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Plant Conservation and Information Management in Botanic Gardens of Colombia

Volume 3 Number 8 - February 2002

C. Samper, A. Gomez Mejía & P. Wyse-Jackson


Colombia has one of the highest levels of biological diversity in the world, with some 40,000 species of vascular plants recorded. The Colombian Congress has passed important legislation relating to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In particular, Law 299 of 1996 (Botanic Gardens Law) which declared botanic gardens a priority in the environmental agenda and acknowledges the important role they are expected and obliged to play in safeguarding biodiversity.

The Botanic Gardens Law 

The Botanic Gardens Law called for a Botanic Gardens National Plan. This Plan was developed during a workshop organised by the von Humboldt Institute (Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt - Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute) in 1996. The Plan (Plan Nacional de Jardines Botánicos, published in 2001 by the von Humboldt Institute) highlighted the need for an information network that could enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of botanic gardens as biodiversity conservation centres. In 1998, BGCI, RNJB (Red Nacional de Jardines Botánicos - Colombian Botanic Garden Network) and the von Humboldt Institute received support from the U.K. Governments’s Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species for a three-year project to support information management and plant conservation in botanic gardens as a contribute towards the achievement of the National Plan.

The main objectives of the project were:

  • the development of a national information management strategy for botanic gardens, through a series of workshops to assess user needs;
  • the development of software for collections and information management;
  • capacity building for information management in botanic gardens, through hardware and communications facilities for botanic gardens and training of personnel;
  • assessment and monitoring of botanic collections held in botanic gardens in Colombia, as a result of the activities described above;
  • strengthening of botanic collections of endangered plants of Colombia, through field collections, propagation and exchange between gardens;
  • strengthen the Botanic Gardens Network in Colombia, through institutional support.

Review of the Activities Undertaken in Support of the Colombian Botanic Gardens

A Spanish language version of BGCI’s software package for managing botanic garden records, BG-Recorder2, was prepared and the involvement of botanic gardens throughout the country was enlisted.

In October 1998 a national workshop of Colombian botanic gardens was held at the Jardín Botánico "Jose Celestino Mutis" in Bogota on the subject of information systems for biodiversity documentation in Colombia. The workshop was attended by 30 people, representing 15 botanic gardens in Colombia. Presentations included demonstrations of the new Spanish language version of BG-Recorder2 and opportunities for participants to use the system. Lectures and tutorials were delivered on such subjects as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) and on botanic garden roles in public education. A draft National Information Management Strategy for Colombian botanic gardens was prepared during the meeting by means of a SWOT analysis.

The project continued in 1999 with a series of regional training workshops on computer information systems for botanic gardens in Tuluá (Valle del Cauca), Medellín (Antioquia) and Villavicencio (Meta), with participants from 17 different institutions.

These regional workshops discussed the importance of information management in Colombian botanic gardens, trained botanic garden staff in the management of information on living collections using the BG-Recorder2; and established the general principles for the development of the National Information Management Strategy for the botanic gardens of Colombia.

This workshop led to the establishment of email and internet access for eight botanic gardens and the installation of BG-Recorder2 software in computers in eight botanic gardens.

At an annual Meeting of the RNJB in March, 1999 in Medellín it was unanimously agreed that the National Information Management Strategy should be included in the National Biodiversity Strategy.

The workshop on Strategic Planning for Colombian Caribbean Botanic Gardens was held also held as part of the project, in November 1999, in the Guillermo Piñeres Botanic Garden (Cartagena) with seven institutions represented. At this meeting, each institution described their financial and administrative management experiences during the previous year, emphasising the strategies developed for garden maintenance with their research and educational programmes.

The Second National Workshop on Information Management in Botanic Gardens was subsequently held in December of 1999 at the Marsella Botanic Garden (Marsella – Risaralda). The main purpose was to present BGRecorder2 to all botanic gardens and discuss the final version of the National Information Management Strategy.

Two four-day national workshops on botanic collections and information management in botanic gardens were held in March and October, 2000 in Tuluá Botanic Garden. The workshops were attended by representatives of more than 30 institutions. They were designed to include staff responsible for information management and included:

  • training on management in botanic gardens of nomenclature and plant taxonomic information;
  • building an integrated vision about living collections information management processes in botanic gardens, and
  • creating a co-operative strategy between herbaria and botanic gardens of Colombia to provide feedback to the information management process and strengthen both the RNJB and each of the individual botanic gardens.

The annual Meeting of the RNJB in March, 2000 discussed the mechanisms for the short and medium term implementation of the National Plan for Colombian Botanic Gardens.

In March, 2001, the RNJB held its General Assembly in Armenia, hosted by the Quindío Botanic Garden. The meeting provided an opportunity to evaluate the three-year project. Subsequently, in October 2001 the final meeting of project was held by the at the Cali Zoo with representatives of every botanic garden in Colombia present. At this meeting the final products of the Darwin project were presented, the Colombian Strategy for Plant Conservation (Estrategia Nacional para la Conservación de Plantas) was launched and the next steps for the implementation of the National Plan for Botanic Gardens (Plan Nacional de Jardines Botánicos) were agreed. Discussions included how to strengthen the network and the development of new proposals with BGCI and other institutions.

As an extension of the project, a special regional workshop was held on data analysis in Cali (July, 2001). The workshop’s main objective was to train the personnel at Tulua, Cali and Popayan Botanic Gardens in data analysis using Microsoft Access tools. The analysis was designed to respond to frequently-asked administrative, management, research and conservation questions in botanic gardens. Furthermore an exercise was designed to show the usefulness of information for decision-making in conservation projects.

Products of the Programme

During the course of the three-year project, a shared computer records system was implemented, using a Spanish language version of BG-Recorder2, in a wide variety of Colombian botanic gardens.

A National Information Management Strategy for Colombian botanic gardens was developed. The implementation and consolidation of this Strategy will provide the necessary tools for the definitions of research priorities on threatened plant species, and the design of in situ and ex situ conservation strategies for botanic gardens.

The National Information System for Botanic Gardens was established and shared between the 13 botanic gardens involved in the project. The National Information System for Botanic Gardens will have at least 16 botanic gardens networking, and constantly giving feedback to the system. This project has been implemented in botanic gardens, following the establishment of a work agreement between the von Humboldt Institute, the RNJB and each botanic garden. The hardware necessary for the systematisation was given through a loan contract. Currently, the system contains 21,100 records from thirteen botanic gardens, as is showed in the table.

As established in the National Information Management Strategy, each botanic garden will send the information by Internet every three months to the RNJB and the von Humboldt Institute, which are responsible for the analysis of the information (see Box).

Following the 2001 RNJB conference the National Plan for Colombian Botanic Gardens (Plan Nacional de Jardines Botánicos) was published. Developed during the three years of the project, it outlines the vision and mission of Colombian botanic gardens, as well as specific recommendations for botanic gardens in the areas of conservation, information, research, inter-institutional co-operation, capacity building and financial strategies. The Plan sets a series of four- and ten-year targets and defines indicators to measure whether the implementation of the Plan is being achieved. The publication of the Plan was achieved through collaboration between the von Humboldt Institute, the RNJB, the Colombian Ministry of the Environment (Ministerio del Medio Ambiente), BGCI and the Darwin Initiative.

Through the various training co-ordination and discussion events developed in the project, the synergy, support and collaborative activities and mechanisms among the participating institutions were enormously enhanced and strengthened.

The National Network (RNJB) as a whole and each individual botanic garden, are much more conscious of their responsibilities and opportunities in biodiversity conservation. As a consequence, the botanic gardens are more willing and able to focus their work on endangered plants, basing the selection of the species they will include in their living collections on a national comprehensive ex situ conservation strategy.

As a consequence of the project, the botanic gardens and the National Network (RNJB) have also develop closer co-operation with the von Humboldt Institute´s programmes and projects, and there is new awareness of the type of collaborative venture they can develop jointly in the future. As the national institution responsible for the inventory of Colombia´s biodiversity, the working relationship established with the botanic gardens and the information they provide is of great importance for the Institute.

A Spanish translation of the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation was prepared as part of the project, which will also contribute to the development of actions plans, not only in Colombia but in other countries.