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Canisius Kayombo is a researcher enriching our understanding of plants and science in Tanzania.
He is also the driving force behind a new research and teaching herbarium at the Forestry Training Institute, Olmotonyi, Tanzania.
'A herbarium is a place to study and learn,' says Canisius. 'You need a herbarium, or a centre, as a place where you can have a shared language around plants.'
Within a small building in the Forestry Training Institute (FTI) Olmotonyi in Arusha, Tanzania, sit 16 purpose-built cabinets housing 4,000 to 6,000 mounted and labelled botanical specimens.
The idea to build the herbarium came to Canisius in 2009. He wanted to build a herbarium for teaching students, but also as a centre for plant identification and collection expertise.
'I had to convince the administration and choose the design,' he says.
'We now have around 600 students visiting the herbarium every year. These students study plant physiology and learn about the flowers and leaves of the plant. The older students study plant taxonomy.'
Canisius teaches at least five modules at the FTI, including botany, tree planting techniques, plant physiology, ecology and climatology. He brings specimen sheets into classes for discussion. Sometimes he takes groups of students into the herbarium, although only around 20 can fit inside the building at once.
1 minutes 59 seconds, MP3 (2.72 MB)
As a training institute, there is no budget for fieldwork, so the students and teachers are often collecting the same plants for practice. 'Sometimes we advise the students on how they can collect specimens from their home place, and when they go on holiday they can collect specimens, so they have collections from different areas,' says Canisius.
'If the students want to have expertise, they have to practice.'
Canisius says, 'Even though we have worked hard to create a list of plants in Tanzania, many plants might still have become extinct without us knowing. At least now we have national parks where you might find an endangered plant.'
On top of this, some plants in the herbarium are yet to be identified. Canisius is the only person at the institute who might be able to identify them, but he doesn't always have time to work on identifying specimens. Even in Tanzania's national herbarium, there are still a several specimens to be identified.
When he is not teaching, Canisius spends at least one month each semester on his own research on crop growing and forest and plant ecology. He is still looking to complete his PhD but needs more financial support to do this.
'I am supposed to be finishing this year. I need to publish two more papers that are written but are still going through the publications process,' he says.
At other times throughout the year, Canisius advises on environmental issues and field trips. He has also often accompanied researchers from the Museum on field trips.
This project is not Canisius' only contribution to understanding the world of plants, he has also collected over 10,000 botanical specimens and published papers on Tanzania's seaweeds, sea grasses, the impact of climate change on small-scale tobacco, above-ground carbon storage and floristic diversity. There is even a plant species named after him stored at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Each field trip lasts between three up to four weeks. 'They can be very long days with a lot of driving and walking and looking for particular things, different species, with no days off – it's three and a half weeks straight,' says Ana Claudia.
'There were numerous occasions where we walked into a forestry office, where we needed to show the correct permit application or see if our permit had arrived. The first thing we would do would go and talk to the person in charge, and numerous times Canisius would know them because they were once his student.
'It was Canisius liaising with the community that made the trip safe and successful.'
Canisius speaks many languages and so communicated with everyone as the team travelled across the country, making sure that he let the local village leaders know why scientists were there and what they were doing.
'Canisius would often take the trouble to find the head man of a village or the oldest resident and be very respectful and tell him what we were doing and why we were there,' says Neil.
When they are in the field, Neil and Ana Claudia collect four sets of specimens whenever possible. Sometimes, if there is a lot of material growing, they can collect more than that. One set stays in Tanzania and another comes back to the Museum in London. Neil says he also collected for Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and for the East African Herbarium in Nairobi, Kenya.
If the plant is rare and there is only one specimen, it stays in Tanzania.
Neil says, 'Canisius is extremely knowledgeable about vegetation and species. This is very helpful as sometimes there are species that are endemic or rare and he knows them.
'On our second trip, Canisius showed us all the improvements on the herbarium that he is creating with the money he received from the previous field trip.'
Students don't just study plants at the forestry institute - a family of 12 colobus monkeys live in the forests surrounding the institute's buildings.
Students are researching this monkey family to understand their behaviour and movements.
Canisius is worried that if the trees are ever cleared, the colobus monkeys will also go. He wants to encourage all the animals living in the area so people can visit and learn about them.
2 minutes 53 seconds, MP3 (4.04 MB)