Science - June 3, 2004

PROTA plant project awarded 2.5 million euros

The Dutch Directorate for International Development Cooperation (DGIS) has made 2.5 million euros available to the Wageningen-led PROTA project on useful plants in Tropical Africa. A key condition for releasing the money was that most of the budget would be spent in Africa.

“It took a while before the money was granted, as DGIS attached great importance to us being able to show that the project will make a real contribution to poverty eradication in Africa, and that is of course difficult to prove,” said Dr Jan Siemonsma, director of the Wageningen PROTA network office. The 2.5 million contribution means that the future of the PROTA project is assured, at least for the coming time.

The project will gather data on over 7000 useful plants in tropical Africa and process it into accessible information in a planned ten-year period. The databank forms the backbone of the project, and will be used to produce a website, CD-ROMs and a multi-volume reference work. “We have budgeted ten million euros for the next five years of the project, so this will cover about a quarter of our costs,” reckons Siemonsma. PROTA is still searching for the rest of the money, and is still waiting to hear whether other applications have been successful, including one in Brussels for EU money.

Part of the DGIS money will also be used to make derived products, intended to form a bridge between the handbooks and the policy makers, researchers and teachers at the local level. Siemonsma: “A five-hundred page book is not what politicians or policy makers want to read. They need concise information, taking up not more than two sheets of paper, on how to encourage the use of useful plants.”

The derived products are likely to be largely developed by the PROTA network office in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as in the five regional offices. These are housed in host institutes throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The first PROTA handbook, which is on African vegetables, is expected to be published in August this year.

Gert van Maanen

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