WHAT IS BIODIVERSITY?
Biodiversity is defined as the variety of plant and animal life in the world or a particular habitat. Africa is very biodiverse. It contains a quarter of the biodiversity of the entire planet.
WHY IS BIODIVERSITY IMPORTANT?
A high level of biodiversity has biological and social benefits. More species of plants allow more variety in crops. This makes food supplies more resistant to natural disasters or new challenges such as climate change. There is also a higher chance of new medical discoveries. Biodiversity is also important for the economy. Many people’s livelihoods in countries such as Madagascar depend on eco-tourism. Visitors come to places such as Madagascar to see the natural environment and this means they spend money in the area.
WHY IS BIODIVERSITY AT RISK?
Africa’s plants and animals are under threat from many sources. One example is deforestation, where cutting down trees for firewood or to expand farmland destroys plants and animals. 4% of Madagascar’s forests disappeared in 2016. Overfishing and exploitation of wildlife also threaten biodiversity.
The biggest danger to biodiversity in the long term is climate change. Many studies predict large losses in biodiversity if global temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius. Melting sea ice means the loss of an important habitat. Changes in climate also make droughts more likely and cause sea temperatures to rise. Many species will not be able to adapt to sudden changes in the environment. Estimates say that by the end of the century over 50% of Africa’s bird and mammal species could be lost. Warming seas could endanger marine life sooner. Millions of people rely on the ocean for food and income.
WHAT IS BEING DONE?
Fortunately, the world is becoming more and more aware of this problem. Global meetings of government leaders are being held to make strategies to protect biodiversity. Examples of protective measures include breeding programs and reducing deforestation. These strategies often try to generate income from biodiversity, for example through tourism. This can help improve the local economy as well as preserving biodiversity.
Many different African countries have now begun to protect biodiversity. In 2016, Kenya launched a five-year program to include biodiversity conservation in its climate change planning. They proposed solutions such as seed banks and nurseries for trees. Seed banks store seeds in a secure environment for many years so they can be planted again in the future. These would protect plant species for future generations.
Projects to maintain biodiversity are part of South Africa’s development plans. Marine protected areas are widening. They also have plans to increase the size of National Parks and nature reserves. This will hopefully bring tourists to new areas. Importantly, businesses are becoming more interested in these strategies. Organisations such as the Responsible Fisheries Alliance are helping. In 2017 they had provided training in responsible fishing for 1400 people in the industry. This helps to reduce overfishing and protect marine life.
There are many more global projects in place to maintain biodiversity. Although there are still problems, these will hopefully protect African plants and animals for many generations.