IITA Forest Reserve Ethnobotanical Garden

The Forest Project protects International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) forest areas from poaching, theft, damage, and fire. We also maintain forest trails in the core area and are responsible for signage. The Project propagates indigenous plants from seeds and vegetative material collected in the IITA forest areas. Occasionally we also collect when on visits to other parts of Nigeria. Plants are raised in the Forest Project nursery to supply stock for reforestation areas, restoration of “bush”, and for sale.

The Forest Project provides guided walks in the forest, bird watching classes, lectures and presentations, and other activities as requested. We collaborate with universities, colleges, schools, organisations, and companies with interests in environmental issues, tree planting etc. We also provide supervision and facilities for students at PhD, Masters, and undergraduate level, and have set up an intern pilot scheme with the American University of Nigeria at Yola.

The Forest Project has a website (www.reforest-iita.org) and produces publications such a series of guide books on birds, plants, butterflies, and mammals, and is currently contributing to a book about Nigerian forests.

The Forest Project’s Ethnobotanical Garden is linked with the Amalgamation of Nigeria Medical Herbalists. When established it will provide medicinal plants, seeds etc. at little/no charge, and show healers and others in the medicinal plant trade how to cultivate, harvest and process them sustainably. 

The IITA Forest Reserve Ethnobotanical Garden adjoins the Forest Project’s nursery and is about an acre (2.5 ha) in area. It includes an orchard of indigenous trees, planted in 2012, which in addition to producing popular fruits, such as “pear” (Dacryodes edulis), are multi-purpose, with medicinal and other uses.

The area was formerly a stock garden for exotic ornamentals and had largely reverted to “bush” with numerous well-established invasive tree species, such as Leucaena leucocephala and Albizzia lebbek. Clearing was carried out both mechanically and manually so that as many other trees could be retained for shade and shelter.

A plan of the site showing proposed existing trees with a key has been produced by botany students on Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES - which is compulsory for undergraduates in Nigeria). Beds have been marked and planting is under way. One bed, which receives full sun, is designed to show species that thrive outside the forest along roadsides in ‘derived savanna’ (former forest soils degraded by farming and overgrazing). These include Calotropis procera, used by Fulani cattle herders to coagulate milk which is sold locally as fresh or deep-fried ‘cheese’. A list of medicinal plants for inclusion – most with other uses – has also been compiled with inputs from students. Many of these are ready for planting from the nursery while others are being propagated. It is anticipated that planting will be further advanced during the rainy season (March – November) and that construction of paths and round house will proceed as soon as suitable contractors are engaged. Irrigation is already installed so that new plantings can continue to thrive during the dry season.

Quotations for fencing, gates, and signage have been obtained; we await a quotation for paths and traditional thatched round house ‘visitor center’. Present funding should cover paths and building. The next stage is to design and order signage, and plan the opening event. It is hoped that this will take place in early 2014 and go ahead without fencing and gates unless funding for these items can be secured in time.

Following the opening event we will engage with local herbalists and herb traders to plant ‘satellite’ gardens and begin programs to teach cultivation and harvesting techniques. 

The information we give when communicating directly, and through publications, website, and on-site signage reaches people of all backgrounds and ages. We enable many Nigerians to experience their own heritage for the first time – or for the first time since childhood – and to recall what their elders knew before the forests were destroyed. Our aims and activities support forest conservation, reforestation, and natural resource management so that this traditional knowledge can continue to sustain livelihoods, language, and culture.   

Useful Plants of Yorubaland