Zimbabwe - Radical Steps Needed to Halt Biodiversity Loss

29 October 2020

Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor

Zimbabwe's Sixth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which was published by the Government recently provides an authoritative overview and some useful insights into the state of nature in the country.

The report notes the importance of biodiversity in addressing climate change and long-term food security, and concludes that action to protect biodiversity is essential to prevent future pandemics and loss of the country's valuable animal and plant resources.

Of major concern, is the rapid loss of Zimbabwe's biodiversity mainly from threats such as climate change and global warming, over-exploitation of natural resources, habitat loss and environmental degradation, pollution and invasive alien species.

The 177-page study acts as a wake-up call and encouragement for the country to put its act together and address continued biodiversity loss and the ongoing degradation of ecosystems which are having serious implications not only on wild flora and fauna, but profound consequences of human well-being and survival.

It is heartening that Zimbabwe successfully prepared and submitted this report in September 2019 and the document was approved and endorsed by the CBD secretariat in February 2020.

Contributors and stakeholders say the report holds a true record of Zimbabwe's progress, successes, shortcomings and lessons learnt during the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 under which parties were aiming to achieve the globally agreed 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

The country adopted the targets and went on to develop a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) of 2014, which selected 18 of the 20 Aichi targets to guide Zimbabwe-specific action towards achieving biodiversity conservation goals.

Zimbabwe is a party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. It signed and ratified the convention in June 1992 and November 1994, respectively.

Not all the targets, which concern the safeguarding of ecosystems and the promotion of sustainability have been fully met by Zimbabwe.

The country only managed to do some partial achievements owing largely to a combination of factors that include, the damaging impact of sanctions on the country's overall performance.

Contributors to the latest report say the country experienced economic challenges over the last two decades, driving up deforestation, timber and wildlife poaching and clearing of forests for farming.

The study notes that other means of resource extraction have become important activities for livelihood support among the majority of the poor.

As a result, the unsustainable use of natural resources has endangered the country's sustainable economic development.

According to the report, Zimbabwe has wild flora and fauna which include 6 398 native or naturalised plant species, 627 bird species, 270 mammals, 197 reptile species, 120 amphibian species and 145 fish species.

Despite efforts to manage the country's biodiversity by various Government agencies, natural resources are under immense pressure from people who seek ways to enhance their livelihoods.

The new study estimates that 54 plant species present in Zimbabwe are listed as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with 16 being endangered and 38 vulnerable.

"Twenty bird species that have been recorded in the country are globally threatened with extinction and of these four are critical endangered, five are endangered and 11 vulnerable," researchers noted.

Eleven of Zimbabwe's mammalian species including the lion, leopard, rhinoceros and elephants are listed as globally threatened with extinction.

Other threatened reptile species include the Zambezi flapshell turtle, pancake tortoise, Marshall's pygmy chameleon, dwarf wolf snake and the emperor flat lizard.

Among the amphibians, seven species which are under serious threat include -- the Chimanimani stream frog, Nyanga river frog, Chirinda toad, Inyanga toad, cave squeaker, forest rain frog and the Nyanga reed frog.

Out of the country's 145 fish species -- the three-spotted tilapia, longfin tilapia and Kariba tilapia are threatened with extinction, with the latter reported to be critically endangered. Threats to Zimbabwe's biodiversity are many and varied.

Contributors to the report say the threats include agricultural expansion, infrastructural development and encroachment by settlements, over-reliance on wood energy, illegal wildlife trade, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change.

The report revealed that more than 150 non-native species have been identified, including 30 that are listed among the 100 of the world's worst invasive alien species.

Lantana camara, black wattle (Acacia mearnsii), the Nile tilapia, patula or spreading-leaved pine and water hyacinth have been shown to be harmful to vegetation and water ecosystems in various parts of the country.

Agricultural biodiversity loss has also been documented, with the country losing a number of plant crop genetic resources.

The country's premier resort spot -- the Victoria Falls and other water bodies are also under threat from the discharge of raw effluent.

Zimbabwe has developed national targets, strategies and actions to achieve the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Funding has emerged as one of the major challenges facing the country, despite limited support from international funding partners.

But Zimbabwe is not alone.

Many countries across the world are grappling from the degradation of biodiversity and are under pressure to accelerate action on biodiversity for sustainable development.

The novel coronavirus has compounded the problem as restrictive measures were now making it difficult to implement some of the action plans spelt out in national strategies.

A new set of targets, for the period between 2021 and 2030, is currently under negotiation, and is set to be considered at the 15th Conference of Parties of the Convention of Biological Diversity, which is scheduled to be held in Kunming, China, in May 2021.

The fight to conserve Zimbabwe's biodiversity is quite complex and will require the country to join forces with other countries both at the regional and international level to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss in a more coordinated manner.

Raising awareness among the population will be a great step towards boosting all efforts to conserve biodiversity in the country.

Production of the Sixth report is quite commendable, but what will be key is the mainstreaming of the strategies, implementation, information and research and more importantly mobilisation of resources to keep the country on track to achieve its targets.

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