Agriculture Ministry Cuts Botanical Garden Funding 'Fatally'

Combined budget for 11 gardens drops to 100,000 shekels from several million. Scientists will have to all but eliminate their research.

Shantavira, Wikimedia Commons

The Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry is nearly eliminating its funding of the country’s 11 botanical gardens, directors of the gardens have been told.

In recent years the gardens overall received from 3 million shekels to 6 million shekels ($776,000 to $1.55 million) from the state, but last week the ministry said that the combined allocation for 2015 will be just 100,000 shekels.

Managers of the gardens say this deep cut will necessitate a near-total suspension of their research and educational programs. What’s more, they have already spent money on development during the year, and it isn’t clear how some of the gardens will be able to pay their bills.

In a response, the Agriculture Ministry said its budget for the year was slashed by 40 percent because the government’s priorities had shifted and that the ministry had entirely withdrawn its support from some programs.

The state has been funding the botanical gardens since the Botanical Gardens Law went into effect, nearly a decade ago. The law sets various criteria for managing and maintaining the gardens and for the research and educational projects they conduct.

Several of the gardens, like the ones at Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Oranim Academic College, grow plants that are in danger of extinction in order to preserve the species.

The law allowed some botanical gardens to continue operating and others to expand their operations. Now their future is unclear. “This cut will be fatal,” said Michal Gross, the director of the botanical garden at Oranim College. “The garden was revitalized by the Agriculture Ministry budget; we held academic courses, a course on therapeutic gardening and a series of tours that brought the number of visitors to more than 13,000.

“We won’t close the garden and the college will support it, but it will deteriorate,” she said. “I don’t understand what kind of law this is if the state determines there should be [botanical] gardens and then doesn’t give them anything.”

The cut will also have an adverse impact on the Hebrew University’s two botanical gardens, on Mount Scopus and at Givat Ram. “We won’t close the garden but we’ll have to cancel most of the professional activities taking place in it, said Ori Fragman-Sapir, the scientific director of the garden at Givat Ram. “We have the largest collection of plants in the Middle East and we’ll have a hard time maintaining it.”

At Tel Aviv University, the ministry budgets have been used to expand the garden and the number of visitors. “In the past, our budget was devoted to maintaining and preserving what was,” said the director of the TAU Botanical Garden, Yuval Sapir, adding, “The help from the Agriculture Ministry allowed us to develop and triple the number of visitors. We were also able to recruit professionals to conduct genetic and ecological research on local plants.”

The cut, Sapir said, would mean the garden would have to be closed to visitors. “We will not be able to maintain it in a manner appropriate for accommodating them,” he said.

In addition to the academic gardens, there are several botanical gardens that play an important role in exposing the public to the world of plant life, among them Havat Hanoy, the Biblical Garden in the Sharon region and the botanical garden of the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School.

The Agriculture Ministry said the government had chosen to give priority to programs like rehabilitating the Gaza border communities and supporting farmers in the Arava whose farms were collapsing. “The agriculture and rural development minister sees great importance in the botanical gardens and their continued operation, and is trying to find budgetary sources for the gardens and to get a budget increment for this purpose as the state budget gets approved this month,” the ministry said in a statement.