Biodiversity is defined as the variety of living organisms found within a specified geographic region.
The conservation of biodiversity on the other hand is about saving life on Earth in all its forms and keeping natural ecosystems functioning and healthy. Stated simply, the environment refers to the surroundings or space in which persons, animals and plants live or operate.
In this regard, the existence of humankind, plants and animal species depend entirely on the natural resources found in their environments. Accordingly, biodiversity is the most precious gift of nature mankind is blessed with.
As all living organisms in an ecosystem are interlinked and interdependent, the value of biodiversity in the life of all these living organisms including human beings is enormous. For example, Namibia’s Khwe community residing in Bwabwata National Park still depend highly on medicinal plants as a means to cure and heal community members whenever they are faced with sickness.
The community, with the help of the government and other agencies, is also highly dependent on the existence of wildlife in the national park as a means to derive income from tourism and hunting concessions.
The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) sets the international legal framework for the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from the commercial utilization of genetic resources and related traditional knowledge.
Namibia is a party to the CBD and its Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) which came as a global response towards the implementation of the CBD’s third objective calling for the fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from the commercial use of genetic resources and related traditional knowledge.
In recent years, it was globally agreed that there are synergies between the three Rio Conventions, namely: the CBD, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
For example, drought is an environmental challenge covered under the UNCCD as a result of climate change, which causes food insecurity and hampers development amidst many other impacts to our national economies.
This recognition is an important tool that can be used to unlock funding for mitigating risks associated with drought. The causes of drought and the impacts of drought clearly affirm the synergies between the CBD in terms of genetic resources, to be specific the Nagoya Protocol, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), UNFCCC and biosafety
The causes of drought therefore create a linkage that is indispensable in nature that which even the different nature of each of the mandates under the different treaties cannot ignore.
Notable of this connection is the commonality amongst the stakeholders to these conventions.
People affected by drought are the same people affected by loss of biodiversity and climate change - especially our subsistence farmers and local communities, causing seed extinction, leading to loss of biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge, related to the use of genetic or biological resources.
In our efforts to assist the public understand the value and importance of biodiversity, it should be noted that the media could be a very important partner in this journey.
In fact, Article 13 of the CBD calls upon parties to promote and encourage the understanding and importance of biodiversity, and it further calls upon parties to take measures required for the conservation of biological diversity, as well as its propagation through the media, and the inclusion of these topics in educational programmes.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for the biodiversity story to get the headlines it deserves. The media can play a critical role in raising awareness of these issues to enable citizens, policymakers and private entities to debate and implement environment-friendly solutions.
The media should aim to increase the understanding around people and their interaction with their surroundings.
In our opinion, key to successfully reporting biodiversity stories is the ability to show people that they are part of biodiversity, dependent on its riches and heavily affected by its loss.
This should also include defining the term biodiversity itself and real costs of biodiversity loss to people, breaking its complicated terminologies into a free-jargon language.
A 2012 report by the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), says that the media has uncommon opportunities to convince societies and policymakers of the value of biodiversity in providing economic and ecological services and thereby promoting sustainable use and equitable sharing of nature’s benefits.
What it means is that the media has a leverage or comparative advantage to educate the public on the value and importance of biodiversity, because it can shape agenda and disseminate information to all classes of people from all walks of life.
With more consistent reporting, there are uncommon opportunities for the media to be involved in biodiversity conservation and thus become an essential partner in biodiversity conservation.
With or without press conferences at our Ministry of Environment and Tourism, workshops or conferences on biodiversity conservation, the environment is always there and there are good things and bad things happening to it. So, the media should not wait for set-events.
Just as examples of angles the media can do justice to the story of biodiversity: There are some people making a lot of money through the destruction of biodiversity (illegal lodgings, illegal harvesting of timber, poaching and extraction of sands for construction purposes).
The question the media should pose is: How fair is the distribution of these riches shared with and amongst the local communities?
Again, conservation objectives can sometimes clash with people’s needs, especially when human rights are ignored.
The media can explore an angle on how communities that are hugely dependent on nature get their say in the way biodiversity is managed, because conservation of biodiversity for the sake of conservation will not work, if people are not fed and their needs are not met.
It should also be the duty of the media to enlighten the public on issues pertaining bio-piracy, bio-prospecting and bio-trade.
This assists us to understand the role and value of biodiversity as well as the importance of conserving it sustainably. In so doing, the media should not forget to tap into traditional knowledge.
Elderly people have a wealth of knowledge as to how the environment can be better taken care of, so that it can take care of us in return. But, the media should tell the whole story. If the housing development project has a negative impact on a local wetland, such a project is also providing much-needed jobs.
It is therefore the duty of the media to find if techniques and procedures have been followed before construction and what measures have been put in place to reduce the impact.
In conclusion, the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable benefit sharing (arising from the commercial utilization of genetic resources and related traditional knowledge) in Namibia, will help contribute to the global efforts of achieving sustainable development, allowing humanity to live within the fine share of the Earth’s resources.
*Elize Shakalela holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of Namibia and an LLM from Loyola University Chicago, John Felice Rome Centre. She works at the University of Namibia’s Faculty of Law.
*Absalom Shigwedha is an award-wining independent environmental journalist, who has initiated a number of media trainings on environmental reporting, both locally and internationally. He holds a Diploma in International Environmental Law from the Geneva-based United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).