboratory of Applied Ecology. Three traditional
botanical gardens were created in Pehunco district (Dakererou and Koungarou
gardens) and Sinende district (Gnaro garden): Figure. 1.
2- Objectives
The new concept of traditional botanical gardens has been adopted and developed
together with local communities in order to reconcile the need to conserve threatened
medicinal plants and to use them to cure diseases and alleviate poverty effect. In this
project, we seek to encourage the:
Conservation of phytodiversity: through botanical inventory and monitoring;
protection of threatened species, including the possibility to reintroduce rare or
locally extinct species.
Conservation of traditional knowledge by documenting of all kinds of traditional
plant uses, especially medical and ethnoveterinary uses.
Use of the garden as a tool and a resource for environmental education, i.e.
for school children, students, non-governmental organisations (NGO), local,
national and international public.
Protection of natural resources by sustainable production of the plants used in
traditional medicine.
Creation of sources of new income for the local populations through nurseries
and ecotourism activities.
Establishment of permanent sites for research on sustainable use methods
and the reintroduction of threatened species, at the same time raise
awareness amongst the population.
3
Figure 1: Localisation of gardens
3- Establishment and management of botanical gardens
The project was implemented for three years (2005 – 2007) and followed
successional phases:
- Identification of project sites
Possible villages of implantation of botanical gardens were identified by the
Laboratory of Applied Ecology (LEA) and BIOTA (Biodiversity Analysis and Transect
Monitoring in West Africa). Those sites were prospected by a team of CERGET NGO
and meetings were organised with local communities and districts authorities of each
pre-selected sites. During those meetings, it appeared that the local populations are
aware of the degradation of their resources and the disappearance of many useful
species, and they expressed a need to overcome resources degradation. Together
with these village dwellers, the concept of several traditional botanical gardens was
developed as a way to conserve species diversity as well as the traditional
knowledge linked to numerous threatened species. To achieve this goal, populations
identified some areas where such gardens could be set up and the team had
prospected those sites.
- Creation of village botanical gardens committees
In order to have a group which will be in permanent contact with the NGO staff and
will have the responsibility of taking care of the garden, we organized in each
selected village, a meeting with all stakeholders (healers, farmers, and
stockbreeders) and genders. During this meeting local populations identified resource
persons which could help for the gardens maintenance. The committee was
composed by a president, a secretary, an accountant, two wise persons of each
ethnic group and two guards. It was requested by the project staff the presence in the
committee of one woman who will serve as a link between the NGO and the other
women in order to gain their participation.
4
- Identification and production of plants species
We identified with communities, using a participatory approach, the main species
they want to promote according to the extinction risks and their needs for traditional
medicine. To this list, the project adds other species from the national priority list of
endangered medicinal tree species established by Eyog Matig et al. (2001). We
delineated and estimated with the committee the area in which reforestation need to
be done for the current year. According to the area and the specificities of each
selected plant species, we estimated the need in seedlings per garden.
To facilitate the availability of those species, nurseries were established for the
production of seedlings of threatened medicinal tree species for planting in botanical
gardens. We identified a nursery in Pehunco district and signed a contract with the
responsible before the rainy season. This nursery was monitored and plants species
were produced and bought by the project. To build local capacities in nurseries in
each village where the botanical gardens sites were identified, we asked each
committee to identify a volunteer to be trained by the responsible of the Pehunco
nursery about techniques of production of plants in nursery. After the training, seeds
were given to each committee to create their own nursery in each village. Three tree-
nurseries were created in order to produce rare species for distribution and to
reintroduce them into the garden (Figure 2).
Fig. 2. Afraegle paniculata in nursery
- Management of gardens and private plantations
After the production in nursery, the project facilitates the transport of seedlings from
the nurseries to the botanical gardens. During the reforestation, the committee got
support from many other villagers to help with the plantation. We delineated the edge
of each garden with fast growing species such as Gmelina arborea, Acacia
polyacantha, Eucalyptus camaldulensis and Azadirachta indica (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Delimitation of Niaro garden with Gmelina arborea
(the situation at the 2
nd
year of plantation)
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In the gardens, threatened medicinal species were planted: Khaya senegalensis,
Kigelia africana, Afzelia africana, Afraegle paniculata, Vitex doniana, Strophantus
sarmentosus and Moringa oleifera. Moreover we promoted private plantations by
giving seedlings to villagers who were interested in creating their own plantations in
their compounds or farms. This support was given especially to some healers and
breeders who expressed the need.
A total of 12 468 seedlings were planted in gardens and private plantations during
the three years of the project (Tables 1 a & 1b). The national day of tree was
celebrated each 1
st
of June in Benin. The project availed itself of this opportunity to
support the district authorities by giving them some seedlings for reforestation where
they chose to celebrate this event.
Table 1. Enrichment and reforestation records from 2005 to 2007
(a) according to conservation options
Years 2005 2006 2007 TOTAL
Gardens 4918 3130 3160 11 208
Private plantations 585 120 205 910
Celebration of the national day
of tree
100 100 150 350
TOTAL 5603 3350 3515 12 468
(b) according to species
Years
Species
2005
2006
2007
Total
In the gardens
Khaya senegalensis 1464 1365 865 3 694
Kigelia africana 970 735 350 2 055
Afraegle paniculata 310 700 500 1 510
Vitex doniana 38 - - 38
Afzelia africana 118 - 250 368
Strophantus hispidus 367 - 500 867
Moringa oleifera 10 - - 10
Other species 275 15 - 290
Edge of gardens
Gmelina arborea 1051 225 400 1 676
Eucalyptus camaldulensis 400 115 - 515
Acacia nilotica 550 195 600 1 345
Azadirachta indica 50 - - 50
Lophira lanceolata - - 50 50
Local committees are in charge of the protection of gardens against late bush fires.
Before the dry season communities take care of the edge of gardens by establishing
2 – 3 meters firebreak around the garden (Figure 4). Annual early fires (at the end of
the rainy season) were lit as a protection measure and help to avoid the more
destructive accidental bush fires in the late dry season.
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Figure 4. Fire break in Dakererou garden (Pehunco district)
- Creation and redynamisation of district associations of healers
An association of healers exists before the beginning of this project in Ouassa
district. This association was established with BIOTA and the Laboratory of Applied
Ecology and was in charge of the management of one of the first’s botanical gardens
in the district: The garden of Guson. This association had been reinforced and help in
the creation of a similar association in Sinendé district. Those associations will be
trained and traditional pharmacy will be created to improve traditional medicinal
knowledge.
- Awareness and promotion of gardens
The promotion of botanical gardens consisted of the realisation of boards for
identification of gardens, for orientation and public awareness about “no fires, no
pasture” (Figure 5) and for identification of main species in the gardens. We identified
and built in each garden trails to facilitate the visit of gardens. Moreover, the project
builds in 2007 one chair for ecotourists in each garden (Figure 6). Many leaflets were
edited to promote the new concept of botanical gardens in the region.
Fig. 5. Identification and sensitisation boards
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Fig. 6. A chair built in a garden for tourists and for rest
The project signed a contract with a local radio called NaanЄ Ouassa FM to raise
awareness. As an additional and very effective tool for environmental sensitization,
the association of healers in collaboration with gardens committees produced radio
talk shows that focus on traditional knowledge, biodiversity and ecology, the
importance of gardens which are broadcasted twice a week and reach a wide
audience in the region.
- Cooperation between the network member gardens
Some other gardens existed before the start of this project in Northern Benin. Many
examples were taken from the experience of the first village botanical gardens in the
region: The Botanic Garden of Papatia established in 2001 (Krohmer et al., 2006). An
exchange visit of members of Ouassa and Sinendé gardens management
committees to Papatia botanical garden was arranged in 2006 to share and train
participants in new packaging, processing, and marketing methods.
- Research
Many gardens put a strong emphasis on research relevant to the development of
useful plants, especially in the fields of agriculture and healthcare (Waylen, 2006).
Many research activities are planned to be implement in the gardens. In 2007, a MSc
student investigated the importance of those gardens in the preservation of most
important ethno veterinary plants in the region. This topic will be defended in next
August 2008.
5- Specificities of village botanical gardens
Botanic gardens are a major force for the conservation of plants around the world
and have the skills and expertise to study and manage plants in cultivation, and in
the wild, as a major contribution to ecological and human well-being (Waylen, 2006).
Village botanical gardens are a recent strategy to conserve medicinal and threatened
plants in Benin. It has the same advantages of preservation of the genetic resources
for therapeutic, phytochemical and pharmacological studies (Vieira 1999). The
concept differs from classic botanical gardens which are a form of ex situ
conservation contrary to the village botanical gardens which are a form of circa situ
conservation (Hamilton, 2002). Circa situ conservation is intermediate between the
conservation ex situ and that in situ. In the case of Benin, we followed plants
production in nurseries to enrich spaces with original medicinal species which
abundance was reduced in the past. As a result we obtained a stable and an
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improved form of botanical gardens considering that species are planted in their
natural habitat. The village botanical gardens are also a strategy to fight against
desertification and to preserve medicinal plants from extinction. They are managed
by local communities for the promotion of traditional medicine and ecotourism and
could further generate new incomes (Sogbohossou and Akpona, 2006).
6- What future for traditional botanical gardens?
Some constraints occur generally in the process of village botanical gardens
establishment.
- Agriculture
Some farmers plot at the edge of the gardens. This can especially facilitate the
propagation of late fires to the gardens. To assure the sustainability of gardens, we
need to create a buffer zone between the gardens and the fields which could be used
for nurseries and other activities related to the conservation of natural resources. The
project is discussing this possibility of extension of the limits of gardens with local
authorities in each village.
- Cattle breeding
Gardens shelter permanent water sources which attract cattle. Cattle herders often
prune the fodder trees to feed their animals. The consequence is drastic because the
fodder plants are the same with the same threatened trees used for traditional
medicine. The involvement of cattle breeders in the gardens committees will help to
mitigate such conflicts. The management of the gardens by the populations even
makes them more responsible and it is noticed that they exert a good monitoring on
their resources and do not hesitate to denounce destruction actions.
- Social considerations
Generally when a new concept occur in a village, all the community can not be agree
with the innovation. It is necessary to implement the innovation for a first phase
(called pilot phase) and to show the direct positive impact on the livelihoods of those
who had been involved. It is necessary to proceed to awareness in order to have the
participation of those who reject the project during the pilot phase. However this
could not be done without the financial and technical support of local, communal,
national and international authorities.
Village botanical gardens are the most recent strategy we have to develop when we
consider the implication of local communities in the management of such gardens.
Sacred forests, classified forests, forests reserve and other forms of conservation
have many constraints related to urbanisation and need lot of financial and technical
resources.
Governmental institutions have to integrate this new concept in their priority and
promote village botanical gardens in each village as a national conservation strategy
which integrate directly communities.
Funding sources
This project is funded by the Trust Fund of the West and Central African Network on
the Synergy of CBD and UNCCD.
References
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... An example of new applications of traditional knowledge to sustain both rural livelihoods and biodiversity conservation is found in the development of village botanical gardens, which are making major contributions to plant conservation and human wellbeing worldwide (Waylen 2006 ) . Village botanical gardens have recently been established in Benin as strategy to conserve the country's medicinal and threatened plants (Hamilton 2002 ;Akpona et al. 2009 ) . ...
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The rich body of traditional forest-related knowledge (TFRK) in Africa has been widely acknowledged as important for its contribution to current global efforts towards sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation. While many rural communities in Africa continue to observe their age-old traditions in relation to forests to ensure the provision of their livelihoods, other communities have lost their traditions for many reasons, including their forced or voluntary cultural alienation from forests, reduced dependence on forests for rural livelihoods, and extensive urbanization. Nonetheless, many communities throughout Africa are still living in or near the continent’s diverse range of forest ecosystems and continue to depend on these forests for their livelihoods. A documentation of how communities have successfully managed these forests to provide for their needs until the present day can serve many useful purposes, including for evidence-based sharing of experiences or case studies, research adoption and uptake, and knowledge transfer and training in forestry curricula. In this chapter, we provide a general background on traditional forest-related knowledge in Africa; its historical and present contributions to food security and rural livelihoods; the present ­challenges faced by the holders and users of this knowledge; and opportunities for its preservation, enhancement, and application to help solve pressing environmental, economic, and social challenges, including the conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity.
... An example of new applications of traditional knowledge to sustain both rural livelihoods and biodiversity conservation is found in the development of village botanical gardens, which are making major contributions to plant conservation and human wellbeing worldwide (Waylen 2006 ) . Village botanical gardens have recently been established in Benin as strategy to conserve the country's medicinal and threatened plants (Hamilton 2002 ;Akpona et al. 2009 ) . ...
... An example of new applications of traditional knowledge to sustain both rural livelihoods and biodiversity conservation is found in the development of village botanical gardens, which are making major contributions to plant conservation and human wellbeing worldwide (Waylen 2006 ) . Village botanical gardens have recently been established in Benin as strategy to conserve the country's medicinal and threatened plants (Hamilton 2002 ;Akpona et al. 2009 ) . ...
Article
Full-text available
Many types of action can be taken in favour of the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants. Some of these are undertaken directly at the places where the plants are found, while others are less 'direct', such as some of those relating to commercial systems, ex situ conservation and bio-prospecting. In the latter cases, actions taken will not lead to in situ conservation unless they 'feed back' to improvements in the field. Progress is hampered at present by a shortage of good quality information available in forms that can easily be used by relevant parties. Probably the single most important 'role' for medicinal plants in biological conservation is their 'use' to achieve conservation of natural habitats more generally. This stems from the special meanings that medicinal plants have to people, related to the major contributions that they make to many people's lives in terms of health support, financial income, cultural identity and livelihood security. Under the right circumstances, these values can be translated into incentives for conservation of the habitats in which the medicinal plants are found. Realisation of this potential will depend greatly on the existence of assured rights of access to, and use of, the plants by those members of communities whose lives are most closely bound to them. Problems associated with biopiracy or (the other side of the coin) excessive restrictions on research have come to assume 'policy prominence' in the general thematic area of 'medicinal plant conservation and use'. The fair and equitable sharing of benefits from bioprospecting is required under the Convention on Biological Diversity, but it is not always easy to achieve these ideals in practice. This is particularly so with regard to benefits for conservation and compatible development at the places where the plants are naturally found. Improvements in the standards of research agreements are likely to be made gradually as experience accumulates. What is important, at the present time, is that controls imposed on scientific research to prevent biopiracy or theft of local and indigenous intellectual property do not unduly restrict research that has little or nothing to do with these matters or that, in some cases, may even have the potential to contribute to improved management and livelihoods. There is already evidence that some countries and territories have created restrictions on research that may cause damage to the causes of conservation and sustainable development. ROLES FOR MEDICINAL PLANTS IN CONSERVATION
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  • M Colchester
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  • E Obel-Lawson
Colchester M. 2002. Salvaging Nature: Indigenous peoples, protected areas and biodiversity conservation. World Rainforest Movement, Montevideo. -Eyog-Matig O., Gaoue O.G. and Obel-Lawson E. 2001. Development of appropriate conservation strategies on African forest trees identified as priority species by SAFORGEN member countries. IPGRI, Nairobi, Kenya. IBSN 92-9043-526-7
  • W M Adams
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Botanic Gardens: using biodiversity to improve human well-being
  • K Waylen
Waylen K. 2006. Botanic Gardens: using biodiversity to improve human well-being. Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Richmond, UK. 32p.
A local botanical garden as a tool for sustainable use: Conservation of plants and indigenous knowledge in Northern Benin
  • J Krohmer
  • G Saïdou
  • K Hahn-Hadjali
  • B Sinsin
Krohmer J., Saïdou G., Hahn-Hadjali K. & Sinsin B. 2006. A local botanical garden as a tool for sustainable use: Conservation of plants and indigenous knowledge in Northern Benin, Proceedings AETFAT 2003, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
  • E O Wilson
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Wilson E.O. 1992. The Diversity of Life. Belknap, Cambridge, MA, USA. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Wellbeing: Biodiversity Synthesis. World Ressources Institute, Washington D.C., USA.