The theme for this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity, celebrated today May 22, is ‘Our solutions are in nature’. This refers to the fact that nature has solutions to all the myriad of environmental, social and economic challenges that are facing mankind. It is like the Biblical text in Proverbs 6: 6-11 which, to wit, enjoins one who needs knowledge to go to the ant to study its ways and be wise.
The theme is appropriate at this period of the global pandemic of Covid-19, because nature provides our solutions to avoiding such crises, and so I have decided to refer to a sub-theme – ‘Ghana must protect, promote and respect its wilderness areas’ – in an effort to bring attention to the various nature or wilderness areas from where the solutions are waiting to be picked and used.
What is nature?
When we talk of nature, we are talking about biodiversity. Nature as biodiversity comprises all the natural or wilderness areas, the components of living organisms in them, the interactions they have with themselves and the surrounding environment, and finally the genetic identities that are unique to each individual member. Each natural ecosystem, such as grasslands, forests, mountains, rivers, coastal areas and oceans, is endowed with peculiar species of animals, plants and microbes that freely interact with each other and their surrounding physical environment.
Some verifiable solutions from nature
This diversity means nature can take care of the many difficulties faced by humankind. There is evidence of nature taking care of such events as disease outbreaks before they become Pandemics. This is why ‘Ghana must protect, promote and respect its wilderness areas’ because, as the following examples clearly illustrate, ‘Our solutions are in nature’:
- Nature ensures that wild animals have all they need in their habitats and, to avoid Pandemics, we must avoid getting close to wild animals and must not encroach on or destroy their habitats.
- Evidence that mangrove vegetation acts as a barrier to protect communities from surging tsunami waves in SE Asia tells us we must leave mangrove trees and only use them on sustainable basis.
- Green plants pick up carbon dioxide and release oxygen, ensuring all living things enjoy clean air. So nature teaches us to leave vegetation to clean the air and provide us with oxygen
- Certain plants absorb heavy metals from polluted soils, while other remove pollutants from water, and so the lesson from nature is to plant these to clean the soils and water.
- Nature teaches us that when a slope area is covered in vegetation, mud slides are prevented by the interlocking nature of the roots that stop soils loosening and sliding down the slopes.
- Nature teaches us that trees and vegetation intercept the strong forces of storms, reducing their power and the damage they cause to the environment, human life and livelihoods.
- Nature tells us that wetlands are reservoirs that act as sponges to absorb excess flood water and release it gradually as needed, and so should not be drained or turned into other land uses.
- Nature teaches us that lands destroyed by desertification can spring back when planted with cover crops and other vegetation, helping us overcome climate change impacts on food production.
- In fire prone areas, nature has certain plants that are fire resistant and sprout new shoots, leaves, flowers and seeds to continue their life cycle and provide ecosystem services following a fire
- Nature is providing an answer to plastic pollution with the discovery of a spider’s silk with tensile strength, viscosity, translucency and malleability equal to or exceeding that of plastic.
- Nature provides medicines such as treatments for snake bites, or the Akyeampong weed for healing wounds.
When one considers the range of contributions and the many others not captured here that nature provides for human well-being, one would have to feel blessed to have such resources in wilderness areas in one’s own territory or country. This is what has been bequeathed to Ghanaians and which must be cherished as a museum, a library, a learning place, a store house, a resource, a place for succor, and a place for spiritual and cultural upliftment.
The challenge to Ghana
It has been established (IPBES 2019) that rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining, and urban infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species, have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people, now sadly evidenced in the current COVID-19 pandemic.
It is obvious that there are lessons to take onboard. Ghana should learn fast from other nations that are respecting their natural and wilderness areas. Such areas that have an international stamp on them and recognized as Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas (GSBA) or Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) should be left alone to continue their ecosystem development and create the conditions for sustained ecosystem services that support human life. The Atewa Range Forest Reserve is in this category and must be promoted, protected and respected for the benefit of present and future generations.
Source: Prof Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, Dept of Plant and Environmental Biology, University of Ghana