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THE CONSERVATION THROUGH CULTIVATION PROGRAMME AT THE LIMBE BOTANIC GARDEN: ACHIEVEMENTS AND BENEFITS

Joseph P. Nkefor, Nouhou Ndam, Paul C. Blackmore and Terry C.H. Sunderland

Abstract

The Conservation through Cultivation Programme was developed by Limbe Botanic Garden to support the conservation of the rich and fragile biodiversity on Mount Cameroon. Its primary aim is to help conserve wild, threatened economic species by reducing harvesting pressures through the provision of cultivated material. This is undertaken through the implementation of a structured research programme aimed at developing cheap and efficient domestication and cultivation methods for the target species.

This paper will present the methodology implemented by the Conservation through Cultivation Programme and the immediate and long term environmental and social benefits of the work undertaken so far. Some of the relevant problems encountered by the research programme are also discussed.

Key words: Conservation, cultivation, non-wood forest products, Limbe Botanic Garden, Cameroon

1. Introduction

Mount Cameroon is an area of extremely rich and fragile biodiversity with a large number of endemic plants and animal species. This rich biodiversity is under threat due to habitat destruction caused by rapid conversion of forest into plantations, the encroachment of shifting cultivation and associated bushfires, low-impact timber exploitation and over-harvesting of non-wood forest products such as Prunus africana, Gnetum spp. (eru), and other species. In response to the latter problem in particular, in 1994 the Limbe Botanic Garden (LBG) developed the Conservation through Cultivation Programme which aims to mitigate some of the impacts of the over-exploitation of NWFPs, whilst contributing to household incomes and ensuring the equitable sharing of benefits from such forest resources.

2. Aims and objectives

The aim of the Conservation through Cultivation Programme is to conserve wild populations of NWFPs by reducing the harvesting pressure on them. This is achieved through the following process:

· Developing and promoting cost-effective and scientifically-sound methods of germplasm collection

· Developing simple and effective methods of bulk propagation

· Developing and promoting cost-effective and transferable methods of cultivation

· Establishing accessible means of dissemination to allow local communities to

benefit directly from the research

The programme is structured in such a way that these aims are achieved through implementing a coherent research strategy for each target species in a systematic order. The primary research methods include:

· Preliminary research (literature search)

· Field germplasm collection

· Germination and propagation trials

· Distribution and planting

· Characterisation and evaluation

· Publication and dissemination

· Extension

3. Methods

3.1. Selection of target taxa

The Programme has strict principles for the selection of target species. These are based on the following social and institutional criteria:

· Demand from local population (villagers, extension workers, farmer cooperatives)

· Wider policy recommendations (e.g. the cultivation of rattans recommended by Project 59 of the National Forestry Action Programme of Cameroon (1996); replanting of Prunus africana as stipulated by the Cameroon Forestry Law Article (88) 2 of 1994

· Requests from collaborating partners (e.g. ICRAF, IPGRI ,CDC)

And reinforced by the following biological criteria:

· The taxa must be indigenous and of economic or cultural importance

· The taxa must be harvested directly from the wild

· The taxa must be considered threatened by extreme harvesting pressure, e.g. Prunus africana, Gnetum spp.

This selection process is augmented by market studies indicating the local demand and the rate of consumption of certain NWFPs, and by discussions with local harvesters through consultations with LBG staff and Mount Cameroon project geographical officers who are in continual close contact with villages in the region.

3.2. Preliminary research

The preliminary research involves an extensive literature search aimed to obtain as much available information as possible on the target taxa. This literature search provides the necessary background for the programme to implement a coherent research strategy for each species selected and particular attention is paid to taxonomic data, abundance and distribution, and ecological and socio-economic aspects of the species. As the majority of the target species have not been cultivated previously, there is often little access to existing cultivation data.

An eco-geographic survey is also undertaken. This is both a library and herbarium based study of target taxa and aims to produce both a clear taxonomic description of the species concerned and an understanding of the geographical distribution and ecological variation to permit a wide genepool sampling. This study also takes into account the phenology of the taxa to ensure that seed collecting trips can be planned as accurately as possible. The eco-geographical survey is the secret to the success of the collecting mission and essential if we are to obtain as representative a sample as possible of the wild resource in cultivated systems.

3.3. Field collection of germplasm and sampling method

It is important to obtain the largest sample of the genepool as possible. The important principle here is that random samples should be taken from the entire geographical range of the population taking care to target as many ecotypes as possible. For example, in the case of Prunus africana, consideration is given to its distribution over distance and altitude. Within these two geographical factors are different ecological conditions giving rise to a wide variety of ecotypes. Great care is taken to maintain the collections separately during the domestication process (Blackmore, 1997). Detailed collection data (provenance data) is obtained during germplasm collection. The information collected must consist of geographical data (altitude, longitude, latitude, soil type, ground conditions, aspect and vegetation type) as well as data concerning the collectors, i.e. collection date, collectors names etc. This information is vital to the conservation and the scientific value of the material.

The quality of the collected germplasm relies heavily on the physical handling of the material during and after collection and the maintenance of the identity of each separate genotype. Every effort is made to prevent the collection from becoming mixed at both the seed and plant stage.

3.4 Germination tests and propagation trials

Propagation and multiplication trials are carried out to identify the most cost-effective methods of mass production. Seed dormancy is one of the greatest problems to the Conservation through Cultivation Programme, especially with many rattan species which often take up to nine months to germinate. However, it is possible to overcome seed dormancy by using a range of pre-sowing treatments. The experimental process to establish which method is required takes a considerable amount of time. Often, as in the case of Gnetum spp., cuttings are the most appropriate means of multiplication. Experimenting with the various types of cutting and husbandry regimes entails a substantial amount of trial and error before the most appropriate and transferable methods of propagation are determined.

3.5 Distribution and monitoring

The success of the Conservation through Cultivation Programme depends on effective plant distribution and post-planting monitoring. The majority of the plants produced are made available to local communities at a minimum cost. From experience, it has been found that plants given away for free are often not maintained or valued in the same way as when they are purchased directly. No matter how small the investment, when a plant is purchased it is highly valued and is often well-maintained. The sale of plant material also helps LBG to recover a small proportion of the investment costs of the propagation and cultivation trials.

In many cases, distribution of plant material is undertaken through the Mount Cameroon Project village network as well as through the existing extension services, farmers co-operatives and, more recently, NGOs. A condition of plant distribution through these agents is a requirement by LBG staff to monitor the growth and development of the plants distributed.

3.6 Characterisation and evaluation of germplasm held

Characterisation is the observation of characters that are highly heritable and that are maintained in a range of environments. Such characters are important as they determine the qualities of the germplasm, both on a genetic level and on an exploitable level (i.e. high quantities of alkaloid activity for medicinal species; good nutritional value for edible species). Evaluation data is the observation and measurement of how the germplasm interacts with the new environment. Such characters are important as they indicate the survival or loss of certain genotypes and their characteristics in different conditions (Ford et al.,1986) and this rationale forms the basis of the monitoring programme for target taxa by LBG.

Figure 1. ICRAF/LBG Prunus trials at Tote (Photo: T. Sunderland).

3.7. Publication and dissemination

A number of publications have resulted from this work with the intention of disseminating the knowledge gathered during the course of the research (Sunderland and Nkefor, 1997b: Earth Love Fund, 1997)

Dissemination has also taken place through scientific meetings (Sunderland and Nkefor, 1996a; Sunderland and Nkefor 1996b; Sunderland and Nkefor 1997a), as well as through informal presentations of the work at the Limbe Botanic Garden to farmers' groups and extension agents.

3.8. Extension

Once appropriate and transferable methods of bulk propagation have been determined for each target species, it is necessary to impart this newly-acquired knowledge to those who would be able to implement it. One of the most important contributions of the programme has been the training of trainers and extension workers in the propagation methods suitable for each species. This training has taken place both on a formal and informal basis and has entailed the training of university/professional students in horticulture and related subjects, including eight students from the Regional College of Agriculture Bambili, the Forestry School Mbalmayo and the University of Buea. Field staff from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MINEF) have also been trained.

Figure 2. Dissemination of research findings and propagation techniques (Photo: T. Sunderland).

4. Achievements of the Conservation through Cultivation Programme

Aside from technical data gathered through the methodology described above, the following achievements have been realised through the use of material resulting from the cultivation programme:

· An experimental 8.8 ha plantation of Prunus africana has been established in Moliwe by the Cameroon Development Corporation.

· A further 1.5 ha plantation of Prunus has been established by a Women in Development co-operative in the North-West Province of Cameroon. In addition, two hundred assorted timber tree species were also supplied for an agro-forestry programme with the same co-operative. (See Burnley, this volume.)

· One thousand Prunus seedlings were supplied to a Women in Development co-operative in Fako Division, South-West Province, Cameroon. They were distributed by the co-operative to many women for small-scale planting on fallow farm areas and to crop association programmes.

· Further Prunus material was supplied to the Mbalmayo Forest Research Division to undertake further trials in vegetative propagation.

· The Medicinal Plant Area in the Limbe Botanic Garden was further developed using material grown through the Conservation through Cultivation Programme. An educational booklet about this collection has recently been published (Laird et al., 1997).

· An intensive domestication trial area of eru (Gnetum spp.) has been established in LBG for research and education (Ndam, et al., 1998).

· A rattan arboretum has been established in LBG for taxonomic research in order to monitor the changes in morphology between juvenile and adult forms of the species. This work has important economic and development implications. (See Sunderland, this volume.)

· The Useful Products Theme in LBG has been augmented by material grown through this programme. This has led to the development of educational trails through the Garden including a kitchen trail, industrial trail and a medicinal trail with associated published literature.

5. Benefits of CTC Programme

5.1 Benefits for local people

In summary, this programme has led to the following benefits for local people:

· The supply of plant material for which there is a guaranteed income from well-established and stable markets.

· The economic empowerment of local people by providing the means by which they can enter the lucrative markets of such products such as Gnetum spp. and Prunus africana through supply, which has been traditionally denied them through the uncontrolled exploitation of such material from the wild, predominantly by outside parties.

· An increased diversification of products grown by both individuals and groups leading to greater crop diversification and hence economic security.

· In many cases, a guaranteed supply of raw material ensures that price fluctuations are minimised. Hence those crops bought in markets by the vast majority of urban people in particular (Gnetum, Cola spp., etc.) remain affordable and within the price range of the majority of families.

· Traditionally in SW Province, it has been forbidden for women to own land directly. However, with the formation of women's co-operatives, they have been able to purchase or obtain land for long-term cultivation (Burnley, this volume). In Cameroonian common law, planting an economic tree on a piece of land implies tenure over that land. The Conservation through Cultivation Programme has enabled the empowerment of women, through the supply of economic species.

· The use of LBG as an educational resource has been highlighted, benefiting both visitors and recipients of current literature.

5.2 Environmental benefits

The corresponding environmental benefits may be summarised as follows:

· The long term benefit is that harvesting pressure on selected wild populations will be significantly reduced with alternative supplies coming from cultivated sources. The benefits are not only confined to individual taxa but also through the maintenance of ecological integrity. For example, the continual felling of Prunus africana in the wild to exploit the maximum bark yield causes large and discontinuous gaps in the forest, affecting dynamic processes.

· Individual taxa are protected from serious levels of endangerment by over-harvesting through ex-situ conservation efforts and a certain degree of domestication. This is the case at both species, provenance and genetic levels.

· Planting trees on otherwise fallow areas has had a direct impact on the amount of reforestation in SW Province, both at a commercial and subsistence level. Greater potential yields per hectare are anticipated through the low input/high output systems encouraged.

· Mixed cropping with tree species and herbaceous agricultural crops mimics far closer natural processes, with a multi-storey canopy. This has a direct positive impact on soil erosion, with a corresponding increase in species/ha, thus encouraging a more balanced, albeit impoverished, ecosystem.

· Planting within the designated themes of LBG highlights the institutional policy of presenting the inextricable link between plants and people.

6. Problems encountered

Initial problems have centred on the technical question of determining the optimum method of bulk propagation for each target taxa. To solve these problems, variations in approach are developed, i.e. if seed propagation is a problem, clonal propagation is adopted.

The distribution of plant material has been hampered by the fact that many local farmers groups, NGOs and even extension agencies have no access to transport and are unable to facilitate the movement of plant material from the LBG nursery to the planting site. The ODA component of the Limbe Botanic Garden has provided significant support to this, although no previous budgetary allocation had been made for this additional expenditure.

7. Threats to success of the CTC programme

· Change of demand for target taxa due to new tastes or change in market requirements

· Economic instability, e.g. programme funding

· Loss of good genetic material through genepool erosion

8. Additional comments and proposed next steps

The next step of the Programme is to continue to identify suitable species to continue and augment the work undertaken so far and to use the expertise gathered for the benefit of other threatened species. Equally important is the monitoring of the existing plantings, especially in plantation situations, to determine the viability of such an approach. A monitoring programme has been established by LBG and is at the implementation phase. For many of the target taxa a cost-benefit analysis should be undertaken to determine the economic viability of the cultivation of such products.

Acknowledgements

Initial funding for the launch of this programme was provided by the Earth Love Fund in 1994. The Overseas Development Administration (now DFID) has funded the programme since then. The Friends of the Limbe Botanic Garden should be acknowledged for their active participation in establishing the trials of Gnetum. The nursery staff of the Limbe Botanic Garden should also be thanked for their relentless efforts to make this programme a success.

References

Blackmore, P.C., N. Ndam & J.P. Nkefor. 1997 The conservation through cultivation programme policy of the Limbe Botanic Garden, October1997.

Cheek, M. 1992. Outline botanical survey of the proposed Etinde Forest Reserve in S.W. Cameroon. Overseas Development Administration/Government of Cameroon.

Earth Love Fund. 1997. Bark from Cameroon. Earth Love Fund Newsletter. No.1.

Ford-Lloyd, B. 1986. Plant Genetic Resources: An introduction to their conservation and use. Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd, London, UK.

Laird, S.A. with M. Betafor, M. Enanga, C. Fominyam, M. Itoe, E. Litonga, J. Mafani, J. Menyoli, J. Meseke, W. Mukete, M. Motia, P. Ndumbe, J. Nkefor, J. Nning, N. Ndam, T. Sunderland, P. Tchouto, & M. Wana. 1997. Medicinal Plants of the Limbe Botanic Garden. Limbe Botanic Garden, Cameroon.

Ndam N., J.P. Nkefor & Blackmore P.C. 1998. Domestication of eru (Gnetum africanum and G. buchholzianum), a threatened wild forest vegetable of West and Central Africa [in press].

Nkefor J.P., N. Ndam, P.C. Blackmore & E.A. Ebile. 1997. Conservation of Prunus africana (Hook.f) Kalkman: Opportunities for agroforestry and plantation development. Paper presented to the workshop: The conservation of Prunus africana on Mount Cameroon. Limbe Botanic Garden, December 1997.

Sunderland, T.C.H. & J.P. Nkefor. 1996a. Conservation through cultivation: The propagation of Prunus africana (Hook.f.) Kalkman. Paper presented to the workshop: The conservation of Prunus africana on Mount Cameroon. Limbe Botanic Garden, 16-17 February.

Sunderland, T.C.H. & J.P. Nkefor. 1996b. Conservation through cultivation, a case study: Prunus africana. Paper presented to: International workshop on the commercial production of indigenous plants as phytomedicines and cosmetics. Lagos, Nigeria, 24-25 June.

Sunderland, T.C.H. & J.P. Nkefor. 1997a. Trees as crops: The case of Prunus africana. Paper presented to the Tropical Agriculture Association seminar; Trees as crops. St Anne's College, Oxford, UK, 20-21 September.

Sunderland, T.C.H. & J.P. Nkefor. 1997b. Conservation through cultivation a case study: The propagation of Pygeum (Prunus africana). Tropical Agriculture Association Newsletter. December.

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