The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 as the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase global understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.
Biological Diversity is the variety of plant and animal life on Earth, and the interactions among this varied life. Biodiversity is the foundation for life and gives humans the essential services needed to survive and thrive through ecosystems, which function due to the presence of biodiversity. Biodiversity therefore underpins peoples’ livelihoods and sustainable development in all areas of activity, including economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, water, erosion control, pollination of our crops, wildlife for tourism, as well as cultural and health sectors (clean air, clean water, medicinal plants all come from biodiversity and healthy ecosystems). By halting biodiversity loss, we are investing in people, their lives and their well-being. Rwanda, the third greenest country in the World, is considered a Biodiversity Hot Spot for its rich biodiversity, with many species found in this region (called endemic species) and nowhere else.
Each year, the International Day for Biological Diversity focuses on a particular theme. This year’s theme is “Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods”. Mainstreaming biodiversity is to integrate biodiversity into sectoral plans and policies using a variety of methods and approaches in order to achieve specific biodiversity goals. Sustaining people’s livelihoods means to minimize depletion of natural resources as much as possible while meeting our current needs so that future generations can meet their needs too and live a healthy and sustainable life. Biological diversity is the resource upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. It is the web of life where all organisms on earth are linked to each other, binding each into an interdependent ecosystem, in which all species have a role.
The care and commitment we put into biodiversity protection has a direct impact on all our lives. This means that if there is a biodiversity crisis, our health and livelihoods are at risk too. Despite this fact, we are using biodiversity in unsustainable ways – humans are currently using 25% more natural resources than the planet can sustain. As a result, species, habitats and local communities are under pressure or direct threats (for example from loss of access to fresh water). The unsustainable use of ecosystem services such as water, wetlands, natural pest controls, and soil fertility, for example, and the way people respect those services place biodiversity under serious threats. Many people are completely unaware of where the services they rely on come from. For example:
- About 100 million metric tons of aquatic life, including fish, mollusks and crustaceans are taken from the wild every year.
- Wild fruits, nuts, plant parts and meat from wild animals form a critical contribution to human diets and livelihoods in many countries, especially those with high levels of poverty and food insecurity.
- Most medical discoveries to cure diseases and lengthen life spans were made because of research on plant and animal biology and genetics. Every time a species goes extinct or genetic diversity is lost, we will never know whether research would have given us a new vaccine or drug. Plants have provided humans with many of the medicines we now purchase in pharmacies to heal our illnesses; research on plants produces the basis for many modern treatments used today, and there are likely many more plants to be discovered that could offer treatments for today’s urgent health care problems.
- Pollination services provided by wild bees contributes to the production of fruits and vegetables we rely on for our health and happiness; many of these pollinators live in our natural forests and travel to our farmers’ fields to provide this important service.
- Natural predators of the pests that destroy our food and cash crops, such as birds and insects, provide us with invaluable services that do not require use of harsh chemicals introduced into the environment that can harm our water sources or our children.
Sustainable management of biodiversity can positively affect millions of Rwandans by sustaining their livelihoods and wellbeing. Biodiversity is the pivot around which the lives of millions of people revolve. Biodiversity is important for socio‐economic activities such as agricultural, traditional health care, forestry, energy, housing, stress reduction, and tourism. Biodiversity allows for ecosystems to adjust to disturbances like extreme fires and floods, building resilience to environmental change.
Genetic diversity can help prevent diseases and help species adjust to changes in their environment, including climate change. As we lose individuals within a species, we lose this critical genetic diversity, a component of biodiversity.
Despite the high biodiversity and rich natural resources in Rwanda, there are significant conservation and management issues to be addressed. These include lack of strong national level conservation planning, limited involvement of all stakeholders in biodiversity conservation, lack of scientific knowledge and research capacity for sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources, and missing links between scientific knowledge and policies/ development strategies.
The Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (CoEB) is a new governmental organization in Rwanda working to address these problems and contribute to biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods for all Rwandans. The Center provides knowledge‐based approaches for sustainable management of the wealth of biodiversity and natural resources in the Albertine Rift region.
The Center’s mission is to “enhance knowledge of biodiversity and natural resource management for sustainable development.” It is based at the University of Rwanda and is a collaboration between various governmental and non-governmental organizations to achieve the goal of “encouraging, enabling and supporting stakeholders to generate and apply knowledge on Biodiversity and Natural Resources for sustainable development.”
The Center works to ensure knowledge-based biodiversity conservation and management of resources by bringing organizations and stakeholders together to collaborate. The Center is organized around a central hub, the Biology Department in the College of Science and Technology at University of Rwanda, which serves as a coordinating body for key partners including governmental and non-governmental organizations involved in biodiversity conservation and natural resource management.
The aim of this coordination is to strengthen the research and management of biodiversity and natural resources and create clear links to policy and management. The Center is working to increase the knowledge of Rwandans on the usefulness of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources for people’s livelihoods. This is accomplished through education, research, and capacity building.
The Center raises awareness of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources by highlighting major threats that Rwanda’s biodiversity and natural resources are facing and offers conservation measures so that people can live in harmony with nature. Threats to biodiversity include population growth and resource consumption, climate change, habitat conversion and urbanization, invasive plant and animal species, over-exploitation of wildlife and natural resources, and environmental degradation. The Center will teach Rwandan people how to ameliorate their livelihoods without destroying biodiversity and natural resources through trainings, workshops and various activities in cooperation with the Center’s nodes and partners.
The Center coordinates biodiversity research and monitoring activities with nodes and partners, and makes information available for all stakeholders. Research information is translated into materials easily accessible by policy-makers to contribute to science-based management and decision-making.
Everyone can play a part in protecting the biodiversity and natural resources of his or her local community. The Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management will help you learn how to do this through strong collaboration and partnerships with Rwanda’s environmental and conservation organizations towards sustainable livelihoods for all Rwandans.
These are the activities that the center is planning to conduct while celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity: Mainstreaming Biodiversity, Sustaining People and their Livelihoods:
- Press release on Radio Rwanda and RTV.
- Delivering presentations in secondary and primary schools (Huye District)
- Distributing brochures in secondary and primary schools highlighting education and youth involvement as a weapon for sustainable biodiversity conservation.
- Hosting public lecture on 2016 International Day for Biological Diversity at University of Rwanda – Huye Campus with Huye campus staff, students, district staff and other institutions.
- Hosting a World Migratory Bird Day event organized jointly with Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (ACNR).
For more information, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 07844 61316.