Human health and wellbeing at great risk unless biodiversity and genetic resources extraction in Africa is halted

“We need more genetic diversity, not less, and we need to vigorously defend genetic diversity as a common good, not something that can be extracted and privately profited from.”

The ACB has collaborated with the Regional Network for Equity in Health in East and Southern Africa (EQUINET), and produced a report that is calling for an urgent halt to the wanton extraction and exploitation of the genetic diversity of plants, animals and forests in East and Southern Africa. They argue that these resources are declining at alarming rates, and thereby putting the ecological systems and the health and wellbeing of populations in the region at great risk.

The decline is caused by the loss of land to mono-cropping and industrial agriculture, the erosion of farmer managed seed diversity, livestock intensification, the introduction of invasive exotic species and trafficking of local species, and through mining, pollution and expansion of urban settlements.

The African continent is home to eight of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, with two of these eight being located in the East and Southern Africa (ESA) region. The Southern African hotspot (covering Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) is a result of expansion and intensification of agriculture, deforestation, timber extraction, hunting and bush meat exploitation, climate change, commercial trade in wild plants and animals and invasive species, while the degradation in the Indian ocean islands (Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles) is identified to have resulted from poverty, invasive species, climate change, deforestation and hunting for local consumption.

Loss of biodiversity and genetic resources have led to poorer diets and living conditions, encroachment on areas with animal populations and an erosion of wild foods and medicinal plants that hugely increase the risk of chronic and zoonotic diseases and pandemics.

The report notes that current national and regional policies have not reversed these trends, and that indeed, international treaties have not protected farmer managed seed systems and farmers’ rights, nor addressed access and benefit sharing of genetic resources and traditional knowledge in digital systems.

You can read the paper here.

Photo by Sam Fentress