STRATEGIES FOR INVOLVING RURAL FARMERS IN AGRICULTURAL BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION IN AKWA IBOM STATE, NIGERIA

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STRATEGIES FOR INVOLVING RURAL FARMERS IN AGRICULTURAL BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION IN AKWA IBOM STATE, NIGERIA  GET MORE VOCATIONAL STUDIES PROJECT TOPICS AND MATERIALS

INTRODUCTION

The conservation of biodiversity is one aspect of environment, which has recently received global attention. Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability among living organisms and the ecological complexes in which they occur (Board on Science and Technology for International Development (BOSTID), 2002. It is a term used to describe the degree of nature’s variety including both the number and frequency of ecosystems, species or genes in a given assemblage. It is essentially synonymous with life on the earth. It is usually Journal of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences Volume 2, December 2010
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considered at three different levels: genetic diversity, specie diversity and ecosystem diversity. Genetic diversity is the sum total of genetic characteristics of individual plants, animals and other living organisms inhabiting the earth. Such characteristics may include rapid growth, high yields, diseases and pests resistance, and environmental adaptation.

Specie diversity refers to the variety of living organisms on earth, while ecosystem diversity refers to the variety of habitats, biotic communities and ecological processes in the biosphere as well as the tremendous diversity within ecosystems in terms of habitat differences and the variety of ecological processes.

The concept of agricultural biodiversity or agrobiodiversity as it is sometimes referred could be identified within a macro concept of biodiversity. Agricultural biodiversity is restricted to plants and animals used in commerce or having potential use (Srivastava, Smith and Ferno, 2001). It is the diversity of genetic resources (varieties, breeds, species, cultivated, reared or wild) used directly for food and agriculture; the diversity of species that support production (soil biota, pollinators, predators, etc.) and those in the wider environment that support agro ecosystems (agricultural, pastoral. forest and aquatic), as well as the diversity of agroecosystems themselves (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008) .Agroecosystems are those ecosystems that are used for agriculture, and comprise polycultures, monocultures and mixed systems including crop-livestock systems (rice-fish), agroforestry agro silvo pastoral systems, aquaculture as well as rangelands, pastures and fallow lands (Pimbert, 2009).

Agricultural biodiversity is of immense benefit to humanity. Man depends on various livestock and crop species for food, fuel, fibre, medicine, drugs and raw materials for a host of manufacturing technologies and purposes. The productivity of agricultural system is as a result of a continuous alteration of once wild plant and animal germplasms. Also genetic engineering especially in. the pharmaceutical and food processing industries uses agro genetic resources from sources worldwide. Besides these direct values, agricultural biodiversity’s arc important parts of the processes that regulate the earth’s atmospheric, climatic, hydrologic and biogeochemical cycles. It provides local ecological services including the protection of watersheds, cycling of nutrients, combating erosion, enriching soil, regulating water flow, trapping sediments, mitigating erosion and controlling pest population (Ehrenfeld, 2000)

Furthermore, agrobiodiversity holds ethical and aesthetic values and also forms the basis for sustainable rural development and resource management. In most rural areas of Akwa Ibom State, the diversity of local plants and animals is being harnessed for sustainable economic development. Locally adapted traditional animal breeds (sheep, goats, cattle), crop varieties (fruit trees, fodder plants and cereals) and wild fruits are being explored to generate local products jobs, income and environmental care.

In spite of the enormous potentialities of agrobiodiversity in retaining plants, animals, soils, and water as well as serving as the foundation of sustainable development, most of the Strategies for Involving Rural Farmers in Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

Camilus Bassey Ben

Environmental discussions in this regard draw attention to its being increasingly subjected to
devastation and loss. The loss of agrobiodiversity is a relative phenomenon. Blaide and Brookfield (2007) maintained that agrobiodiversity is lost when it suffers a reduction in intrinsic qualities or a decline in its capabilities or complete extinction resulting from ‘a causative factor or a combination of factors which reduce its physical, chemical or biological status hence restricting its productive capacity. It also involves a loss of utility or potential utility or the reduction or change of features or extinction of agro species which could not be replaced (Dumsday, 2007).

Akwa Ibom State occupies one of the geographical zones located in the rainforest belt – an area known for high density of agro-genetic diversity. Throughout its ecological zones, the diversity of agroecosystem is being rapidly eroded. This erosion may be primarily due to intensive resource exploitation and extensive alteration of habitats. Other associated factors include: the neglect of indigenous knowledge of agrobiodiversity conservation institutions and management systems; the blueprint approach to development whereby monoculture systems and uniform technologies are promoted; the quest for the transnational corporations that market agricultural inputs and process food and fibres for commercial profits and uncontrolled overproduction; inequitable access to and control over land, water, trees and genetic resources on he part of local people; market pressures and the under-valuation of
agricultural biodiversity; demographic factors and oil spillage.

It is acclaimed fact that rural farmers often have profound and detailed knowledge of agro species and the related ecosystem’s with which they come in contact and have developed effective ways of ensuring they are used sustainably (McNeely, Miller, Reid, Mittermeier, & Werner, 2000). However, they are constrained by a number of problems in their attempt to adopt conservation systems that sustain its own capital – agricultural resources of plant and animal sources. According to FAO (2009), the factor which causes a gap between the desired and actual farmer behaviour in conservation border on knowledge, motivation and technology, type of incentives and disincentives, land use, population growth and poverty
among others.

McNeely et al (2000) noted that at its most fundamental level agrobiodiversity is threatened because people are out of balance with their environment. Benefits are being gained from exploiting agricultural resources without paying the full cost of such exploitation. They identify six main obstacles to greater progress in conserving agricultural biodiversity. These are:
a. Development objectives give insufficient value to agro-resources
b. Agro-resources are exploited for profit, not for meeting the legitimate needs of local people.
c. The species and ecosystem upon which human survival depend are still poorly known.
d. Conservation activities by most organizations have had to focus too narrowly. Journal of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences Volume 2, December 2010
e. Institutions assigned responsibility for creating awareness on the need for conservation among rural farmers has lacked sufficient resources to do the job. On insufficient value being given to agro-resources in the national and private development objectives, McNeely et al pointed out that maintaining a nation’s agro-agricultural diversity is integral to maintaining its agricultural wealth, but the importance of species and ecosystem is seldom sufficiently considered in the formulation of national development policies. Rural farmers do not consciously consider the value of species and ecosystems in their farm practices. Development tends to emphasize short-term exploitation to earn income or foreign
exchange rather than long-term sustainable utilization of agricultural resources. Farmers focused on their expressed immediate needs and tend to seek relatively short-term returns on their investments. Uncontrolled use of agricultural resources by farmers contributes to specie extinction and loss of agricultural biodiversity. McNeely et al also pointed out that most conservation efforts made by the farmers have addressed a small species such as ruminants, monogastrics, poultry, major species of plants or certain tree species. Farmers lack ability conserve if the conservation efforts are poorly paid. Besides, those responsible for creating awareness opportunities for advancement, lack specialized training and have low prestige, lack sufficient equipment and managerial capacity. These ultimately affect the conservation efforts of the rural farmers.

Shepherd (2002) blames the poor conservation disposition of the rural farmers on tenure and land use changes. He noted that one of the facts which emerge of recent in the conservation circle is the tremendous paucity of formal forester knowledge about the conservation of forest-based agro-resources. Set against this knowledge, one finds the imposition of European concept of property and land tenure, with disastrous effect. The most important gap was the failure to understand the Swidden fallowing system which had used the landscape sustainably for some years now. swidden fallowing is coming to an end and more marginal lands are farmed with accompanying destruction of bush areas. Each household
head now tries to spread his bets by sowing over as wide and varied an area as possible with the result that conservation practices such as manuring, intensive sowing and weeding, planned fallowing and water conservation, have been replaced by quick easy farming (Thompson, Feeny, and Oakerson, 2006).
Indirectly related to this is the land use changes relating to economic change and the loss of
authority of elders in the traditional farming community. Thompson el al (2006) noted that the introduction of plantation crops such as oil palm, cocoa and rubber as major economic crops has a negative effect on other many areas with attendant loss of agro-ecosystem and agrobiodiversity. He also said that in some local communities the authorities of the clan elders who were originally solely responsible for livestock and agro-resource management, is being eroded by modern education for the young and the promulgation of Land Use Acts by the government. Pointing out the effect of this on conservation effort, he said that, the Strategies for Involving Rural Farmers in Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

Camilus Bassey Ben

weakened position of the elders makes the conservation of agro-resources through the institution of sacred groves no longer tenable.

Another factor which has tremendous adverse influence on the ability of the rural farmer’s conservation is unattended population growth. Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST), (2001) rightly argued that a finite world can support only a finite population. Under a given socio-economic system and technology, there is an upper limit to the number of people which land area can support. As long as the number of people is below this critical value their demand for agricultural land, grazing land and food at least in theory can be met without the environment being degraded or destroyed by population pressure, However, if the critical population density is exceeded, these human demands translate into excessive pressure on the land and agro-resource, The partnership between population and the environment
becomes endangered and may break down as problems of deforestation and loss of agrobiodiversity Once the population sinks into a miserable state, what was once a harmonious and happy partnership between people and environment can easily become a vicious cycle in which environmental degradation makes people desperately poor. Poverty forces people to over-exploit the available agro-resources with disregard to conservation.
Population pressure seems to have led to the shortening of fallow periods under the shifting cultivation, In its traditional form, shifting cultivation is known for a rich source of crop diversity (BOSTID, 2002) In Nigeria, the whole cycle has less than halved in length and the fallow period is less than a third of what it was (NEST, 2002). The tendency is for the fallowing system to shrink in the end to the point where it is replaced by, crop rotation and monocropping. In these systems conservation practices are often replaced by quick easy farming (Thompson, Fenny, & Oakerson , 2006).

One of the constraints to the conservation of agrobiodiversity by rural farmers is lack of education. Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), (2005) pointed out that tackling environmental problems (loss of agrobiodiversity inclusive), requires action mostly from environmental education, Noibi (2002) noted that a person’s level of ignorance of the environment can be said to be positively related to the degree of damage to the environment. He exemplified this by relating a case of farmers who over-graze their land or substitute chemical fertilizer for organic manure and pesticides for biological means of pest
control without bothering about the implications of that action on land and agrobiodiversity, It could therefore, be inferred that lack of environmental education among the farmers is the single greatest contributor that constraints the conservation of agricultural biodiversity by rural farmers. Education can impart knowledge and determination necessary to resolve a given set of environmental problems.

The social and perceptual factors also influence the conservation attitude of the rural farmers. According to Kellert (2008), the development of compelling rational and effective strategy for protecting endangered agro-species will require an increasing recognition that Journal of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences Volume 2, December 2010 most contemporary extinction problems are largely the result of socio-economic and political forces. Norton (2008) pointed out that only a small minority of people possess much concern or empathy for the plight of endangered agro-species. Kellen (2008) while reflecting this view noted “the study of vanishing biodiversity is necessarily the study of man’s perception of animals and plants. What we fear, what we hope and what we admire in animals/plants will inevitably determine their fate. Agro-species are there but most of them figure as villain in our myths”.

As Norton intimates, agro-species are viewed somewhat more positively when they possess some aesthetic and utilitarian values. Human benefit factors include animal capacity to provide food, clothing, recreation and companionship. Ecological factors include species rarity and its contribution to diversity and ecological balance. Important psychological factors include the animal’s species aesthetic characteristics, spiritual and religious associations, habituating capacity and behavioural plasticity. These factors and values outline the perceptual categories rural farmers typically employ in deciding which species are worthy of preservation.

Another factor affecting conservation by rural farmers borders on the conservation policies operating in the country. NEST (2008) pointed out that one of the biggest bio-resources management problem is the absence of well coordinated rational policies and legislation operating in the country, but such policies have often been implemented without really considering local socio-economic issues. Also conservation policies tend to be largely “western” in outlook and having been designed and possibly managed by government officials can be poorly adapted to meet vital local needs (Barrow, 2008) He pointed out that conservation can involve a range of different interests such as central government,
state/local government, local farmers, and conservation group/development staff and there may be conflict of interest between them. He concluded that developing conservation policies without taking the needs and demands of these different group’s will tend to end in difficulty. Constraints to the conservation of agrobiodiversity by rural farmers are also associated with culture and religious beliefs. NEST submits that because of the closer relationship between culture and the environment, any campaign for environmental awareness and conservation must take on a new cultural time, calling for new ways of life and a new orientation. During pre-colonial times, religious beliefs and practices played important roles in the conservation especially agrobiodiversity. Sacred groves and sacred animals were not exploited by people and so they remained in their pristine state. However, with the institution of colonial government and the spread of western values and culture, our traditional methods of conservation gradually disappeared and sacred forests became hunting ground (NEST, 2001).
On the adverse effects of religious influence on traditional conservation practices, various traditional farmers have developed over the centuries, effective method of using the environment sustainably. These included the setting aside of land for religious and other Strategies for Involving Rural Farmers in Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

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