Int’l Conservation Expert urges nations to recognise role of biodiversity in sustainable development

Participants at the 2019 Biodiversity Information Products Workshop in Accra, in a group photograph

The Deputy Head of Programmes for the Ecosystems Assessment and Policy Support of the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP WCMC), John Taylor, has urged countries and all sectors of their economy to recognise the key role biodiversity plays in sustainable development.

He said biodiversity’s role in development is in terms of providing services such as good quality water, air, reduction of pollution, flood and disaster risks mitigation, ensuring sustainable healthy forest products, enhancing the fisheries sector, and improving agricultural productivity.

In an interview in Accra, Mr. Taylor noted that: “These are the services that in many ways over the past hundreds of years we have ignored and assumed they are free, and without which we wouldn’t be able to address the current global biodiversity crisis. Then, all of those sectors would suffer as well”.

He was in Accra to participate in a two-day workshop, which was one of several that have taken place since late 2016, to brainstorm on the status of biodiversity information; identify the biodiversity information needs of the various sectors; and create awareness of biodiversity information’s importance for decision-making.

The series of meetings and workshops are major components of the Connect Project, which seeks to ensure that biodiversity is prioritised in development planning and implementation processes. The project is being implemented in Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda in partnership with the Cambridge-based UNEP WCMC.

The Connect Project aims to mainstream biodiversity into government decision-making because of biodiversity’s importance in sustainable development. Therefore, the project recognises the need for a free, open and productive flow of data that can feed into the decision-making processes in planning and implementing development activities. The essence is that biodiversity resources such as forests, land, water and wetlands, as well as the pattern of uses and the nature of pressure on them, are key to sustainable development.

Mr. Taylor described the Connect Project as an important initiative that could contribute significantly to resolving the global biodiversity crisis. He said the project is serving as a catalyst to create the needed sectorial recognition of the benefits biodiversity offers them.

Mr. Taylor explained that because the different countries have slightly different contexts, such as different political systems and policy environments, one aspect of the Connect Project design is for countries “to share lessons and use those lessons to tell the global community how we can do biodiversity mainstreaming better”.

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He said Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda have been implementing the whole project – looking at the demand and supply, and sustaining built relationships. He commended the Ghana team for setting the pace in building a strong relationship with a wide range of stakeholders, “who are very much engaged in the process and understand its importance”.

In Ghana, Connect is hosted by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) of the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI). It is being collaboratively implemented by a team of national partners including Conservation Alliance, A Rocha Ghana, University of Ghana and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute (CSIR-PGRRI), Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Ministry of Fisheries, National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), and Ghana Statistical Services.

Together with its partners, the Ghana Project team has established that though biodiversity data exists, they are scattered and in unsuitable formats – making access difficult. Besides, financial constraints hinder the interpretation and use of existing data, while there is no political motivation to get biodiversity information, among other things. They also selected the agricultural sector as the area for focus in Ghana because of its significant contribution to the country’s GDP and its known negative impacts on biodiversity.

Therefore, at the July 16th and 17th 2019 workshop, participants who were mainly from the partner institutions as well as UNEP WCMC and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), examined the various identified information needs in the agricultural sector. They further compared the needs of the agriculture sector for biodiversity information with existing biodiversity data sets.

This workshop’s focus was important for the participants, because they agreed that in agriculture a lot hinges on biodiversity and its health. For instance, it is biodiversity that ensures crops are pollinated for yields. Also, biodiversity ensures availability of water to sustain the growth of crops and good quality air for humans.

For these reasons, the workshop Chairman, Prof. Alfred Oteng Yeboah, reminded participants to note: “We all need to understand that it is not just a project we’re implementing; we are experimenting to contribute to the knowledge it offers, to ensure we have effective policies in our respective corners of the world to the benefit of biodiversity.”

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He was hopeful that “with such understanding, we can all be committed to what we are doing”. Prof. Oteng Yeboah added that, for the next steps, he expects to see a prioritisation of identified biodiversity information products to be developed which can lead to informed decision-making in the agricultural sector.

The Chief Director of MESTI, Mrs. Levina Owusu, commended the partners for efforts they have put in so far to ensure that the objective of producing biodiversity information products is attained.

The Chairman for the Ghana Connect Project, Dr. George Essegbey, was grateful for the opportunity offered for collaboration in the development and testing of biodiversity information products as an important next step.

The CEO of the NBA, Eric Okoree, affirmed that the biodiversity information products to be produced will be packaged in ways which make them attractive, relevant, user-friendly and easily accessible.

Earlier, Raymond Owusu-Achiaw of Conservation Alliance International briefed participants on the Biodiversity Information Management Forum (BIMF) that has been formed in Ghana. He explained that the forum “is a confluence of biodiversity data holders and end users, aimed to mainstream biodiversity data to government decision processes”.

Mr. Owusu-Achiaw, who is the BIMF Coordinator, said members are from the diverse institutions in Ghana. He hinted that the Forum’s next steps are to formalise institutional partnerships and engagements, as well as continue offering technical support for partners to mobilise biodiversity data and mainstream programmes in Ghana.

The Connect Project Coordinator, Ernest Lamptey, also briefed participants on the project context analysis that was done to provide critical information to guide the implementation process. The study identified key stakeholders and institutions that the project had to engage with. Among other things, the study further identified the structural factors and decision-making processes of the agriculture sector which affect biodiversity in Ghana.

Martin Watson of Prospects, which is part of the UNEP’s WCMC Project Team working on the Connect Project in the three countries, was the workshop facilitator. In an interview, he emphasized: “At the end of the day, we will be judged on whether we have produced something, other the process we have gone through,” adding, “and we have another 12 months to deliver that”.

Participants at the 2019 Biodiversity Information Products Workshop in Accra, in a group photograph

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