Botanics experts on hand to seed new era in Haiti

WHEN it comes to rebuilding a country devastated by a natural disaster, gardening is usually the last thing on people’s minds.

The magnitude seven earthquake which hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, killed at least 200,000 people, made 1.5 million homeless, and devastated the country’s infrastructure to such an extent that getting clean drinking water is still a problem.

But now Haitians are determined to plant green shoots amid the destruction – and an Edinburgh institution is ready to lend a hand.

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Plans are well advanced for the establishment of Haiti’s first national botanic garden after a workshop held in the capital, Port-au-Prince, was attended by government representatives, botanists from around the world and members of the public.

The Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh (RBGE), the only UK institution of its kind present at the event, has confirmed it will be training staff.

Leigh Morris, 45, RBGE associate director of horticulture and one of those who attended the workshop in October, said: “There is a real need for a good news story in Haiti at the moment.

“Yes, people recognise there are still problems of rubble clearance and supplying clean drinking water – but they don’t want their country only to be associated with things like that.

“Basically, Port-au-Prince still looks like a bomb has hit it, and Haitians want a nice place to go to. They want a morale boost and this project will really help achieve that.”

William Cinea, who organised the workshop, said the participation of the Edinburgh institution would be crucial to the garden’s success.

“We want to train and educate people on how to treat their environment and the botanic garden in Edinburgh is well known around the world for the education and training projects they can offer,” said the 40-year-old, who lives in Port-au-Prince and has established a small botanical garden in the south of Haiti.

Mr Morris said that the Edinburgh garden – renowned for its work in projects as far afield as Laos and Oman – hopes to get horticulture training under way later this year following the identification of potential sites in and around Port-au-Prince.

Mr Morris said the new garden would contribute directly to ongoing efforts to develop the country and its environment.

He said: “In Haiti more than 95 per cent of the country has been deforested and there’s currently no organisation there that’s promoting conservation, so this new project will certainly help with that.

“It will help deliver research and education and will be a destination that will provide much-needed tourist income.”