From biological control in agricultural fields over to alternate hosts in the surrounding vegetation, it was only a step for IITA to become involved in nature conservation concerning an entire rainforest patch. The forest of 14 ha in Drabo Gbo includes rehabilitated fallow 20 years old, but also has some older sacred forests. With the introduction (in collaboration with the University of Abomey-Calavi) of seeds and plantlets of rainforest trees, shrubs, and lianas from the few remaining rainforest islands in southern Benin the forest became a sanctuary for threatened plants. Out of about 75 threatened species which could possibly survive there 52 have already been established, making this a reference forest for botanists. The main attraction for tourists and visitors is, however, the established groups of red-bellied monkeys, Cercopithecus erythrogaster, a critically endangered monkey that is endemic to southern Benin and adjoining border regions. The privately created forest is now in the possession of IITA, a useful research instrument for the comparison of undisturbed natural soil, plant and animal communities with those of farmed or even abandoned infertile fields. We also document the challenge to maintain this forest next to a village by being integrated into the local vodun culture.
Peter Neuenschwander: Emeritus scientist, P.Neuenschwander@cgiar.org