Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL)
SEPASAL is the world’s most comprehensive online source of information on useful ‘wild’ and semi-domesticated tropical and subtropical dryland plants, with a focus on Africa.
SEPASAL documents and disseminates published scientific information on the uses and related properties of tropical and subtropical dryland plants, bringing together information which is otherwise scattered in the literature, and making it available to scientists, aid and development agencies, and extensionists working to improve livelihoods in dryland countries which would otherwise not have ready access to such information.
SEPASAL began in 1981 and currently has extensive referenced information on approximately 7000 species. Data are recorded using Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG standards) (e.g. on uses, distribution) and in other searchable fields (e.g. environmental data), supplemented by extensive free-text notes.
All data entered on to SEPASAL are available for searching on the web (since 1999). Summary information on key uses has been available via ePIC since 2002. Users include international aid and development organisations, government departments and NGOs engaged in sustainable use and conservation programmes. SEPASAL is also used to assist in targeting species for germplasm collection and to prioritise germination testing trials in the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership.
Recognising that SEPASAL at Kew cannot, on its own, realise the goal of collating and providing all data on all uses of tropical dryland plants, SEPASAL “nodes” were established with partners at the National Museums of Kenya (in 2002) and the National Botanical Research Institute of Namibia (in 2004) to increase data capture and dissemination. Using Global Editing software, developed at Kew to enable remote users to edit and contribute data to SEPASAL, local staff were trained and employed at the nodes to assist with data research, validation and input, and to provide direct lines of communication with local conservation and development organisations (e.g. Bioversity International and Millennium Seed Bank partners in Kenya and Namibia, and Centre for Research Information Action in Africa (CRIAA) in Namibia), schools (e.g. Arya High School in Nairobi), farmers, and community groups.
The collaborations with Kenya and Namibia resulted in greatly expanded data content for Southern African and East African species, and greatly increased regional availability and use of the data, and are a potential model of how SEPASAL could expand in the future. However, the continuation and expansion of the node network depends on additional funding from external sources and the development of more robust, user-friendly editing software. The latter is being addressed as part of the institution-wide Science and Horticulture Systems Review.
Links with PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa), for which SEPASAL is a data source, ensure that text-based PROTA species overviews can supplement the detail provided by SEPASAL and vice-versa. In addition, fully referenced scientific data held in SEPASAL on dryland species is converted into content designed for a more general audience in the Species Pages project.
Project Partners and Collaborators
National Museums of Kenya (NMK) (Up to December 2008)
National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) (Up to December 2008)
The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust (previously, to 2008)
Millennium Commission (previously, to 2008)