Strategies For Involving Rural Farmers In Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation In Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

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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
© 2010 Cenresin Publications
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
agroecosystems (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 agrosilvo 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 agrogenetic
resources from sources worldwide. Besides these direct values, agricultural
biodiversities arc important parts of the processes that regulate the earth’s atmospheric,
climatic, hydrologic and biochemical 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,
Furthermore, agrobiodiversity holds ethical and aesthetical 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.
Inspite 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
Broodfield (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 over-production; 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 agrospecies
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
a. Development objectives give insufficient value to agro-resources
b. Agro-resources are exploited for profit, not for meeting the legitimate needs of local
c. The species and ecosystem upon which human survival depend are still poorly known.
d. Conservation activities by most organization s 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. Nigeian 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
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 grooves 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
Camilus Bassey

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