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African Field Trip Report by BGCI General Secretary Sara Oldfield

26 April 2011

In February 2011, the Secretary General of BGCI Sara Oldfield visited a two botanic gardens in the Democratic Republic of Congo which she says are amongst the most beautiful botanic gardens she's ever seen. Read her account below, or see photographs of the botanic gardens visited.

This year, 2011, is the International Year of the Forests, designated by the UN to celebrate the importance of forests for people. Keeping forests in the news will help to remind us all of the need for botanic gardens to be involved in forest conservation and restoration. BGCI is a partner to the International Year of the Forests and we have various activities planned to support forest biodiversity.

Recently I was privileged to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country which has six percent of the world’s remaining tropical forest. The main purpose of my visit was to participate in a project to produce a Red List of exploitable timber species for the country.  BGCI is actively involved in tree Red Listing, providing the Secretariat for the IUCN/SSC Global Trees Specialist Group, and is a partner in the IUCN Red List Programme. The invitation to the DRC timber Red List workshop in Kinshasa also gave me an opportunity to visit two of DRC’s botanic gardens – a truly remarkable experience.

Red Listing

With 148 million hectares of tropical forest representing over two thirds of the remaining forest in the Congo basin, the results of the IUCN Red List timber assessments will be used as a tool to guide decision-making and planning of long term, sustainable management of forest resources. This is urgently needed in DRC where much of the timber trade is informal and unregulated but where there is great potential to produce well-managed valuable hardwoods for the global market. The selection of species to be targeted by the project was carried by representatives from government departments, botanic gardens, NGOs, the private sector, the scientific community and development partners.

Two hours drive from the urban sprawl of the capital Kinshasa, is the recently restored Botanic Garden at Kisantu. I visited the garden with Francesca Lanata, DRC Coordinator for the National Botanic Garden of Belgium who spoke about the rehabilitation of the Kisantu Botanic Garden at the 3rd Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Wuhan in 2007. We have been corresponding recently about the role of African botanic gardens in growing endangered trees for forest restoration. Francesca has done a superb job in supporting DRC’s botanic gardens in this country of great turmoil.

Most Beautiful Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Garden at Kisantu is one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever visited. The Director of Kisantu Botanic Garden, Leopold Nsimundele, sets very high standards for the garden which has an area of 225 ha and around 3,000 species in cultivation. Included in the grounds of Kisantu is an arboretum with around 200 native tree species together with collections of medicinal plants and local crop cultivars. Historical  ornamental features at the garden have been carefully restored. New facilities have been developed including accommodation for training courses Leopold Nsimundele is about to retire and is very keen for international support in training young people in horticultural, botanical and management skills.

The Botanic Garden in Kinshasa has also been undergoing restoration. Surrounded by extreme urban poverty and degradation, the Garden provides a safe and peaceful environment for reflection and calm. Young people who live on the roofs of adjacent slums are paid to help to clear rubbish from the Garden that has until recently been used as an urban dump. In countries with a high rate of urban population such as in DRC botanic gardens, adequately supported, can play a major role in promoting conservation of natural resources. They represent the only possibility for many people to have an overview of species that are located far away in the national parks.

International Collaberation

Officially re-opened by the president on June 27, 2010 there are now plans to develop an environmental education centre in Kinshasa Botanic Garden. DRC’s botanic gardens are symbols of hope in a war-torn and poverty-stricken country. The international collaboration between the National Botanic Garden of Belgium and the gardens of DRC, highlights yet again the importance of botanic gardens working together globally for conservation, education and sustainable development. BGCI is looking at ways to continue working with the botanic gardens of DRC as part of our expanding Africa programme.

Sara Oldfield, Secretary General BGCI  

Sara Oldfiled is the author of Botanic Gardens, Modern-day Arks

Book cover - Botanic Gardens: Modern-Day Arks

Botanic Gardens: Modern-Day Arks' considers the essential conservation role of botanic gardens. This beautifully illustrated book by Sara Oldfield,Secretary General of BGCI describes botanic gardens from around the world. Sales will help support BGCI's work.

Published 2010; 240 pages. BGCI members can use the promotional code 'BGCI' on the New Holland Publishers website. Further details (and online purchases) from New Holland Publishers.

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