In a report published today by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the National Herbarium of Guinea-UGANC highlight initiatives to protect biodiversity and support the well-being of local communities in West Africa, including countries such as the Republic of Guinea .
According to the latest and largest data set published in the World Wildlife Fund’s 2022 Living Planet Report, groups of monitored wildlife — mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish — have declined 69% since 1970, based on an analysis of nearly 32,000 species. Adding to this grim picture of the planet’s health, RBG Kew’s State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020 report estimates that 2 out of 5 plants globally are threatened with extinction.
The WWF, RBG Kew, and partners are now calling on governments, businesses and the public to take a stand against the ongoing biodiversity crisis. Among the biggest threats to nature today are land use change, habitat destruction, and overexploitation of plants and animals. However, scientists warn that climate change could become an even greater driver of biodiversity loss in the coming years if global warming is not limited to 1.5°C.
“We are facing the twin emergencies of human-induced climate change and biodiversity loss, threatening the well-being of present and future generations,” says Marco Lambertini, WWF Director-General. The WWF is deeply concerned by this new data showing a devastating fall in wildlife populations, on the In particular, in the tropics that are home to some of the most biodiverse landscapes in the world.”
The tropics are among the most biologically diverse places on the planet, home to an incredible variety of animals, plants, and fungi. However, plants are often underrepresented in global conservation efforts, highlighting the need to open data on their diversity and distribution for better informed conservation policy. This effort is supported by the Important Tropical Plant Areas Program (TIPAs), launched at RBG Kew in partnership with Plantlife International, through which Kew scientists and their partners work together, country by country, mapping regions of irreplaceable plant diversity in terms of Threatening species, including those of social and economic importance, as well as threatened habitats.
These programs are critical not only to the protection of nature, but can also support the breeding and cultivation of “beneficial” indigenous plant species that improve the cultural and economic well-being of local communities. In Guinea, for example, the fruits and nuts of many trees have traditionally been harvested from wild forests. Unfortunately, rampant deforestation resulted in the deforestation of 96% of Guinea’s indigenous forests by the 1990s.
Denis Mollmo, the national herbarium of Guinea and lead author of part of the LPR, says that “Guinea is a country with great biodiversity. This diversity is irrationally exploited and degraded at a significant rate by human activities. In 2021, 167 kiloha of cover loss was recorded The arbor by Global Forest Watch”.
“The main causes of this destruction are forest fires, slash-and-burn agriculture, coal, logging, mining and urbanization, all underlined by the increasing population pressures on resources. Forest diversity plays multiple roles in the social and economic life of the people of Guinea. They occupy a vital place in most aspects of the population. The daily lives of the residents by providing them with food, fibre, medicine, fuel, shelter, clothing and even the air we breathe.”
Scientists are now warning that demand for edible nuts like tola (Beilschmiedia mannii), petit kola (Garcinia kola) and gingerbread plum bansouma (Neocarya macrophylla) is outpacing the available supply. This is a worrying development because these nuts are a vital and highly prized source of nutrition that can support human health.
Initiatives are now underway in Guinea to introduce these species along with the endangered trees in the buffer zones of three Important Tropical Plants (TIPAs). Scientists believe this approach provides an incentive for local communities to conserve nature, while also providing better access to nutrition and the economic benefits from harvesting it. Protecting the welfare of local communities in Guinea is a vital aspect of RBG Kew’s conservation work as the country is ranked among the lowest in the Human Development Index.
“More than 60% of the population of Guinea live in rural areas and depend on natural products for food and medicine. They are sold in regional city markets and are in great demand,” says Charlotte Koch, Project Officer: Important Tropical Plant Areas (TIPAs) in Guinea in Kew. The government and the private sector should promote the cultivation of these non-wood forest products and other native species in their reforestation programs to invest in people so that they can improve their livelihoods as guardians of these species.”
Martin Cheek, senior researcher on Kew’s Africa team, adds, “We need to take action on the ground now to support local communities around TIPAs to protect natural habitats by using them sustainably, otherwise they will have no choice but to continue to degrade and survey them.”
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Provided by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
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