April 5, 2013

Botanic Gardens for Tree Conservation and Forest Restoration in Africa

By Kirsty Shaw, Conservation Officer at Botanic Gardens Conservation International, United Kingdom

Rounding out a week focused on forests and trees, today’s guest post introduces the work of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) on forested landscape restoration in Africa. Wednesday’s author described how non-native plants contribute to livelihoods as well as biodiversity conservation in the mixed crop and land use systems that make up tropical smallholder farm landscapes. Meanwhile, BGCI’s efforts target a broad mix of native tree species to combat the proliferation of the homogeneous non-native tree stands seen in Africa. This contrast is indicative of the diversity of land management approaches available and the need for context-specific solutions within a landscape.

At present the majority of tree planting in Africa focuses on monotypic stands of non-native species, which offer limited added value in terms of biodiversity or socioeconomic opportunities. Effective forest restoration using a wider species mix, focusing on indigenous species, and including endangered species, offers benefits to biodiversity, supports conservation, increases resilience to climate change and protects watershed health. By planting trees that supply food and medicine, socioeconomic opportunities are also created.

In response, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has recently launched a three year project entitled Enhancing Tree Conservation and Forest Restoration in Africa, generously funded by the Ashden Trust. The project aims to promote the use of indigenous species in forest restoration and the added benefits that using a wider species mix offers. The project will also highlight the ability of botanic gardens to provide knowledge, expertise, and good quality plant material to support effective restoration throughout Africa.

On February 25th 2013, BGCI held a seminar in London, UK, as part of the project, which brought together representatives from organisations involved in tree planting and forest restoration in Africa. Participants identified a great need for effective forest restoration in Africa; however, there are still a number of constraints that the BGCI project aims to address. These constraints currently limit the wider use of indigenous species, including:

  • a lack of available information on indigenous species, such as propagation techniques and growth rates;
  • limited sources of good quality indigenous seeds and seedlings;
  • a lack of documentation and promotion of the added value of undertaking restoration using indigenous species; and
  • a lack of financial support for restoration.

So what role do botanic gardens play? Botanic gardens are well placed to support effective restoration projects as they possess knowledge about indigenous trees, have experience propagating them, and can cultivate good quality, genetically diverse plant material for restoration projects. During the three year project, BGCI will collect information on native tree species propagated by botanic gardens in Africa, disseminate this information to a wide audience, and encourage using botanic gardens as sources of genetic material for restoration projects. As part of the project, the restoration work of two botanic gardens in East Africa, Brackenhurst Botanic Garden in Kenya and Tooro Botanical Garden in Uganda, will be supported and monitored to help demonstrate the added benefits from selecting an appropriate mix of indigenous species.

Partnership between organisations is also important to create a combined voice for the use of indigenous species in tree planting initiatives across Africa. BGCI are continuing discussions with the organisations represented at the London seminar. BGCI also coordinate the Ecological Restoration Alliance of Botanic Gardens, which harnesses the expertise of botanic gardens from around the world to undertake ecological restoration. Through the Alliance, partnerships between botanic gardens and arboreta within and outside of Africa will further add to the available expertise to support effective restoration and grow the current project.

As well as organisations with a similar aim, the need to outreach to a wider audience was a key point of discussion at the London seminar. Through this project, BGCI will also develop partnerships with other key players, such as farmers, to promote the use of indigenous species in agroforestry schemes. BGCI are discussing a collaboration with Rainforest Alliance to explore the incorporation of indigenous tree planting into the activities of their many certified farms across Africa. BGCI is also keen to link with private companies, particularly extraction industries with an obligation to carry out restoration, and governments, many of which have made tree planting pledges, to encourage a focus on indigenous species.

In July of this year BGCI will hold a workshop in Uganda to bring together botanic garden experts, NGOs, government representatives and private companies. The workshop will promote the use of indigenous species, highlight the benefits of involving botanical expertise in project planning and develop partnerships for carrying out effective restoration.

To find out more about this project please visit the project page on the BGCI website: Enhancing tree conservation and forest restoration in Africa. BGCI hopes to develop partnerships with botanical and restoration experts with experience working in Africa, as well as NGOs, government representatives and private companies with an interest in developing links with our project and partner botanic gardens.

Photo credit: Barney Wilczak
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