Biodiversity is appreciated and valued by Nigerians in different ways. The nation’s biodiversity constitutes the source of food, raw materials, wide range of goods and services and genetic materials for agriculture, medicines and health-care support, domestic and commercial products, aesthetics and cultural values. It provides ecosystem services that improve the value and knowledge about life. The value of biodiversity to Nigerians is closely linked to the wide range of the various ecosystems found. Some of the areas in which biodiversity is valued and appreciated by Nigerians are presented below.

 

1.1.1 Food, Food Products and Agriculture

 

Biodiversity in forests; savannah woodlands and coastal mangroves make significant direct contribution to the nutrition of the rural poor in Nigeria. As an agrarian society,

Nigerians depend largely on biodiversity resources for food supplies and supplements.

Biodiversity therefore supports 70% -80% of food requirements of 70% of rural Nigerians, while about 30 -50% of urban and peri-urban communities depend on biodiversity for their nutritional support. 

 

Various types of food sourced from wild include bush meat, snails, periwinkles, fish, as well as wild fruits such as bush mango, edible kola, nuts, vegetables of various types and also condiments and health related food such as hot leaves, varied species of spices, honey from bee hives, mushrooms and scent leaves. Biodiversity and human food in Nigeria are inseparable. The uniqueness of nutritional support from biodiversity in Nigeria lies in the broad-based ecosystem diversity across the length and breadth of Nigeria, from the south to the north and from the east to the west of the country.

 

The biodiversity of the coastal area of the Niger Delta provides a characteristic spectrum of sea-food sources, a huge collection of fish from the highly productive mangrove ecosystem, which Nigeria has the largest of its type in Africa, some collection of swamp forest vegetables and fruits, and a collection of wild nuts, food supplements. 

The tropical rainforest belt that cuts across southern Nigeria provides a huge base for food resources. These include a large collection of fruit trees both for commercial and domestic use, food for domestic use as well as for trade by hundreds of thousands of Nigerians. A study of the Okwangwo sector of Cross River National Park in northern Cross River State alone, revealed the presence of 15 types of seeds, 3 oil seeds, 44 fruit types, 13 species and 25 different species of mushrooms. Trade in bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis) alone has a large network of collectors and processing traders in southern Nigeria and connected to a trade network in other countries in West Africa. The bush meat trade, although decreasing in size and volume due to declining bush meat supplies, has supported many Nigerian families in rural areas and continue to provide employment for many men and women in rural areas. Until recently when demand surpassed supply, afang – Gnetum africanum, from Cross River and Akwa-Ibom States have supported food needs for millions of Nigerians. 

Fig. 1 A Sample of some bio-resources of Nigeria: Source: NCF 

The Guinea Savannah woodlands of Nigeria are still rich in wildlife, even after over three post-independence decades. Apart from bush meat, the savannah woodlands provide a variety of its unique fruit trees and vegetables of various types.

 

The Sudan savannah, apart from providing food and fodder for grazing livestock, also has a huge supply of wildlife, until recently when these resources were depleted. The richness in biodiversity in its broad based nature can be appreciated in the variety of mono-specific plants and trees for food. An example is the contribution of a large variety of Palms and fire resistant trees that provide food and food supplements. 

From the coast to the Sahel, Nigeria has a wide range of palm species that are of significance to food and drink needs of millions of Nigerians. Raffia palm, coconut and oil palm dominate the coastal swamps, the freshwater swamps and the rainforest zone in the south while others such as the Doum palm, date palm, the Phoenix and Borrassus palm dominate the northern savannah and woodlands.

 

Fig.2 Forest with understorey herbs and shrubs. Source: NCF

Nigeria’s vast inland water systems including rivers, lakes, floodplains and streams support both natural and agricultural biodiversity for food production and wild resource exploitation. Fish species of various types and in large quantities form a major protein source for millions of Nigerians. Fisheries especially the artisanal sector provides employment for more than one million Nigerians in the urban, peri-urban and rural communities. 

 

Of special importance in Nigeria are the many crop species that originate from Nigeria. Land races of some of the important crops that are now being grown worldwide that originated from Nigeria include sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), West African rice (Oryza sativa), Yams (Dioscorea spp.), Bambara groundnuts (Vigna subterranea), Kersting’s groundnut (Macrotylomageocarpum), African yam bean (Sphenostylis stenocarpa), and winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonobus) (Ng 2002). Although a number of these crops still exist, some are being lost due to the lack of a conservation plan for them and the preference to the improved hybrid species.

 

1.1.2 Domestic and Commercial products

 

A majority of rural dwellers in many parts of Nigeria derive a higher percentage of their income from wild bio resources. Accordingly, biodiversity forms a solid base for rural livelihoods and economy. Unprocessed wild resources are collected mainly by men and youths while majority of women are involved in the processing of these wild resources to add value for distribution and marketing. Biodiversity therefore forms an integral link between poverty reduction, provision of employment, and sustainable livelihood. The value of biodiversity on the life of rural Nigerians is demonstrated in the trade and accession of food resources as well as the community relationships with biodiversity. Wild bio resources (leaves, vegetables, ropes, seeds, fruits, nuts, gum Arabic, firewood, bamboo, rattan, chewing sticks, cattle sticks, logs, snails, bush meat and fish) and their products such as: medicines, oils, fats, wines, thatches, sponges, dyes, baskets, mats, furniture, sawn wood, charcoal, smoked fish and meat, are used for domestic purposes while the excess is sold. Fish, periwinkles, snails, shrimps and prawns are harvested in large quantities and traded between rural and urban settlements in Nigeria, creating a huge network of market interactions and providing sources of employment for almost 20% of the Nigerian population both in rural and urban settlements.

 

Other trade and traditional occupations associated with biodiversity in Nigeria include

wood carving, canoe building, furniture making, basket weaving, local dye industry, bee farming and honey processing, fish smoking, bush meat hunting/processing, oil palm processing, fruit processing and local medicine marketing. The wild also provide sources of genetic support to domestication of both plants and animal species. Biodiversity has been a major source of livelihoods support for the rural Nigerians especially in the area of snail farming, bee farming, grass-cutter/other small mammal farming, wild bird and reptile rearing, and aquaculture; while to some extent, also supports commercial activities in rabbit, goat farming.

 

1.1.3 Ecosystem Functioning and Ecological services

 

Changes in the structure and function of given ecosystems, usually from biodiversity degradation and loss can reduce the availability of these vital services and affect aesthetic, ethical and cultural values of human societies. Natural resource scarcity for livelihood support is evident in many local communities in Nigeria that once possessed abundant products and services for life support systems. Biodiversity reflects the abundance of life and life support systems and in Nigeria where human population is on the increase at high rates, the role of biodiversity in sustaining ecosystem functioning is of high importance for sustainable development.

 

1.1.4 Watershed protection and resource recycling

 

Biodiversity has a direct and major impact on watershed protection. The extensive network of river systems and their associated wetlands and floodplains depend on the sustainability of the functioning of these watersheds that supports a variety of flora and fauna. Two major Rivers – the Niger and the Benue occupy a very major position in the ecology and economy of Nigeria. The tributaries of the Niger and the extensive Delta that it forms at its entry to the Atlantic Ocean are a repository of Biodiversity in varied forms. Headwaters of many rivers are protected by luxuriant vegetation of tropical and rocky outcrops of savannah woodlands. 

 

Gallery forests form a fringe of cover for protecting and purifying water sources which supports human, wildlife and livestock. When forests and their associated biodiversity are destroyed, this results in siltation and the degradation of water resources, causing untold hardships on human populations, wildlife and livestock. Watersheds and their associated biodiversity therefore play major roles in providing the much needed freshwater for domestic and agricultural purposes, providing habitats for a large variety of wildlife and providing platform for nutrient circulation and the recycling of much needed resources for the complex ecosystem and species interaction, generic renewal and ecosystem productivity.

 

1.1.5 Public Health and Traditional medicine

 

Biodiversity has supported the health needs of millions of Nigerians for centuries. It is however in the past two decades that the traditional medicine was given formal recognition and attention. Virtually all local communities have huge collections of plants and animals for healing different kinds of diseases and performing other health related services such as antenatal care, childbirth, anti-infection treatments and sexual drive improvements. Ethno-botanical studies have revealed the importance of hundreds of different kinds of herbs used for curing different kinds of diseases in different parts of Nigeria. Accordingly, trade in medicinal plants and animal parts have grown and now form a major category of merchandise in village markets in rural and peri-urban settlements. The number of people who rely on herbs, wildlife parts and other agricultural and wild resources is increasing. Consequently, maintaining health standards for millions of Nigerians depends on the protection and sustainable management of biodiversity. 

 

Research findings and field reports indicate that a lot of time, energy and resources are required to harvest the much needed herbs and other plant and animal materials needed for traditional medicine. Efforts are now being made in different parts of the country to domesticate some of these medicinal plants. Accordingly, one of the mandates of the National Agency for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NAGRAB) is to document and keep essential genetic biodiversity resources. The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) also has reliable data on the medicinal and patent value of plant resources in Nigeria. 

 

Apart from direct use of biodiversity for traditional medicine, the maintenance of environmental health and sanitation is also an ecosystem service performed by biodiversity, through biological scavengers and decomposers. The role of decomposers and waste removers is important in the area of waste decomposition and public hygiene. This ecosystem service is likely to be lost, following the crash of populations of vultures and other species of scavengers around slaughter slabs, abattoirs and dumpsites, where they provide useful services of eating up waste. 

 

1.1.6 Culture, Heritage, Arts and Crafts

 

Culturally, many ethnic groups in Nigeria have unique and distinct traditions and knowledge which they use in relating with nature. The survival of natural habitats and species are therefore important to Nigerian cultures. Biodiversity represents an indispensable resource endowment to Nigerians. There exists a strong integration between cultural heritage and biodiversity. Lifestyles, customs and norms as well as the associated arts, crafts, songs and folklores, reflect type of biodiversity and natural resources in different communities and societies in Nigeria. The social fabric of life including food, shelter type, skills and traditional knowledge are all enshrined in biodiversity represented in these areas. For example, Ijaws, Itsekiris and the Ilajes of the Niger Delta region are coastal people and are used to and familiar with coastal environment. They are skilled in swimming, canoe building, fishing, water regatta and sea-food processing. 

Similarly, inland Lake People around Lake Kainji, Hadejia-Nguru, Lake Chad, Oguta Lake and the Benue floodplains, are familiar with freshwater fishing, fresh water fish processing and water resources utilisation and management. In prehistoric times, special attention was placed on areas of high biodiversity protection in support of worship, provision of important herbs and consultation with deities in many parts of Nigeria. Some communities still maintain fetish or sacred forests where spiritual consultations and collection of traditional medicines and herbs for community benefits take place.

 

The recognition of the interaction between biodiversity, culture and natural heritage in Nigeria has earned the country some level of international recognition, leading to the listing of Osun-Osogbo grove in Osun State as a World Heritage site. The interaction between culture and biodiversity has also assisted in the protection of certain endangered species of wildlife such as the Sclaters guenon (Cercopithecus sclateri), which is not only available in the wild in Taylor Creek and Stubbs Creek forest reserves, but also in abundance in sacred forests in Akpogueze community in Anambra State and Langwa community in Imo State. 

 

1.1.7 Tourism and Aesthetic values

 

Nigeria’s natural resource endowment includes tourism and aesthetic resources, including but not limited to coastal sandy beaches, barrier islands, scintillating landscapes, biodiversity hotspots, amazing cultural diversity and friendly climate. The wide range of ecosystems in Nigeria makes it a potentially high tourism destination. The appreciation of the value of biodiversity for tourism has received some positive attention in recent years. The world recognised Mountain race established some years ago and being hosted in Obudu Plaateau in Nigeria is in appreciation of the unique, terrain and the semi-temperate characteristics of the Obudu Plateau. Argungu Fishing festival remain very popular as a tourist event in Nigeria while the Hadejia Nguru Wetlands in northern Nigeria and some other notable sites in Nigeria have great potentials for receiving millions of migratory birds, that could provide huge resource for seasonal bird watching if well developed.

 

These unique characteristics have however not been able to earn Nigeria much tourism attention due to social insecurity, decaying infrastructure, corruption and the lack of national recognition of the social and environmental values of these resources.

 

Nigeria’s iconic large mammals include: the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), the African elephant (Loxadonta africana), the lion (Panthera leo) and Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti). The country is also a centre for primate diversity and its bird diversity, a record 940 species is among the highest in Africa. Interestingly, Nigeria’s amazing biodiversity is not well known and even hotspots such as the Niger Delta, are not well studied and are therefore not well understood. 

 

1.1.8 Research and scientific knowledge development

 

Apart from serving as a source of inspiration, information, tourism and recreation, Nigeria’s biodiversity also satisfies scientific and educational pursuits. Much of the Nigeria’s important biodiversity hotspots such as the Niger Delta which has some of the most highly endangered species of primates in the world, are not yet well studied.

Biodiversity provides an outdoor laboratory for researchers and unlimited opportunity for research in medicine, biotechnology, pest control and management and anthropology. Nigeria’s biodiversity is grossly under-researched and under documented; hence its contribution to scientific knowledge and sustainable national development falls short of its inherent potentials. 

1.1.9 Job creation and occupation

More than 65% of Nigerians are engaged in biodiversity related jobs and occupation, such as farming, fishing, logging, livestock rearing, agricultural and forest resources marketing, sawmilling and wood processing, manufacturing (paper making, perfume blending, food processing, brewery, distilling, garment and footwear making). Hunting and gathering still remain a major occupation in rural areas and the wood based industry engages hundreds of thousands directly and indirectly. Biodiversity allied activities offer employment to Nigerians through commercial and industrial investments such as oil palm and rubber estates, gum Arabic, kola nut, cocoa and forest plantations, tobacco production companies, horticulture and commercial fruit trees investments.

 

1.1.10 Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

In Nigeria, the value of Biodiversity in climate Change is recognised but not holistically addressed. Policy actions on Climate Change mitigation and adaptation in Nigeria need to be improved. Policies and actions on Climate Change should decisively seek to increase the adaptive capacity of species and ecosystems. The strategy of ecosystem-based adaptation activities for Climate Change mitigation and adaptation in Nigeria will ensure ecosystem health and optimal contribution to sustainable development.