Humanity is suffocating in its own civilisation. And the statistics are staggering: A million species face extinction mainly due to human activity. The ecosystems on which species depend is deteriorating at an unprecedented pace.
As one of the authors of the latest UN global development reports so unambiguously argued, “We are eroding the very foundations of economics, livelihoods, security, health and the quality of life worldwide”.
The report observes, for example, that pollinator loss has put up to $577 billion of crop output at risk while land degradation has reduced productivity of 23 per cent of the land. One can very confidently surmise that we’re engaged in a zero-sum game, where our quest to prosper is making us poorer as we leave in our wake a nature crisis.
The report goes beyond simply taking an inventory of destroyed species or degraded land mass and affirms the permanency of the interactions between biodiversity, climate and human well-being. If one deteriorates, the others are similarly degraded. And this crisis threatens our very existence.
And yet, despair is not an option; which is why it is encouraging that the report has attracted significant attention. For example, Britain and Ireland have declared climate emergencies. There is broad recognition around the world that we must do things differently.
The UN has outlined a series of remedial actions. It’s urging governments to rethink trade rules, invest more in green infrastructure and encourage individual responsibility in how we live.
The report reaffirms that there is no tension between the conservation of wildlife and wild lands and development, or between local and international conservation priorities. Indeed, these dichotomies are inherently misleading for they present people with false choices. When nature is destroyed, businesses eventually fail and livelihoods are put at risk.
Also, the report makes quite clear the interconnectedness of ecosystems, economies and livelihoods. For conservation efforts to work, we must address the debilitating poverty that still scars much of Africa. Only then can these efforts be sustainable.
We also must work with local communities to ensure that our efforts are not only informed but also shaped by local needs and experiences. Through economic empowerment, communities will continue being incentivised to continue conservation practices.
Africa’s political and economic vulnerability means it’s disproportionately affected by the effects of biodiversity loss. Instances of hunger and natural disasters are becoming, unsurprisingly, ever more common.
The UN report notes that biodiversity loss is least severe in places where local communities have control over their natural resources. Many in Africa don’t.
Partnerships with communities, governments and other stakeholders have led to the remarkable success of some of our initiatives. In Tanzania, for example, we’re working with the government and local communities in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) to create migration corridors for wildlife. This is an initiative to triple agricultural output over a 20-year period and lift two million people out of poverty in the region.
This partnership has already helped 2,000 small-scale farmers from 13 Kilombero District villages increase their incomes through better cultivation methods and adoption of new marketing opportunities; this while preventing agricultural encroachment into protected areas, thus reducing human-wildlife conflict.
In Zimbabwe and Mozambique, we’ve similarly worked with the government and local communities to create conservancies for wildlife.
Overall, such efforts are bearing fruit across the continent. There has been a notable recovery of some endangered species. Rhino numbers are up in Kenya and elephant populations have stabilised in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Mountain gorillas have exceeded 1,000 after years of concerted conservation efforts in the Virunga, a mountainous region area covering parts of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. This is the only great ape in the world considered to be growing in number.
These successes tell us that we can manage and reverse this crisis. But we must do it collectively for this is a task no single sector, government, business or philanthropist will be able to remedy. Together, we have a responsibility to undo the harm we’ve done the world and by doing so, save ourselves.
There can be no better incentive to make sure we do things right.
Mr Sebunya is the CEO, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). [email protected]