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Establishment of the Calabar Botanic Garden and Conservation Centre in Nigeria

Volume 3 Number 10 - June 2003

Tunde Morakinyo

The Iroko Foundation and Cercopan, a Nigerian NGO, have commenced a project to rehabilitate the old botanical gardens in the centre of the city of Calabar in south-east Nigeria. The garden is located on land owned by the Cross River State Forestry Commission, and will incorporate a nature trail, medicinal plant nursery, primate rehabilitation facilities and an environmental education centre in the new layout.

The botanical gardens were initially established by the British colonial administration in the mid-1880's to introduce economic crops into Nigeria from other parts of the tropics and to cultivate indigenous plants that might be exported to other parts of the empire. However, by the 1930s much of the grounds were sold off leaving the remainder to house the offices of the state government Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission tried to establish a zoo on the grounds but unfortunately never had sufficient funds or the expertise to run the zoo. For several years, the Forestry Commission and NGOs in Calabar also discussed rehabilitating the gardens but none had access to funding and the plans never came to fruition. Today the garden grounds are derelict. Nevertheless, it is the only green space in the city and is strategically close to the university and the commercial centre of the city. In spite of its air of neglect, people still visit the garden to sit in the shade of its large old trees.

In June 2001, the Iroko Foundation (UK based NGO), the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K. and Limbe Botanic Garden, Cameroon facilitated a design workshop with the Cross River State Forestry Commission, and local NGOs to re-design the grounds of the garden. A design was developed that will entail substantial re-landscaping of the grounds to include extensive planting of economic and medicinal plants collected from the Cross River rainforests. A nature trail will be constructed through these plantings. Other amenities will include facilities for the rehabilitation of orphaned captive primates that will be re-introduced to the wild and a nursery to propagate and sell endangered medicinal and horticultural plants to the public. This nursery will operate an extension service to train villagers throughout the state, to establish their own nurseries for endangered tree species from the rainforests particularly commercially important Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs).

The project will also build an environmental education centre in the garden that will contain a library, video room and other educational facilities for schools, university students, NGOs and the public. To ensure sustainability of the project's outcomes after the end of the grant period, a trust fund for the gardens will be established for their long-term up-keep.

Cercopan will run the gardens along with the Forestry Commission on behalf of a semi-autonomous management board on which relevant government agencies and other NGOs will be represented. The Cercopan staff will be Nigerians who will be trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Limbe Botanic Garden.

The Iroko Foundation has been able to raise an initial amount of funding to initiate the project and at present, Cercopan, the Iroko Foundation and the Cross River State Forestry Commission are recruiting staff to commence the re-landscaping of the garden. The Iroko Foundation is seeking experienced staff from elsewhere in Africa to assist with training the new staff of the garden and also with an innovative design for the garden environmental education centre.

The gardens will educate young people, NGOs and the general public of Nigeria about the Cross River rainforests, their importance to their daily lives and the threats these forests face. The gardens will also help to conserve highly endangered species from the rainforests of Cross River State – one of Africa’s most important biodiversity hotspots. Finally, the gardens will also play a role in enabling villagers to address their poverty through the cultivation and sale of commercially valuable non-timber forest products that are becoming increasingly scarce in the wild.

For more information contact the author Tunde Morakinyo at the Iroko Foundation via the link below.