Biodiversity: Africa’s greatest asset
The degradation of natural ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity in poor African countries could destroy the foundations for future growth, writes Leon Louw, founder and editor of WhyAfrica
According to a World Bank Group paper titled Unlocking Nature-Smart Development, there is sufficient evidence to prove that nature loss is capable of erasing recent gains in development in some of the poorest countries of the world. However, investing in nature can also be a development opportunity if we equip African leaders, businesses, and policymakers with as much data about biodiversity as possible.
As people continue to make progress, urbanisation, mining, agricultural production, and wildlife exploitation increases, adding pressure to an already stressed natural environment which results in a loss of biodiversity, threatening life as we know it.
To mitigate this ever-impending threat, measuring and recording changes in the abundance of wild populations and habitats, particularly in relation to how we use land can provide insight into the impact human activity is having on nature.
Governments sit with the conundrum of balancing the growing demands of socio-economic development with environmental needs to ensure people and societies thrive alongside the biodiversity on which they depend.
Dr Hayley Clements is a researcher at the Centre for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch University, and at the core of what she does is understanding how biodiversity connects to human well-being.
Through the newly-launched Biodiversity Intactness Index for Africa, the BII4Africa project is making a holistic assessment at country, province and even municipal level for government, conservation and natural resource management decision-makers to have the biodiversity information they need to guide sustainable development.
The Biodiversity Intactness Index assesses the average change in abundance of all species due to the land uses and human activities in the observed region. This accounts for changes over time and between locations which can be estimated by expert opinions to provide credible and practical information to use over alternative indicators that require extensive data and resources.
Decentralising data-driven decision making
The increased pressure we continue to put on the environment is pushing nature towards a series of tipping points, beyond which the amount of biodiversity lost will cause an ecological collapse. With the biodiversity Intactness Index being readily available, we will be able to answer questions like, how many more ecosystems must be conserved to avoid reaching a tipping point?
Funded by the Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Research Grant, which is awarded annually by Oppenheimer Generations to support research programmes focused on contributing to the advancement of environmental and allied sciences in Africa, this project today allows over 100 biodiversity experts across the continent to contribute their knowledge to develop biodiversity intactness index scores for Africa that are simple to understand.
All this work will help policymakers and broader stakeholders make the best-informed decisions for appropriate land use allowing us to balance the growing demands of socio-economic development with environmental needs.
Applying this data and information will go a long way in informing investment decisions about conservation and sustainable development. There is no doubt that investing in conservation has numerous economic spin-offs.
Investing in nature-based solutions
Seeing nature as a solution can help countries tackle multiple challenges simultaneously, like food and water security, human health, and climate change. For instance, green infrastructure, such as mangroves, wetlands, and watersheds can enhance the performance of traditional infrastructure built for flood protection. Between 2012 and 2017, 81 World Bank projects supported green infrastructure and urban biodiversity solutions (Browder et al. 2019). It is estimated that nature-based solutions could deliver 37% of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed through 2030 (Griscom et al. 2017).
Wildlife economies critical in Africa
With wildlife tourism in Africa heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an increasing recognition of the need for growth and diversification within the sector.
According to Oppenheimer Generations Head of Research and Conservation, Dr Duncan MacFadyen, sustainable and inclusive wildlife economies are critical to the future of wildlife conservation in Africa. “However, there is a lack of knowledge of wildlife economies and what is required to enhance their contribution to sustainable development and wildlife conservation across the continent,” says MacFadyen.
The African Wildlife Economy Institute (AWEI) of Stellenbosch University in South Africa recently received R10-million from the Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation team to promote sustainable and inclusive wildlife economies across Africa.
The Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation team is a research entity which supports, funds and partners with national and international researchers to conduct cutting-edge research focused on the natural sciences.
The AWEI’s academic mandate is multidisciplinary working across the faculties of Stellenbosch University and collaborating with universities, research institutes, and conservation organisations across Africa. AWEI aims to generate new research on wildlife economy and to use it to enhance policies, governance, and management practices within the sector.
The sustainability of the wildlife economy depends on well-functioning value chains in products such as tourism and recreation, hunting and fishing, and wildlife products including game meat.
Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.
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