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Why Biodiversity Conservation is Crucial to Nigeria's Future Development

Biodiversity supports a larger number of plant species and, therefore, a greater variety of crops. It's protected freshwater resources, promote soils formation and protection and provide for nutrient storage and recycling. The effective conservation of biodiversity in Nigeria has been hampered by factors, such as population numbers, use of land, and their lifestyles, causing damage to habitats for species.

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All around the world, species live together and depend on one another. Every living thing, including man, is involved in these complex networks of interdependent relationships. Approximately half of Earth’s terrestrial surface is considered to be in a natural or seminatural condition. There are three components of biodiversity are ecosystem, species and genetic diversity. Ecosystems perform functions that are essential to human existence, such as oxygen and soil production and water purification. As humans, we could not live without these “ecosystem services”. They are what we call our natural capital.

Biodiversity is important because it allows for organisms to adapt to their environment, and to survive dramatic environmental changes. Each species has a specific niche, a specific role and function in an ecosystem. These roles include capturing and storing energy, providing food, predation, decomposing organic matter, cycling, water and nutrients, controlling erosion, controlling pests and climate regulation. Species support biological production and regulation throughout the food chain in a variety of ways, such as adding to soil fertility, pollination, plant growth, predation and waste decomposition.

An Avitourism manager at International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nafeesat Oyenike Oyejide stated, "Nigeria is blessed with diverse ecosystems which are classified into Arid zone; Guinea Savanna woodlands; Coastal and Marine Ecosystems; Rainforest belt including montane forests; and Wetlands and River basins. Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play."

"We depend largely on biodiversity resources for food supplies and supplements. Biodiversity in our ecosystems contributes largely to the variety of food available. The wide range of ecosystems in Nigeria makes it a potentially high tourism destination. Nigeria’s biodiversity helps in scientific and educational researches. It provides an outdoor laboratory for researchers and unlimited opportunity for research in medicine, biotechnology, pest control and management and anthropology."

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The decline of ecosystems and species fundamentally disrupts the provision of ecosystem services from clean water to healthy soil upon which humanity depends. It eliminates sources of food, fibre and medicine that three billion people depend upon directly. It fuels greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, which also profoundly impacts health. It eliminates genetic diversity essential to agriculture and to the development of new medicines.

Nigeria geographical extent, spans different climatic and ecological zones. The diverse climatic conditions and physical features have endowed Nigeria with a very rich biodiversity. The diversity of the country’s natural ecosystems ranges from semi-arid savanna to mountain forests, rich seasonal floodplain environments, rainforests, vast freshwater swamp forests and diverse coastal vegetation. The mean annual rainfall ranges from about 450 mm in the northeast to about 3500 mm in the coastal Southeast, with rain falls within 90 to 290 days respectively. The mean annual temperature ranges from 27⁰C in the south to 30⁰C in the north with extreme of 14⁰C and 45⁰C and an altitude range of 0 – 1000m above sea level. The diversity of the country's natural ecosystems ranges from semi-arid savanna to mountain forests, rich seasonal floodplain environments, rainforests, vast freshwater swamp forests and diverse coastal vegetation.

Poverty, population growth, invasive alien species, climate change, nutrient loading and pollution, habitat fragmentation or change, trans-boundary insurgency and overexploitation are core factors depleting biodiversity in Nigeria. Other threats to biodiversity conservation in Nigeria include economic development, incomplete or non implementation and non ratification by government of international treaties and conventions on conservation issues and ambiguous governmental laws on biodiversity. Biodiversity loss can disrupt community traditions and livelihoods, the source of other medical treatments and medicines, including by and for many of the world’s poor, indigenous peoples and local communities Also, low budgetary allocations to the forestry sub-sector have curtailed national efforts to reforest large areas that have been deforested.

As the poor are pushed by the affluent and influential majority to destroy their own source of livelihoods for meagre financial returns and the poor, due to deprivation, find it difficult to secure any other alternative than to erode the very foundation of their own long term survival. Moreover, the readily available option for food, fibre and minimal commercial gain by the rural poor and the receiving end is biodiversity.

[caption id="attachment_11427" align="aligncenter" width="300"] A mountain in silhouette inside Nigeria’s Gashaka-Gumti National Park. Photo by Rosemary Lodge/Flickr.[/caption]

Nigeria’s large population is characterized by high percentages of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty, which act as powerful drivers of increasingly severe demands on the remaining biodiversity in the country. Ecosystem conversion and ecosystem degradation contribute to habitat fragmentation. Habitat loss from exploitation of resources, agricultural conversion, and urbanization is the largest factor contributing to the loss of biodiversity. The consequent fragmentation of habitat results in small isolated patches of land that cannot maintain populations of species in the future. Decreased biodiversity also interferes with essential ecological services such as pollination, maintenance of soil fertility, flood controls, water purification, assimilation of wastes and the cycling of carbon and other nutrients.

Humans rely on technology to modify their environment and replace certain functions that were once performed by the natural ecosystem. Other species cannot do this. Human destruction of habitats accelerated in the latter half of the twentieth century. Habitat destruction can affect ecosystems other than forests. Rivers and streams are important ecosystems and are frequently modified through land development and from damming or water removal. Habitat loss is sometimes sweeping and significant, but equally harmful is the death by a thousand cuts; the removal of plants in your backyard, or trees in an urban setting.

Urban development (construction of homes, businesses, roads, and cottages), resource extraction (logging, mining, oil and gas), and agriculture (land conversion to farmland) degrade or completely eradicate areas on which species depend for food and shelter. The biodiversity of Nigerian aquatic ecosystems is increasingly being destroyed or depleted by persistent threat of sediment pollution, organic pollution, eutrophication, acidification, heavy metals and organochlorines, thermal pollution, nuclear pollution, human introductions (voluntary or accidental) and oil pollution.

Oyejide further stated, "Biodiversity threats are major triggers of climate change which include: Emissions from industrial processes, vehicles, liquid and solid waste, pesticides and chemical fertilizers for agricultural and domestic purposes release toxic substances into the air, soil or water, thereby affecting aquatic and other organisms in the environment which results in loss of species and disruption of the ecosystem Illegal logging, indescrimate felling of trees disrupts the ecosystem, prevent the absorption and storage of carbon dioxide.Unsustainable agricultural practices which emits greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide.Uncontrolled, Illegal and Bad Mining Practices.Gas flaring contributes to both the production of the acid in acid rain and increased carbon emissions into the atmosphere."

Although the Nigerian government established several forest reserves for conservation of forest resources, these forest reserves have been seriously neglected and received little or no improvement in terms of investment and management. The implication of these loses is that many plants and animals, including many potentially valuable species are on the fast track to extinction.These threats have caused biodiversity loss which has led the nation into loss of livelihoods, making poor people become even more impoverished; spread of diseases (zoonosis); reduced food production; migration and human conflict.

In Nigeria, the decline in the total forested area is now resulting in a widespread concern for conservation at both national and local levels. The remnant forest landscapes in South-Western Nigeria were now highly degraded and fragmented. In contrast, it has been estimated that between 50% and 75% of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara States in Nigeria are being affected by desertification. These states, with a population of about 35 million people account for about 35% of the country's total land area.

Conservation is inevitable to ensure that even with infrastructural developments, the resulting environment is satisfactory to the people, self sustaining or capable of being sustained, is healthful, challenging and offers opportunities for future change. The practice of protecting and preserving the wealth and variety of species, habitats, ecosystems, and genetic diversity on the planet, is important for our health, wealth, food, fuel, and services we depend on is known as biodiversity conservation. If managed or restored to allow species movement, a system of comprehensive wildlife and climate corridors could connect the world’s remaining intact habitats and enable adaptation in a rapidly changing world. In Nigeria, the conservation of biodiversity is very much fundamental to life and positive business performance especially in the oil and gas sector.

The constitution of forest reserves by authorities began in 1889 with Mamu Forest Reserve, created as a buffer between Ibadan and Ijebu territories. In 1956, the Yankari Forest Reserve in Bauchi province became the first game reserve in the country. Kainji Lake National Park, created in 1979, was the first national park. works. Cross River National Park was established in 1991, with two non-contiguous divisions, Oban and Okwangwo, spanning a combined area of about 4,000 square kilometers (1,545 square miles). The protected areas are distributed across the various ecological zones of the country.

"Reducing the overall “carbon footprint” the burning of fossil fuels by reducing energy use and using non-polluting energy sources such as solar, wind and other forms of "clean" energy, can help reduce global warming and help forest species to survive. Repairing and replanting wetlands, creek beds, forestland, and other habitats. Control Cutting down forests for development or agricultural purposes which obviously reduces their biodiversity and can result in the loss of other. Controlling and eradicating invasive species, collection of native seeds and planting and
enlightenment and awareness," Oyejide added.

However, Nigerian ecosystems (such as mangroves in the Niger-Delta and savannahs in the north) are constantly under threat from climate change, impacting the wellbeing and resilience of the millions of citizens whose livelihoods depend on farming and fisheries. This risks undermining economic development, pushing millions further into food insecurity and poverty. Through increase awareness and knowledge among communities about the benefits and provision of ecosystem services in Nigeria and by demanding that governments make decisions to preserve biodiversity, the human population will be able to sustain life on earth longer. Other approaches to preserve biodiversity in Nigeria are:

  • Develop reserves to conserve freshwater, brackish water and marine biodiversity;
  • Create and sustain gene and clone banks for plants and animal genetic diversity;
  • Enforce measures to eliminate or reduce environmental pollution that adversely affect biodiversity;
  • Diversification and extension of protected areas for the conservation of ecosystems that are most vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise;
  • Maintaining ecological structure and processes at all levels and reducing existing pressure on natural ecosystems;
  • Reducing population and ecosystem vulnerability to climate change and reorientation of their evolution towards higher resistance to the changes;
  • To protect ecosystems and human health, Nigerian government must conserve natural areas and their rich assemblages of microbial, plant and animal species;
  • Strengthening the institutional capacity of governments (Federal, State and Local) and its development partners for effective national climate change response, improving the effectiveness of climate change governance and management;
  • The need to take advantage of increasing array of funds and financial instruments available to further the course of biodiversity conservation;
  • Nigeria should take significant actions to build resilience or adaptive capacity to climate related natural disasters;
  • Incorporating biodiversity conservation into adaptation strategies in the other sectors of the Nigerian economy;
  • Establishment and maintenance of protected area (in situ preservation), and the active management of wild populations outside of protected areas (ex situ management);
  • Development and implementation of programmes for restricted areas and buffer zones, resource harvesting on a sustainable basis, ecological restoration, sustainable management and agro ecosystems;
  • Implementation of development projects in the water, sanitation, agriculture and agro-ecology sectors;
  • Monitoring to evaluate species and ecosystems stability from climate change perspective;

To this end, there is the need for improved enforcement, surveillance of the various the international and national legislations concerning biodiversity conservation and protection in which Nigeria is part of, as well as national and local law promoting biodiversity conservation.

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