Biodiversity, reduced to its simplest essentials, means biological diversity.
It encompasses all varieties of life forms on earth, which provide the building blocks for human existence and it makes for a balanced environment.
The United Nations (UN) proclaimed 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB), in order to raise awareness on the subject, while stimulating worldwide action aimed at conserving plants, animals and their environments.
The warning by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that biodiversity is facing some threat on the planet Earth underscores the importance of the global initiative.
“We are creating the greatest extinction crisis since the natural disaster that wiped out the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.
“Species have been disappearing at up to 1,000 times the natural rate, and this is predicted to rise dramatically.
“Based on current trends, an estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species, including one in eight of the world’s bird species, face extinction,” the Convention warns.
By the account of the Convention, humans share this planet with as many as 13 million other living species, including plants, animals and bacteria, out of which only 1.75 million have been named and recorded.
Scientists say that biodiversity also involves genetic species and ecosystem diversity, an incredible natural wealth, which form the ultimate foundation of the well-being of humans.
According to the CBD, “these complex intertwined systems and processes collectively provide our food, water and the air we breathe, which are the basic fundamentals of life.”
It says further that “every plant, animal and micro-organism has a role in regulating essential ecosystem services such as water conservation, decomposition of wastes and nutrient cycling, pollination, pest and disease control, flood prevention, carbon sequestration and much more”.
Environmentalists, therefore, concede that biodiversity is critical to the maintenance of a healthy environment, since its role in meeting human needs directly, as well as maintaining the ecological process is enormous.
They contend that biodiversity not only provides direct benefits such as food, medicines and energy, but also affords humans a life-support system.
“ It is also responsible for mitigating pollution, protecting watersheds and combating soil erosion,” they add.
Biodiversity, no doubt, plays the crucial role of acting as a buffer against excessive weather variations, which are ordinarily beyond human control and catastrophic.
Environmental experts lament that the environment has suffered a large-scale abuse worldwide, particularly in Africa, as a result of pollution, oil exploration activities, mining, war and other related human activities.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Africa plays host to “exceptional” biodiversity, including two of the five most important wilderness areas on Earth, namely: the Congo Basin and the Miombo-Mopane Woodlands and Savanna of Southern Africa.
The UNEP points out that nine of the planet’s 35 biodiversity hotspots the richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on Earth are in Africa.
Determined to ensure biodiversity conservation and protection worldwide, the UN agency launched a strategic partnership with PUMA, a German sports wear manufacturing company, for specific initiatives in Africa.
Under the partnership christened “Play of Life”, PUMA will support a year-long biodiversity effort of the UN, through the raising of public awareness on habitat and species conservation among football fans during soccer events worldwide.
Environmentalists, no doubt, believe that PUMA, which has a record of sponsorship of 12 African football teams, is distinctively positioned to help drive this initiative.
Many observers across the globe have hailed the UN declaration of 2010 as the IYB.
Dr Kanayo Nwanze, the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), says that the celebration, officially marked on May 22, presents an opportunity to remind the world of how agricultural biodiversity can improve productivity and nutrition, enhance livelihoods, respond to environmental challenges and ensure food security.
Nwanze’s viewpoint, analysts say, is in accord with the theme of the IYD, which is: “Biodiversity, Development and Poverty Alleviation”.
“Agricultural research for development can help protect and enhance biodiversity if it draws on the generations of knowledge accumulated by farming communities and indigenous peoples.” Nwanze says.
The IFAD chief notes that biodiversity has influenced traditions, the evolution of societies and the supply of basic goods and services on which trade and economies are built.
“Cultural biodiversity includes traditional knowledge of the uses of natural resources most relevant to our lives, such as medicinal plants used to treat specific ailments or indigenous crops resistant to harsh climatic conditions.
“The disappearance of unique species and varieties nurtured by generations of farmers and other users is thus an enormous loss to society as a whole,” Nwanze says.
In Nigeria, however, the Federal Ministry of Environment is championing the effort to conserve the nation’s biodiversity.
The ministry has published an action plan, “Nigeria National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan”, which is an effort to bridge the perceptible gaps in the management of biodiversity, as well as raise awareness on its importance.
The document discusses a wide range of perspectives and highlights the need for a new and more rational approach to the management and utilisation of biological resources.
Analysts say that the action plan demonstrates Nigeria’s commitment to the CBD, as it provides a basis for sustainable conservation of biodiversity in the country.
In the foreword of the document, Mrs Helen Esuene, a former Minister of Environment, wrote: “The last three decades have witnessed a steep increase in biodiversity loss and utilisation in Nigeria.
“Unless a shift is made towards sustainable development, severe irreversible damage would face our environment with profound ethical and aesthetic implications.”
According to her, the plan will spur interest and initiatives among foresters, conservationists and civil societies in promoting sustainable conservation.
Many agree that the action plan will develop an appropriate framework and programme instruments for the conservation of Nigeria’s biodiversity through its integration into national planning.
The document indicates the federal government’s commitment to conserving about 25 per cent of the total forest areas of the country.
It states in part: “Emphasis will be placed on in situ conservation of biodiversity within protected areas such as Forest Reserves, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
“ In situ conservation outside protected areas will also be encouraged to complement conservation of biological diversity inside protected areas to secure Nigeria’s biodiversity for future generations.”
Environmentalists say that the global climate change; the massive degradation of the environment through diverse and varied human activities, make biodiversity conservation imperative.
They, therefore, call for concerted efforts by all stakeholders to combat the degradation of the ecosystems, which is vital for human existence and a safer and prosperous future for mankind.
Many people across the world share the viewpoint that the IYB will significantly increase human knowledge about biodiversity issues and so transform the people’s values and beliefs in efforts toward biodiversity conversation.