Biodiversity in Africa

Crop diversity is decreasing at an accelerated rate in most African countries due to factors such as rapid expansion of industrial and green revolution agriculture, biofuels production, intensive livestock production, industrial fisheries and aquaculture, growing use of genetically modified varieties and breeds and the practice of monoculture, according to agronomists. The FAO has stated that of the quarter of a million plant varieties available for agriculture, less than 3% are in use today. It sites the major cause of genetic erosion of crops is the replacement of local varieties with improved or exotic species.

‘A variety of factors work against maintaining agricultural biodiversity. But among the most important is a lack of knowledge and awareness of agricultural diversity’s intrinsic value to society’, writes Dr Monty Jones, a veteran Sierra Leone plant breeder and executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, ‘Sustainable agricultural systems depend on a diversity of species to withstand attacks — from present and future diseases, pests, climate and other environmental changes — as well as unpredictable social, economic and market demands. This lack of awareness means inadequate attention and insufficient investment has been given to conserving biodiversity by actually using it. And this is contributing to the loss of irreplaceable genetic resources that are indigenous to Africa.”

Efforts have been made in Zimbabwe to establish a community seed bank to store crop material. The Chibika Community Seed Bank stores varieties of maize, groundnuts, pearl millet, sorghum, pumpkin, round nut, cowpeas, sugar bean, okra and cassava seed and some indigenous grains that are no longer found in rural farming communities. However, agricultural researchers warn that a large proportion of Africa’s crop diversity could be lost due to a lack of funding for these gene banks.

Restoring and protecting extinct and endangered indigenous food crops can help break dependence on a few global food crops and play a critical role in poor people’s livelihoods by widening food sources which can help to reduce hunger, disease and malnutrition. There is an urgent need for aggressive policies and sound financial support to stimulate interest among the youth to start growing indigenous crops and to expand community seed bank systems.

Source: The Herald

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