Wet Tropics: Africa: key achievements 2006 - 2011
This Team contributes baseline total vascular plant surveys of poorly known and species diverse areas in West-Central Africa with local partners to evaluate conservation priorities using the IUCN 2001 standard, establish new reserves and evaluate sustainable use of native species.
Increasingly over the review period, objectives have been met with support from mining company contracts to the point that these are our main source of team funding. By these means we have been able to take the collaborative capacity building for plant conservation that we developed in Cameroon over twenty years and bring it to other countries in our teams remit that have high levels of species diversity yet low in-country capacity to identify and protect rare species, such as Guinea (Conakry), Sierra Leon and Congo (Brazzaville) and beginning in 2011-2016, Congo (Kinshasa) [DRC], Angola (Cabinda) and Liberia.
Wet Tropics: Africa (WTA) team highlights 2006-2011 were:
- starting and finishing the first Red Data book for any tropical African country.
- hosting the first triennial African Botanical Congress (AETFAT) in any West-Central African country with more African botanists attending than at any other congress.
- inspiring creation of the Bakossi Mts and Mt Cameroon National Parks through publication of Conservation Checklist books, which document these as tropical Africa’s most species diverse areas, and also through film.
- expanding Kew’s presence in Guinea and establishing it in Sierra Leone and Congo (Brazzaville) through a series of surveys for conservation objectives and capacity building.
Collaborative surveys in Cameroon resulted in the collection of 1040 herbarium specimens, mainly in surveys for three protected areas mooted by our local conservation NGO partners (Mefou proposed National Park, Lebialem Highlands and Dom, Bamenda Highlands). For each, a Conservation Checklist was published giving a description of each species present. The first Vascular Plant Checklist for Cameroon was also published, and the Flore Du Cameroun programme reboots. Thirty-four papers and volumes, including 35 new species to science, were published based on our Cameroon specimens.
The world’s first entirely epiphytic sedge species and several canopy rainforest trees were among the most noteworthy new species published. These achievements were made as part of our Darwin supported Red List Project for Cameroon.
Surveys in Guinea, having begun in 2005, became a major team focus in 2006-2011. The most intensive surveys ever in the history of the country were conducted with 6082 specimens collected in collaborative surveys, mainly in the Guinea Highlands. An agreement was signed with The Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry in 2008, and after a two-year interlude of political instability the National Herbarium project was launched in February 2011. We then were invited to support a new MSc programme in Sustainable Development.
Sierra Leone is now stable after years of civil unrest and loss of institutional capacity, including its herbaria and botanists. In late 2009 we began collaborative surveys in the Sula Mountains with the National Herbarium and Fourah Bay College. To date 2560 specimens have resulted, and five new species to science, all threatened.
Congo (Brazzaville) is also now stable after ten years of civil unrest and loss of capacity. It is easily the least well botanically surveyed of all tropical African forested countries. Beginning in January 2009 a series of trips in the Chaillu, Mayombe and Coastal areas have produced 9686 species with several tens of new species to science emerging. The National Herbarium has been supported, reinforced and training begun.
In April 2011 we launched in Yaoundé the first Red Data Book for the plants of any tropical African country: 814 globally threatened species. This has application far beyond Cameroon, affecting species from Guinea to DRC. Concentrations of threatened species are mapped and classified as different levels of hot spots, equating to Important Plant Areas, the highest priorities for national plant conservation. This provides an aid to national development planning, so that species extinction risks can be reduced. All 7850 plant species in Cameroon are assigned an IUCN 2001 Conservation rating in the accompanying national vascular plant checklist. Three conservation checklists were published for proposed protected areas, each with a different local conservation NGO; they document and give management suggestions for the Red Data species in a dedicated chapter separate from the main checklist. Chapters on vegetation, climate and soils are also included. Such books champion the course of the areas they seek locally to protect. Ten new species-specific conservation posters were produced, one for each Region of Cameroon so as to raise awareness of the risk of species extinction. Two new national parks were created in Cameroon within the areas identified by our work as tropical Africa’s most species-diverse areas for plants yet documented, with high levels of threatened species. Several small areas with many extremely threatened species have been rented from local land-owners to reduce extinction risks. In the Bamenda Highlands of Cameroon, where c. 96% of the original forest vegetation has been lost, we have supported forest restoration by the NGO ANCO by funding seed collection and propagation of threatened species that we identified on surveys. These are then incorporated in tree planting mixes e.g. at Dom. We have also funded a review of forest restoration efforts in the Highlands. In Yaoundé, April 2011, we launched a Teacher’s Guide on the Threatened Plant Species of Cameroon, targeting every secondary school in the country. Through an environmental education NGO, LTV, we are seeking to incorporate it into the National Curriculum. Distilled from our Red Data book for Cameroon (see BPP2), the objective of this Guide is to get basic facts on threatened plants and the rational for conservation into the home of every Cameroonian. Both French and English versions are available. Each Guide is issued with a Conservation poster for a Region-specific Threatened species.
The Red Data Book and the three new Conservation Checklists also launched in April have an educational function – but only for social elites. However, publicity surrounding their launch, on television, radio and press went nationwide. The Mists of Mwanenguba, a film centred on our survey work for conservation in Cameroon has had wider impact, being shown throughout Africa – it probably tipped the balance in favour of creating the Bakossi National Park.
In Guinea, Sierra Leone and Congo (Brazzaville) we are providing plant data and working with local conservation organisations to increase protection and resources for areas identified as important for plant conservation. In several cases we are lobbying mining companies to support these as offsets for damage elsewhere.
We are assisting the Inga Foundation to find African parallel species to the Neotropical Inga species that are the basis for a type of alley-cropping that provides food security for a family permanently from a single hectare. A field trial of several species is planned in Congo (Brazzaville) with the support of a mining company. If successful, this system has the potential to increase sustainable use of forest land throughout West-Central Africa.
We obtained Rio Tinto Guinea (Simandou) funding in 2008 to send a member of the MSB team to Guinea to assess seedbanking capacity nationally and at RT project level. Subsequently RT Guinea Environment staff have visited MSB projects in West and East Africa for training. RT Guinea is now considering funding MSB to boost its project capacity and establish a basic national seedbank. We hope to duplicate this with parallel projects in Sierra Leone and Congo (Brazzaville) as appropriate.
Total vascular species surveys with quantitative data from plots (see BPP1) for mining companies will inform habitat restoration long term, post mine closure. In the short term we are assisting mine projects in Guinea and Congo (Brazzaville) to develop nurseries and protocols for cultivation and propagation of their threatened plants species for restoration, enrichment planting and translocation, where appropriate. Propagation of ‘difficult’ species from Guinea have been worked on at Kew in the nursery.
In 2011-2016 we aim to build on this foundation in Cameroon and to repeat these successes in other countries. We already have initial funding to begin such a programme in Guinea.
The work of the WTA Team is largely focused on Breathing Planet Programme strategies 1, 2, 3 and 4, but it increasingly also contributes to 5 and 6.
Conferences and Workshops
WTA co-hosted with the National Herbarium of Cameroon, the 2007 triennial African Botanical Congress (AETFAT) in Yaoundé. Kew also co-edited and published the proceedings in 2010. Numbers of botanists attending the congress and proportion of African nationals among them was the highest in the c. 50-year history of the Congress series.
WTA co-hosted a series of workshops (2006, 2007, 2011) under the Red List Cameroon programme to teach IUCN 2001 assessment methodology, basic plant family identification and herbarium techniques. A similar workshop was also held in Brazzaville (2010), and a series of workshops are planned in Conakry in 2011.
Formal Collaborative agreements
The five yearly Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Herbarium of Cameroon was renewed. A new MOU was signed with The Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry to set up a National Herbarium for Guinea. In 2010 discussions began with authorities in Brazzaville for a MOU to assist the National Herbarium of Congo – these are ongoing.
The Team’s work contributes directly to six of the GSPC targets: 1, 2, 8, 12, 13 and 14. We also contribute along with the Sustainable Uses Group in the Jodrell’s Useful Plants Project to the UN Millennium Development Goals targets 1 and 7 and the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), themes 1 and 2.
Science Team Leader:Martin Cheek
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