The Southern African region has a rich natural heritage of global significance to the world’s climate and biological diversity – or biodiversity. According to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Biodiversity Strategy more than 40% of the region’s species are endemic - only found in their existing location. Biological diversity also referred to as biodiversity is defined as the degree of variation of life forms within a given species, ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is of fundamental importance to the functioning of all natural and human-engineered ecosystems, and by extension to the ecosystem services that nature provides to human society.
Biological resources such as plant and animal products, timber, and wildlife tourism account for a significant proportion of the SADC region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and are a source of livelihood for the majority of its citizens. Despite this biological wealth, the region continues to face challenges of Economic Development due largely to difficulties that are frequently experienced in equitably and sustainably harnessing natural resource capital.
The southern African region contains remarkable species richness and diversity. It hosts exceptional ecological processes. South Africa ranks as the third most biologically-diverse country in the world, while in Madagascar, the endemic species richness relative to the land mass area is unparalleled. Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika contain extremely high numbers of freshwater species while the Central Zambezian Miombo woodlands in Zambia and Tanzania are a centre of bird and butterfly diversity. Mega fauna are abundant. For example Botswana has Africa’s largest elephant population while Tanzania hosts the largest remaining population of lions.
Over centuries, the people of Southern Africa have developed strategies for using, tending and caring for their biological resources for the benefit of their own and future generations. Unfortunately, the capacity of nature to maintain this biological wealth is rapidly diminishing due to habitat loss and degradation resulting from unsustainable development, driven by economic and social factors. Factors such as pollution, invasion by alien species, climate change, overharvesting of natural resources and a lack of recognition of indigenous knowledge and property rights add to the situation.
Successful conservation and sustainable use of the biological resources of the region depends on trans-boundary cooperation between Member States and beyond.
Over the past few years, there has been accelerated loss of natural habitat, habitat fragmentation and degradation resulting decline and extinction of some species. In order to ameliorate the decline in species diversity as well as the extinction of certain species and demonstrate commitment to reduce loss of biological diversity at international level, SADC Member States have ratified a number of conventions that aim to facilitate the management of biodiversity. These include amongst others the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. SADC Member States have also been part and parcel of the process to develop the Protocol on Access and Benefit sharing (ABS) that is currently in process of ratification and the Nagoya – Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
At regional level, a number of efforts are being undertaken to ensure a coordinated approach to the management of biological diversity. In 2007, SADC Ministers responsible for Environment approved a Regional Biodiversity Strategy. To facilitate implementation of this Strategy, a Regional Biodiversity Action Plan is being finalised with technical and financial support from the CBD Secretariat, the International Union for the Conservation of Natural (IUCN), the European Union (EU), The German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
In addition, realising that Invasive Alien Species also contribute to the extinction of indigenous species, the SADC Secretariat facilitated the development of Regional Guidelines for the management of Invasive Alien Species. The guidelines were prepared by the Regional Biodiversity Programme that was supported by the Global Environmental Facility.
It is also noted that the region’s biological wealth transcends national boundaries and in recent years there have been many efforts in the region to develop trans-boundary natural resource management strategies and structures. Some of these include the Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) such as the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) and other TFCAs.
In addition, SADC Member States are required to meet annually to prepare regional common positions for the Conference of the Parties to the various Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs).
A Regional Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
The Regional Biodiversity Strategy provides a framework for cooperation on biodiversity issues that transcend national boundaries. It is based on the fact that the state of the environment, including biodiversity, is a major determinant of the growth and development of the SADC region and impacts on the lives of its citizens. It is against this background that the Regional Biodiversity Strategy should be viewed as a vehicle for implementing the biodiversity components of the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, which itself embodies the ideals of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Millennium Development Goals.
The SADC Directorate of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources is working with the International Union forConservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity to develop the Regional Biodiversity Action Plan that will guide the implementation of the Convention on Biodiversity within SADC.