Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you will find in one area, the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter.
Our planet is facing major conservation challenges from threats like climate change, deforestation, overfishing, and illegal wildlife trade. But protecting our planet and keeping planetary warming below 1.5C (2.7° F) is not impossible and none of us need to do it alone. Our impact on the planet primarily comes from what we eat, what we buy, how we power our homes, and how we travel from place to place. Of course, governmental policies and protections also play an important role.
Biodiversity in Zimbabwe
At species level, the country supports an estimated 5 930 vascular plant species, 214 of which are endemic; 672 bird species, 450 of which are known to breed within the country, though none are strictly endemic; 270 mammals; 156 reptiles; 120 amphibians and 151 fish species, as well as uncounted numbers of species in other groups. The biodiversity of Zimbabwe provides ecosystem services such as food, medicine, energy sources, building and craft materials as well as spiritual, cultural and aesthetic services. It regulates climate; soil fertility; outbreaks of pests and diseases and maintains functional ecosystems.
Zimbabwe’s climate favours the production of a diverse range of food crops, commercial crops, fruits and livestock. The range of agricultural biodiversity cover from cereals such as maize, sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet and wheat; legumes such as soya bean, bean, cowpea, bambara round nut; Horticultural crops like potato, paprika, cucumber; livestock that include both indigenous and exotic cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry; farmed wild life; to cash crops like tobacco, coffee, cotton, tea, sugarcane and timber crops. Biodiversity is the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s economy and the livelihoods of the majority of its population. About 60% of the population depend on biodiversity for food and employment, mainly through agriculture. The agriculture sector contributes about 20% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Policies Governing Biodiversity Conservation in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has comprehensive national policies that govern the conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture. These include the Zimbabwe National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, the National Energy Policy, National Environmental Policy and Strategies, the National Climate Change Response Strategy, the Land Reform Policy, Water Resources Policy and Strategy, among others. The policies seem to be relatively adequate, but there are challenges in their implementation, especially across government sectors.
International Day for Biodiversity
In 2012, the International Day for Biological Diversity was commemorated on the 22nd of May worldwide but as Zimbabwe it was done on the 18th of May 2012 in Murehwa, under the theme "Protect the Environment — Prevent Veld Fires". The aim was to raise awareness on the impacts of veld fires to the ecosystem and biodiversity. It was also a campaign to encourage Zimbabweans to recommit themselves to protecting the environment as we approach the fire season.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) is an organisation which works with various stakeholders in promoting sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Everyone has a role to play in environmental protection, by doing so, the environment is not only protected for this present generation but also for the future generations.
What are the threats to biodiversity and their underlying drivers?
Humans’ activities have remained the major threats to ecosystems in Zimbabwe. However, in the past decade the impacts of climate change (frequency of devastating droughts and floods) have increased the natural threats to biodiversity.
Deforestation and land degradation
Excessive harvesting for both domestic and commercial use, as well as conversion of forest areas to agricultural land causes the threat of deforestation in forest reserves. The growth of the tobacco industry has also increased the demand for fuel wood for tobacco curing.
The frequent occurrence of wild fires throughout the country now stands out as one of the major threats to biodiversity. The problem is mainly pronounced during the dry season when the temperatures are high and the vegetation can easily burn. The occurrence of wildfires has impacted negatively on the grazing land for both domestic and wildlife species.
Loss of habitat
Human encroachment, fragmentation of ecosystems, logging, mining and agriculture pose threats to ecosystems. The loss of habitat (drying up of rivers and surface water, degraded land) cover has impacted negatively on aquatic life, terrestrial biodiversity and productivity of both livestock and crops.
Mining and road construction activities Mining activities have become a major threat to biodiversity. Open cast methods involve stripping large pieces of land to remove the soil, which disturbs the natural environment surrounding the mines; it removes vegetation and takes away land that could be used for agriculture.
Road construction, which involves the opening up, of new land has also impacted negatively on biodiversity. Large tracts of land are opened in remote areas, which are hosts to various species of wildlife. This has resulted in the fragmentation of ecosystems and habitats, obstructing migratory routes to breeding and feeding grounds used by wildlife and hence the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for such projects.
Although the impacts of climate change and biodiversity have not been fully studied in Zimbabwe, evidence on the ground shows a decline of agro-biodiversity species after droughts and floods. A number of crop species are known to be extinct due to the devastating impacts of droughts and floods. The drying of the wetlands and other water bodies during the drought years has had negative impacts on the aquatic biodiversity.
Invasive alien species
Invasive alien species (IAS) have affected native biodiversity in almost every type of ecosystem throughout the country. As one of the greatest drivers of biodiversity loss, they pose a threat to ecosystem integrity and function and, therefore, to human well-being. While only a small percentage of organisms transported to new environments become invasive, their negative impacts on food security, plant, animal and human health and economic development can be extensive and substantial.
Pollution of water is increased by direct discharge of raw municipal sewerage into public streams, frequent sewer bursts in some urban centres and untreated effluent from industries and mining. The major pollution indicator is proliferation of aquatic invasive alien species such as water hyacinth (Lake Chivero) as a result of excessive eutrophication.
As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Zimbabwe has domesticated some of the provisions of this convention in its legislation. These provisions are accommodated in the Environmental Management Act (Cap 20:27), Parks and Wildlife Act, Forest Act, Communal Land Forest Produce Act, among others.
What must l do to protect my environment?
Every year as the fire season (July–October) approach, remember that human activities have a negative impact on the environment. Construct fireguards around your properties and prevent veld fires so that the future generations will enjoy the flora and fauna the country has in abundance.
Wetlands vital in protecting Biodiversity
The World Wetlands Day celebrated on the 2nd February of every year marks the date for the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention) in the Iranian City of Ramsar on the same day in 1971. The Ramsar Convention recognises the extreme importance of the ecological functions of Wetlands. In 2020, the theme for the day was Wetlands and Biodiversity. The theme highlighted the integrated significance of wetlands to people and planet. Wetlands in Zimbabwe nurture a great diversity of life, provide water and other resources, flooding safeguards and act as giant filters easing pollution. Biodiversity encompasses all species of microbes, plants and animals, their genetic material and the ecosystems in which they occur. Where wetlands have healthy biodiversity, they provide indispensable ecosystem services. What the theme reminded people is that, Wetland biodiversity matters for their well-being, health, our food supply and business (tourism).
- Lorin Hancock, , World Wildlife Fund, Accessed: 18 September, 2020
- , Food and Agriculture Organisation, Published: 30 November, 2013, Accessed: 18 September, 2020
- , The Herald, Published: 22 May, 2012, Accessed: 18 September, 2020
- , Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, Published: 2 February, 2020, Accessed: 18 September, 2020