Local action underlies global view

May 5, 2000

Mark Johnston from the University of the West of England's faculty of applied sciences has spent years researching plant species in the South American country of Guyana and studying how they are used by the indigenous population.

In northwest Guyana, he has worked with a group that set up a wildlife club aimed at raising awareness of the importance of conservation and biodiversity in the local community. He has helped another community move its cocoa production towards organic farming, and, in a third initiative, he has been looking at cassava, the area's staple food, and assisting a community to document the different types and varieties to use on farms.

More than a year ago, Johnston teamed up with the Eden Project. For the past six months, two Guyanese students have been funded by Eden to collect local information about the cassava and to conduct other botanical research for the benefit of their own communities and for display in the Cornwall biomes.

Some of the less well-known examples they are expected to showcase at Eden include balata trees and nibbi. Balata trees yield latex in a way similar to rubber trees, while nibbi, a South American equivalent of rattan, has hanging roots that can be harvested, dried and used for woven products such as chair seats. In June, one of the Guyanese students will visit England to see how the material she has produced can be displayed.

"A key aspect of working with developing countries is not just taking their information but linking into existing projects and helping people in those countries develop their own projects and then showcasing them at Eden," Johnston says. "But it's important that when we document the local knowledge of plants and what they are used for it is written up in their style and in a way they want it communicated to the public."

Johnston believes the Eden project is one of the most important of its kind in the world today.

"If we can change our whole approach to the way we deal with plant resources, then Eden will have met its goal. If we don't? Then we'll lose a lot of species and there will be continuing environmental degradation."

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