Last week the Millennium Seed Bank hosted a week-long workshop on useful plants and livelihoods as part of the evaluation of one of it’s flagship initiatives, the Useful Plants Project. The event was also an opportunity to take a broader look at Kew’s livelihoods projects and how we could maximise the way in which they meet rural communities’s needs and thereby increase their impact. The breadth and scope of Kew’s projects never ceases to amaze me: from the Great Green Wall project in subSaharan Africa to the restoration and conservation of dry forests in Peru, the conservation of forest reserves in Madagascar and of course the Useful Plants Project (UPP) itself; an ambitious and innovative initiative that seeks to link rural communities, livelihoods, restoration and the ex-situ conservation of seeds in Mali, Botswana, Mexico, Kenya and South Africa.
We were a a very vibrant and friendly mix of botanists, extension workers, policy makers, agricultural researchers and NGOs from Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. All of us were united by working with plants that impact on livelihoods and the rural communities who conserve them. For me, what came out of the meeting was that rather than conserving plants for rural livelihoods, the reality is that rural livelihoods conserve plants and that re-focusing our perspective in this way could improve our work . Also that Kew is unparalleled as an institution in it’s network of long-standing relationships with the cutting-edge of conservation: remote rural communities in Africa, Madagascar, Latin America, the Caribbean, South East Asia, even the Falkland Islands! Which surely provides us with a unique opportunity to identify their science needs but maybe more importantly to establish a mechanism for them to share their experiences with each other.