At the Masoala National Park in Madagascar, Garden curator Lowry - Pete to friends and colleagues - is greeted by Roger Bernard, a Malagasy national trained by Garden botanists to observe plants in the field and collect and prepare plant specimens for further study. Lowry initiated the training program on Madagascar in the early 1990s.
"Roger is strong, energetic, and he loves the forest that has always been part of his life," says Lowry, head of the Garden's Africa and Madagascar Department. "His contribution makes our work more meaningful and valuable for Madagascar and makes our research much more productive."
Roger Bernard and more than 20 other Malagasy nationals have received on-the-job training and participated in workshops on plant collecting and other subjects over the past few years. Ten still work solely for local conservation projects as plant collectors. Many of the rest bring their expanded knowledge to bear on other projects that share the Garden's concern for conserving Madagascar's biodiversity. They find good jobs as ecological monitors in government-sponsored and other studies and as tour guides in protected areas.
While the Garden didn't invent the practice of establishing local collectors at important field sites, its training program has become a model for others. "We're helping to create jobs that are forest-related and forest-dependent," says Lowry. "Plus, many of our trainees have become conservation advocates in their own villages, towns, and cities, talking in schools about their work and bringing the message home in local terms. They have a sense of stewardship. This is the type of empowering process that must be in place for true conservation and sustainability to take root. It's a great partnership."