Mowdown-1140x480

 

 

The biodiversity of natural resources provides numerous benefits for African people and the economy. It needs to be conserved and managed to ensure that these benefits can continue in the long term. Natural resources provide important dietary supplements to rural communities, particularly during times of hardship. Firewood is still the primary source of energy for heating and cooking in a high percentage of households across the continent. Traditional medicines from medicinal plants are considered essential for the welfare of many African poor people.

In many African countries over 80% of all healing takes place outside the formal western-style medical system. However, the current supply of medicinal plants from woodlands and forests is unsustainable. Invasive alien species pose a threat to the survival of thousands of endangered species of plants in ecosystems in Africa.

Due to the unchecked exploitation of forest resources and population pressure, deforestation in Africa is increasing at an alarming rate causing desertification and thus climate change. Knowledge on the status and distribution of many animal and plant species is still poor and inadequate. Effective national and regional action, supported by international cooperation, is required for the in situ protection of the ecosystems and the ex-situ conservation of biological and genetic resources.

Environmentalists encourage planting trees in Africa as an important step towards achieving a secure, self-sufficient food supply, improved health and prosperity for the African people. It is also good for the whole world, as trees contribute to the fight against global warming. Promoting agroforestry and vegetable gardens increase biodiversity and enhance sustainable use of soil. Working with farmers to develop research and propagate drought-resistant seed varieties could enhance food security.

Forests play a vital role in the economic and social livelihoods of many people in Africa because they are sources of timber, fuel wood and non-timber forest products. Forests are used for construction, furniture and firewood, and charcoal for cooking and heating. Forest areas are also important for hunting, as a source of medicinal plants, rope, bean stakes, fruit, honey and other non-timber forest products, and as a place for traditional ceremonies and burials.

The negative impact of inappropriate farming practices and natural resource use are reinforced by population growth, hunting, grazing and mining, agricultural encroachment, timber extraction, polewood cutting, commercial fuel wood extraction and charcoal production to supply urban centres. Industrial logging activities, road development, agricultural expansion (both for subsistence purposes and for commercial agriculture) as well as oil and mineral extraction will also continue to contribute to the deforestation of forests.

Most local communities living near the forests are highly dependent on natural resources for food, medicine and employment. Changes in weather conditions caused by climate change can damage this natural resource base and thus have a major impact on incomes and livelihoods. Most subsistence farmers rely on natural rainfall, making them highly vulnerable to even quite small changes in rainfall patterns.

The constraints in relation to conservation of biodiversity include institutional regulatory failures; negligence of values and of the importance of biodiversity, inequity in ownership; poor management and flow of benefits from the conservation and use of biological resources; poverty; and a lack of understanding of ecosystem functions.

The overriding problem facing many African forests is degradation, fragmentation and loss of endangered species, which is the result of many factors, such as:

  • Growing human population exerting pressure on forest resources and land;
  • Poverty leading to unsustainable use of forest resources;
  • Financial constraints;
  • Outdated and poor environmental policies and legislation;
  • Weak governance and lack of political will;
  • Inappropriate farming practices;

Awareness activities, undertaken by development agencies, have so far had little effect on combating forests degradation and biodiversity loss. Raising conservation awareness has succeeded in putting biodiversity issues firmly on global agendas. However, at local level, awareness of biodiversity is seldom linked to any real benefits for the target communities.

Awareness activities should be linked to economic development activities such as the provision of water, electricity, agricultural inputs, schools and hospitals surrounding forests and protected areas, in order to provide incentives for conservation. In the absence of material incentives for conservation, it is difficult to provide attractive messages about biodiversity values of the forests that could contribute to changing attitudes among poor communities who need forests for their livelihoods.

People will be empowered to protect their environment when they

  • are organised to take action;
  • have a measure of control over access to the natural resource base;
  • have the necessary information and knowledge;
  • believe that their social and economic well-being is dependent on sound long-term resource management.

The creation of alternative livelihoods, including nature-based businesses, is a useful local approach to enhance sustainable use of forests and biodiversity. This could be implemented by linking biodiversity to the potential income and services it provides. Examples include beekeeping, tourism, butterfly farming, cultivation and domestication of fruit trees and medicinal plants. In the longer term, traditional medicines that serve rural communities may be more difficult or expensive to obtain because of shrinking forests.

Sustainable forest management could become a means of creating millions of green jobs, thus helping to reduce poverty and improve the environment. Since forests and trees are vital storehouses of carbon, such an investment could also make a major contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity

Constraints

  • Lack of awareness about the real benefits from biodiversity conservation, which leads to insufficient community participation in sustainable use and conservation interventions;
  • Unsustainable traditional practices and loss of indigenous knowledge for biodiversity conservation;
  • Natural resource loss and ecosystem degradation due to agricultural expansion, exploitative logging, mining, bush meat hunting; poaching, and urbanisation, bush fires, coastal exploitation of marines resources;
  • Inappropriate agricultural practices combined with population growth lead to soil exhaustion resulting in increasing demand for land, which lead encroachment on natural resources;
  • High-energy demand from natural resources for the rural poor;
  • Lack of awareness activities about the roles of ecosystems and their ecological services to society as a whole;
  • Lack of green strategies that promote options for local communities to benefit from conservation of ecological services and forest products;
  • Poor natural resources governance structures which are characterized by top-down decision-making, lack of transparency and accountability, corruption and mismanagement of natural resources;
  • Local communities overexploit natural resource resources and engage in inefficient land-use practices;
  • Increased demand for land and natural resources products;
  • Lack of incentives (agricultural inputs, credits, technologies, and land security) for local investment in land management and use of idle lands;
  • Lack of proper integration and dissemination of traditional knowledge systems in the management and conservation of natural resources;
  • Inadequate political recognition and celebrations of biodiversity as a precious heritage and contributor to the national economy;
  • Lack of assessments and public debates about the consequences of biodiversity loss due to human activities.

Priority  action

  • Formulate educational programmes and campaigns to increase awareness about the role and value of natural resources;
  • Introduce incentives for conservation of natural resources and efficient use of alternative energy;
  • Identify and promote socially and economically important and endangered  indigenous species to provide the essential forest products to meet the needs of local people and industry;
  • Promote efficient use of fuel wood to release pressure from indigenous forest reserves through the introduction of  alternative sources of energy;
  • Increase seedling production, especially of indigenous species, in nurseries as well as encouraging rural communities, schools and NGOs to set up and operate their own forest nurseries;
  • Improve research on the ecology and utilization of indigenous species and develop gene banks on indigenous and crop species;
  • Strengthen reforestation programmes by increasing public participation
  • Incorporate indigenous knowledge and cultural considerations into research, management and monitoring of biological resources;
  • Work with local farmers to research and develop sustainable technologies in farming methods for increased crop productivity;
  • Enhance the creation of jobs related to the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of biological resources;
  • Enhance the capacity of communities residing in or adjacent to protected areas to participate in protected area management;
  • Promote innovative ways of improving benefit flows to people in and around protected areas;
  • Encourage the planting of indigenous crops and trees to build the local resource base and to improve the environment;
  • Improve awareness and education about the importance of natural resources.
  • Build the capacity of community-based organizations in the natural resources for advocacy in support of biodiversity conservation at all levels;
  • Encourage the planting of indigenous crops and trees to build the local resource base and to improve the environment;
  • Develop eco-agriculture practices including agro-forestry, organic farming, introduction of high value crops (e.g. medicinal plants and tree fruits);
  • Compile and document biodiversity indigenous knowledge, support awareness programmes that increase public knowledge of biodiversity values of the natural resources;
  • Support cultural and spiritual practices that benefit biodiversity in natural resources (e.g. sacred natural resources).