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Students join FAO to celebrate role of biodiversity for healthy food and life

Photo: © FAO/Samuel Creppy

22 May 2019, Accra – Hundreds of students from the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to celebrate the International Day of Biodiversity to emphasize the role of biodiversity in food security and nutrition in Africa.

The event also launched the publication Africa Regional Synthesis for the State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, which is a result of efforts from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Subsequently, FAO’s Senior Technical Officers in Forestry and Animal Health presented the importance of biodiversity to today’s and future generations’ food and agriculture and how the need for protection, sustainable management and restoration of this natural capital ensures our health.

With the theme on, “Our Biodiversity, our food, our health,” students supported FAO’s lead role in ending hunger in Africa. GIJ, established in 1959 by Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, is one of the leading journalism universities in West Africa.

On the collaboration with the Accra-based university, Nora Berrahmouni, Senior Forestry officer at FAO Regional office for Africa said, “By engaging young journalism students from GIJ, we wanted to make sure that biodiversity is everyone’s business, and not only for those in the technical sector. Moreover, with their participation, FAO envisions to raise awareness on the biodiversity issues and Zero Hunger through the voices of future communicators and influencers of Africa across agriculture sectors including crop and livestock production systems, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture.”

“The Management of GIJ believes that the drive towards food security and a healthier and sustainable environment cannot be left solely on the shoulders of international players like FAO and UN at large. This herculean responsibility ought to be duly shared by academic institutions, civil society organizations and other key stakeholders. This is why the GIJ deems it urgent to build the capacity of both faculty and students in issues of biodiversity and sustainability so that it becomes top of the priority list for the new group of communicators and academics alike,” Professor Kwansah-Aidoo, Rector of GIJ explained.

After the publication launch, a student debate took place, where future media practitioners discussed the role of journalism to safeguard biodiversity and tackle the ongoing issues in Ghana that could endanger biodiversity. Additionally, the celebration served as a venue for a Color Run, where students dynamically used their creative talents in expressing the biodiversity messages in vibrant colors.

Africa Regional Synthesis for the State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture

Based on country reports, and discussions of gaps, needs and priorities collected through individual country efforts and regional workshops, the publication summarizes the state of biodiversity for food and agriculture in Africa. Findings  highlight that Africa’s biodiversity as in other regions, is under threat, putting at risk the sustainability of the region’ s production systems, livelihoods, food security and nutrition. On the positive  side, there are good practices implemented on the ground by farmers, dwellers and fishers, and other practitioners that merit to be supported and scaled up to reverse the biodiversity loss and degradation trends in plant, animal, aquatic and forest production systems and the ecosystem services associated with them.

The report indicates that there is a great deal of scope for improvements to biodiversity-related policies and programmes, whether by ensuring a greater focus on links to food and agriculture, improving cross-sectoral cooperation, deepening stakeholders’ involvement or strengthening implementation capacity. Significant knowledge gaps need to be filled and the knowledge of biodiversity threats and drivers needs to be improved and acted upon.

This report will help raise the profile of biodiversity for food and agriculture and serves as a basis to launch a constructive dialogue within Africa on mainstreaming biodiversity in agriculture sectors, leading to developing a comprehensive road-map, guiding and facilitating concrete actions on conservation and sustainable use, management and restoration of Africa’s biodiversity.

Biodiversity and Healthy Eco-systems

Biological diversity is the foundation for our food, nutrition and health and a key catalyst to transforming food systems, improving human health and contributing to poverty reduction. The loss of agricultural biodiversity can pose a serious risk to food security and public health. Today, at the global level, 75 percent of humanities’ food is generated from only 12 plants and 5 animal species and in the last 100 years, and more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields. This is generally due to the reliance of the global food production system on a limited number of species and varieties of plants and animals and the intensification of the production. Diversifying food sources could play a critical role in ensuring a healthy agro-ecological system, food security and nutrition, improving rural livelihoods, and enhancing the resilience of people and communities.

Looking ahead, in light of growing demographics, meeting the global demand for food while preserving biodiversity and ensuring the “health” & function of agro-ecological systems will be necessary. Greater production of livestock, aquaculture, crops, fruits, and vegetables has the potential to result in habitat conversion to agriculture leading to loss of forests, wetlands, & grasslands, loss of biodiversity, loss of ecosystem services provided by human-modified & natural systems, and increased run-off of potential pathogens, antimicrobials and waste.

Scott Newman, Senior Animal Health and Production Officer highlighted that “human, animal and environmental health are inextricably connected through the ecological realities governing life. One Health takes on the challenge of balancing needs of people & ensuring sustainable functional ecosystems, in light of an increasing global population, development and consumption, in a world with limited natural resources. Addressing these complex issues requires a multidisciplinary team of experts collaborating at local, national, regional, and global levels, the essence of One Health”.

The use of diverse native plants and varieties which are more adapted and tolerant to hotter and drier conditions can be an example. Similarly, more diverse livestock would allow farmers and pastoralists to breed animals which could adapt to changing environmental conditions. This is especially important nowadays in the face of emerging challenges such as the impacts of climate change, rapid urbanization and also a growing population with changing diets.

Berrahmouni added “With the population growth in sub-Saharan Africa being one of the highest in the world, it is a future challenge for the region to provide safe and nutritious food to this fast-growing population. Therefore, protecting the natural capital with all its diversity, forests, grasslands and agroforestry and agroecosystems for example is key. FAO is supporting countries and regional economic communities in collaboration with partners, in mainstreaming biodiversity into agricultural policies and practices. This is crucial to achieve transformative change in food production without hampering future generations. It will help achieve a healthier eco-system while simultaneously safeguarding the planet’s biodiversity and achieving the Sustainable development Agenda.”

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