Biodiversity: a pillar for building a better future

The Chronicle

Fortunes Matutu, Correspondent
Preserving BIODIVERSITY is the solution to many of the sustainability challenges we face today. It contributes to sustainable development by maintaining a healthy, productive and resilient natural ecosystem and by providing essential resources and services.

Biodiversity is the variety of plant and animal life in a given place. It consists of three characteristics that are interconnected: species diversity, ecosystem diversity and genetic diversity. The more the functionalities are interconnected, the more the system is dense and resilient.

Many urban settlers view flora and fauna as obstacles to a healthy lifestyle, while rural dwellers view nature as free resources that should be exploited abundantly. Some people are frightened by nature, and some would do anything to avoid it.

It is a fact, however, that biodiversity is vital to all of us. The enormous variety and complex interactions between species, however small or insignificant they may seem, keep our ecosystems functioning and our economies productive.

Maintaining biodiversity ensures that nature provides nutritious food, clean air, water, secures livelihoods, mitigates climate change and acts as a buffer against extreme weather events. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are all ultimately dependent on biodiversity.

There are many new medicines derived from nature, such as traditional African medicine which is largely derived from trees. Biodiversity offers nature-based solutions for climate change, health issues, food security, water security and sustainable livelihoods. Despite the importance of biodiversity, humans are destroying it. Although it may seem that our planetary system is permanent, it is subject to collapse.

There has been a significant loss of biodiversity in Zimbabwe over the past decade due to habitat destruction due to urban, agricultural and mining expansion; unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, wildlife poaching, deforestation, invasive alien species and climate change. Habitat destruction has a major impact on species populations because it deprives species of what they are naturally used to.

Deforestation

This isolates species, reduces the area where they can live, and creates new ecological boundaries.
In the case of the amacimbi, mopane trees are cut down for wood, building materials and firewood, which puts pressure on their existence.

When harvesting amacimbi, some people cut down the same mopane tree for access while others cut it down for firewood. All this has a negative impact and threatens the existence of mopane worms.

Over the past decade, there has been a shift from harvesting mopane worms for subsistence to marketing them in rural and urban markets. The growing importance of mopane worms as a commercial product has led to the overexploitation of the insect and the destruction of the mopane tree.

Macimbi only feed on mopane worm leaves. In their absence, they are left to starve. Mopane worms have been found in other tree species and even in crops during unsuccessful attempts to find other food sources.

herembi

The presence of mopane worms has become unpredictable and unreliable due to deforestation, soil disturbance, and structural changes in mopane forests. There have been reports of mopane worms dying because there is not enough forage (leaves). With the degrading state of mopane forests, we are seeing a new phenomenon of mopane worms dying after they have finished eating all the leaves.

The Macimbi are not only a source of food and income, but also an important part of the mopane forest ecosystem. Ecologically, they convert plant matter into nutrients so that they are available to other animals and plants.

Deforestation can lead to loss of biodiversity when animals that depend on trees for their existence lose their habitat and food.

Forest loss does not simply mean that all biodiversity is wiped out, but it often results in a significant shift in the species mix as some species will thrive while others disappear and others become fragile.

Biodiversity loss and habitat destruction affect not only flora and fauna, but also human beings.

Several studies have shown a link between the destruction of nature, the subsequent loss of biodiversity and the increased risk of zoonoses – an infectious disease that passes from a non-human animal to humans. Pathogens thrive where there are changes in the environment, such as deforestation, and where natural ecosystems are stressed by human activity. The Covid-19 pandemic is a reminder of the close relationship between human health and planetary health. It is estimated that 70% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic.

A degraded ecosystem exposes an area to natural disasters such as floods, droughts, crop failures, the spread of disease, and water contamination. In contrast, a healthy ecosystem with good management practices reduces the chances of these events occurring or at least reduces negative impacts.

A flood. Image from Afrik21

Biodiversity loss also increases human-wildlife conflict as species without suitable habitat are forced to come into contact with humans.

Poaching and unsustainable hunting for food is another major factor. When people hunt wildlife, they force their prey to kill their livestock to survive. As part of hunting, people also cause habitat destruction by deliberately starting veld fires.

Hunters light veld fires to flush out wild animals and mice so they can be caught more easily. These veld fires subsequently cause significant damage resulting in loss of biodiversity.

Biodiversity is important for ensuring food security. A well-maintained ecosystem provides clean water, protects and improves soil for crops, scavenges nutrients, provides alternative food sources, and maintains climate. Therefore, there is a need to move towards a more sustainable future through the preservation of biodiversity.

Preserving biodiversity means finding ways to coexist with other living organisms without harming them.

To protect forests, water bodies and wildlife habitats, we must consider diverse habitats in our land use systems, agricultural practices and socio-economic activities.

Biodiversity — “Building a shared future for all life”.

Fortunes Matutu is a forester with the Forestry Commission and has a particular interest in social forestry.