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Our Biodiversity Needs Urgent Help

The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDBD), observed every May 22, is a poignant reminder of the crucial role that biodiversity plays in maintaining the health and balance of our planet. This day was celebrated 48 hours ago but because I only write on Fridays, please let us go back in time.

The IDBD highlights the importance of biodiversity and the need to protect it. This year’s theme, “Be part of the plan,” emphasizes the role biodiversity plays in sustaining life on Earth, promotes sustainable development, and ensures human well-being.

Africa, with its vast and varied ecosystems, is a continent of immense biological wealth. Within Africa, Nigeria stands out for its unique biodiversity, hosting numerous species of plants, animals, and microorganisms.

The National Strategy for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime in Nigeria (2022-2026) declared that Nigeria is home to over 864 species of birds, 117 amphibians, 203 reptiles, more than 775 species of fish, 285 mammals, over 4,715 vascular plants, and numerous undocumented species. Nigeria’s ecosystems range from semi-arid savannas to montane forests, rich seasonal floodplains to rainforests, and extensive freshwater swamp forests to diverse coastal vegetation.

For instance, the Niger Delta is a global biodiversity hotspot housing the largest mangrove forest in Africa. Out of the 3.2 million hectares of mangrove forest in Africa, the Niger Delta covers at least 1 million hectares of that portion. That’s not all; it also includes 11 Ramsar sites and wetlands of international importance, spanning 1,076,728 hectares. These wetlands provide crucial habitats for many endangered species, such as the Niger Delta red colobus, the Cross River gorilla, the African manatee, and the leatherback turtle.

What do we mean when we speak about biodiversity? In layman’s terms, it means having lots of different kinds of living things in one place. Instead of just one kind of plant or animal, you have many different plants and animals. All these different living things work together to keep nature healthy.

Biodiversity is crucial for the livelihoods and survival of many Nigerians, providing essential ecosystem services such as food, medicine, raw materials, and aesthetic values. Nigeria’s rural population, in particular, heavily depends on this biodiversity.

For instance, about 70% of Nigerian households, primarily in rural and semi-urban areas, rely extensively on firewood for their domestic and commercial energy needs. In addition, tourism, one of Nigeria’s fastest-growing industries, thrives on wildlife, nature reserves, resorts, and abundant water sources for recreation.

Despite the natural wealth and importance, Nigeria and the broader African continent face numerous threats to biodiversity. According to the IUCN Red List 2019, Nigeria has 309 threatened species. The primary causes of biodiversity loss include habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

These issues are exacerbated by factors such as population growth, urbanization, poverty, weak governance, and lack of awareness. In Nigeria, rampant deforestation, driven by logging, agricultural expansion, and urban development, leads to the destruction of crucial habitats. Between 2001 and 2020, we lost approximately 3.7% of our forest cover annually, a staggering rate that translates to about 1.14 million hectares of tree cover.

We cannot excuse the big elephant in the room — climate change; which further compounds these challenges. Altered weather patterns, rising temperatures, and increased frequency of extreme weather events disrupt ecosystems and threaten species. In Nigeria, the northern Sahel region suffers from severe droughts, while the coastal areas face the dual threats of rising sea levels and intensified flooding. Overexploitation of natural resources is another significant threat. Overfishing, hunting, and the illegal wildlife trade deplete species populations at alarming rates.

In Nigeria, the bushmeat trade and the illegal hunting of endangered species like the Cross River gorilla and Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzee exacerbate the decline of wildlife. Additionally, the illegal trade in pangolins has surged, driven by high demand in international markets, particularly in Asia.

As rich in biodiversity as the Niger Delta is, pollution continues to be a severe threat. Chronic oil spills have devastated both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Over 13 million barrels of oil have been spilt in the Niger Delta since 1958, causing long-term damage to wildlife and human communities alike.

Also worth mentioning is the challenge posed by invasive species that disrupt local ecosystems. For instance, the spread of water hyacinths in the Niger River Basin affects water flow and the health of aquatic habitats. This invasive plant competes with native species for resources, often leading to significant ecological imbalances.

Let us not forget poor governance and lack of enforcement undermine conservation efforts. Inadequate environmental policies, insufficient enforcement of existing laws, and corruption hinder effective biodiversity protection. Protected areas often suffer from a lack of funding and management, making them vulnerable to illegal activities such as poaching and logging.

Addressing these complex challenges requires a multifaceted approach that integrates conservation with sustainable development. Expanding and effectively managing protected areas is a crucial step. Nigeria’s protected regions, such as Gashaka Gumti National Park and Cross River National Park, need better funding, staffing, and community involvement to improve conservation outcomes. I have written previously about the importance of giving more attention to these institutions.

Across Africa, Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) that span multiple countries foster regional cooperation in biodiversity protection. In addition, community-based conservation is vital for sustainable biodiversity management. Engaging local communities in conservation initiatives ensures that they have a vested interest in preserving natural resources. Programs promoting ecotourism, for example, provide economic incentives for communities to protect wildlife and habitats. Namibia’s communal conservancies, which have successfully increased wildlife populations and local incomes, serve as an exemplary model.

One of the ways of combating habitat destruction is to promote sustainable agricultural practices. Techniques such as agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and integrated pest management enhance agricultural productivity while preserving ecosystems. In Nigeria, initiatives like the Green Wall Sahara program aim to combat desertification through sustainable land management practices. I called out climate change earlier. Addressing climate change is integral to biodiversity conservation. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting carbon sinks such as forests and wetlands, and developing resilient agricultural and water management systems are essential strategies. Nigeria’s National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action for Climate Change (NASPA-CCN) outlines measures to tackle these challenges.

In Nigeria, there is still so much to do about combating wildlife crime and strengthening laws and enforcement mechanisms to address poaching and illegal trade. This is an area that needs urgent attention. International cooperation through organizations like CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) helps regulate and reduce wildlife trafficking. In Nigeria, bolstering anti-poaching units and improving surveillance technology are crucial steps in this direction. As I have written in a previous column about environmental education, raising awareness about the importance of biodiversity and involving citizens in conservation efforts is fundamental.

Educational programs in schools, public awareness campaigns, and media involvement foster a culture of conservation. Initiatives like the Nigerian Conservation Foundation’s “Green Recovery Nigeria” campaign aim to educate and mobilize the public.

Still on education – enhancing research and data collection improves biodiversity monitoring and informs conservation decisions. Building the capacity of local researchers and institutions, and utilizing modern technology like satellite imagery and DNA barcoding, enhance data collection and analysis.

Collaborative projects with international research institutions provide valuable insights and foster global cooperation. We can’t develop in these areas beyond the level of investment we pump into formal and informal education.

Finally, the International Day for Biological Diversity is a call to action for Nigeria and Africa to address the critical challenges facing their rich biodiversity. While the threats are significant, there are numerous opportunities to develop and implement sustainable solutions.

By strengthening protected areas, engaging communities, promoting sustainable practices, addressing climate change, combating wildlife crime, controlling pollution, raising awareness, and enhancing research, Nigeria and Africa can protect their invaluable natural heritage.

As we commemorate this important day, let us commit to taking action at individual, community, and governmental levels. Whether participating in local conservation projects, advocating for stronger environmental policies, or spreading awareness, every effort counts. Together, we can make a significant impact in preserving the biodiversity that sustains life on Earth.


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