How China Is Funding A New Botanical Garden In Kenya To Create A ‘Green’ Africa

Pink flowers with green leaves in garden
Credit: Dmitry Stepanov

When it comes to efforts to ensure environment-friendly development in Africa, China is one of the countries with the least accolades. From Kenya to Ghana to South Africa to Sudan, the environmental impacts of China’s expansion in Africa have widely been regarded as detrimental to the continent’s sustainable development. The East Asian giant has been accused of not supporting the Conservation and protection of Africa’s environment and biodiversity. But in recent years, Beijing seems bent on changing the narrative in a ‘special’ way. 

Kenya’s Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST) is partnering with the Chinese government to establish “one of the most unique and novel botanical gardens” in Kenya. According to the University’s Vice-Chancellor Prof. Stephen Agong’, the garden, which is to be situated in the Bondo sub-county, will help in improving agricultural production in the region, Kenya News Agency reported.  Vice-Chancellor Agong’ also revealed that they have already identified land where they shall establish that project at the Kapiyo area in the Maranda division.

Prof. Agong is reported to have stated that “in the botanical garden, they will put various tree species and horticultural crops together with varied types of birds and insects” and that “the botanical garden will help in not only promoting agriculture to boost food security in the county but will also generate revenue to the County government of Siaya.” 

Kenya: The Hub Of China’s Botanical And Environmental Initiatives 

Africa has been regarded as “a treasury of plants and a magnificent site in the hearts of botanists” Over the past few years, China-Africa cooperation in biodiversity research and conservation in the form of botanical gardens has become popular especially in East Africa, Kenya. 

A Sino-Africa Joint Research Centre has been established in Jomo Kenyata University of Science and Technology (JKUAT).  According to the center’s website, “in early 2011, JKUAT and Wuhan Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences (WBG, CAS) signed an MOU on biodiversity conservation and research. Thereafter a proposal was developed for the establishment of the JKUAT Botanical Garden and Joint Sino-African Research Centre in JKUAT main campus in Juja.” 

The JKUAT Botanical garden is subdivided into (1) “African indigenous plants garden comprising germplasm native to the Africa continent categorized into the different ecological zones, ” (2) “Medicinal plants garden comprising of plants used for herbal medicine Rare and unique plants garden,”  (3) “Orchard of cultivated and wild edible fruit trees”, (4) “Bamboo garden,” (5) “Aquatic plants garden with water lilies,” (6) “lotus ponds and submerged plant observation areas,” and  (7) “Asian and exotic plants garden comprising flora from other continents.”

The garden serves to function in the areas of providing new plants of economic importance to society, including medicinal, ornamentals, trees for reforestation and plants for industry, fruits, and cash crops. Besides, it will keep plants for the study of growth, adaptability, economic, and genetic characteristics. It is also to be relevant in the dissemination of cultural and scientific information about plants to the general public and preserve endangered and rare plants and also investigate methods of conservation in natural habitats.

In late 2018, China’s ministry of ecology and environment in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) launched the China-Africa Environmental Cooperation Centre in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. 

Xinhua News reported that apart from being part of a strategic partnership between the Asian country and the UN agency aimed at building capacity in developing countries in their efforts to address environmental issues, the center also aims to provide support to African nations in their struggle to sustainably develop their economies and increase awareness of environmental challenges. 

Speaking at the launch of the center in Nairobi that year, the Chinese Ambassador to Kenya said: “I believe that between China and Africa it should be two-way communication on ecological cooperation…China will implement a number of free energy development projects across the continent.”

China’s interest in Africa’s natural resources could be complemented with a sustained desire to also safeguard the environment and address Climate Change, secure biodiversity, and ensure food security? Which practical ways can African governments demand these from China?

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