The conservation of biodiversity is one aspect of environment, which has recently receivedglobal attention. Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability among living organisms andthe ecological complexes in which they occur (Board on Science and Technology forInternational Development (BOSTID), 2002. It is a term used to describe the degree ofnature’s variety including both the number and frequency of ecosystems, species or genes ina given assemblage. It is essentially synonymous with life on the earth. It is usuallyJournal of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences Volume 2, December 2010© 2010 Cenresin Publicationswww.cenresin.org103considered at three different levels: genetic diversity, specie diversity and ecosystemdiversity. Genetic diversity is the sum total of genetic characteristics of individual plants,animals and other living organisms inhabiting the earth. Such characteristics may includerapid growth, high yields, diseases and pests resistance, and environmental adaptation.Specie diversity refers to the variety of living organisms on earth, while ecosystem diversityrefers to the variety of habitats, biotic communities and ecological processes in the biosphereas well as the tremendous diversity within ecosystems in terms of habitat differences and thevariety of ecological processes.The concept of agricultural biodiversity or agrobiodiversity as it is sometimes referred couldbe identified within a macro concept of biodiversity. Agricultural biodiversity is restricted toplants 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 orwild) 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 supportagroecosystems (agricultural, pastoral. forest and aquatic), as well as the diversity ofagroecosystems themselves (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2008) .Agroecosystems arethose ecosystems that are used for agriculture, and comprise polycultures, monocultures andmixed systems including crop-livestock systems (rice-fish), agroforestry agrosilvo pastoralsystems, aquaculture as well as rangelands, pastures and fallow lands (Pimbert, 2009).Agricultural biodiversity is of immense benefit to humanity. Man depends on various livestockand crop species for food, fuel, fibre, medicine, drugs and raw materials for a host ofmanufacturing technologies and purposes. The productivity of agricultural system is as aresult of a continuous alteration of once wild plant and animal germplasms. Also geneticengineering especially in. the pharmaceutical and food processing industries uses agrogeneticresources from sources worldwide. Besides these direct values, agriculturalbiodiversities arc important parts of the processes that regulate the earth’s atmospheric,climatic, hydrologic and biochemical cycles. It provides local ecological services including theprotection of watersheds, cycling of nutrients, combating erosion, enriching soil, regulatingwater flow, trapping sediments, mitigating erosion and controlling pest population (Ehrenfeld,2000)Furthermore, agrobiodiversity holds ethical and aesthetical values and also forms the basisfor sustainable rural development and resource management. In most rural areas of AkwaIbom State, the diversity of local plants and animals is being harnessed for sustainableeconomic development. Locally adapted traditional animal breeds (sheep, goats, cattle), cropvarieties (fruit trees, fodder plants and cereals) and wild fruits are being explored to generatelocal 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 theStrategies for Involving Rural Farmers in Agricultural BiodiversityConservation in Akwa Ibom State, NigeriaCamilus Bassey Ben104environmental discussions in this regard draw attention to its being increasingly subjected todevastation and loss. The loss of agrobiodiversity is a relative phenomenon. Blaide andBroodfield (2007) maintained that agrobiodiversity is lost when it suffers a reduction inintrinsic qualities or a decline in its capabilities or complete extinction resulting from ‘acausative factor or a combination of factors which reduce its physical, chemical or biologicalstatus hence restricting its productive capacity. It also involves a loss of utility or potentialutility or the reduction or change of features or extinction of agro species which could not bereplaced (Dumsday, 2007).Akwa Ibom State occupies one of the geographical zones located in the rainforest belt – anarea known for high density of agro-genetic diversity. Throughout its ecological zones, thediversity of agroecosystem is being rapidly eroded. This erosion may be primarily due tointensive resource exploitation and extensive alteration of habitats. Other associated factorsinclude: the neglect of indigenous knowledge of agrobiodiversity conservation institutions andmanagement systems; the blueprint approach to development whereby monoculture systemsand uniform technologies are promoted; the quest for the transnational corporations thatmarket agricultural inputs and process food and fibres for commercial profits anduncontrolled over-production; inequitable access to and control over land, water, trees andgenetic resources on he part of local people; market pressures and the under-valuation ofagricultural biodiversity; demographic factors and oil spillage.It is acclaimed fact that rural farmers often have profound and detailed knowledge of agrospeciesand the related ecosystem’s with which they come in contact and have developedeffective 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 toadopt conservation systems that sustain its own capital – agricultural resources of plant andanimal sources. According to FAO (2009), the factor which causes a gap between the desiredand actual farmer behaviour in conservation border on knowledge, motivation andtechnology, type of incentives and disincentives, land use, population growth and povertyamong others.McNeely et al (2000) noted that at its most fundamental level agrobiodiversity is threatenedbecause people are out of balance with their environment. Benefits are being gained fromexploiting agricultural resources without paying the full cost of such exploitation. Theyidentify six main obstacles to greater progress in conserving agricultural biodiversity. Theseare:a. Development objectives give insufficient value to agro-resourcesb. Agro-resources are exploited for profit, not for meeting the legitimate needs of localpeople.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 2010105e. Institutions assigned responsibility for creating awareness on the need forconservation among rural farmers has lacked sufficient resources to do the job.On insufficient value being given to agro-resources in the national and private developmentobjectives, McNeely et al pointed out that maintaining a nation’s agro-agricultural diversity isintegral to maintaining its agricultural wealth, but the importance of species and ecosystem isseldom sufficiently considered in the formulation of national development policies. Ruralfarmers do not consciously consider the value of species and ecosystems in their farmpractices. Development tends to emphasize short-term exploitation to earn income or foreignexchange rather than long-term sustainable utilization of agricultural resources. Farmersfocused on their expressed immediate needs and tend to seek relatively short-term returnson their investments. Uncontrolled use of agricultural resources by farmers contributes tospecie extinction and loss of agricultural biodiversity. McNeely et al also pointed out thatmost conservation efforts made by the farmers have addressed a small species such asruminants, monogastrics, poultry, major species of plants or certain tree species. Farmerslack ability conserve if the conservation efforts are poorly paid. Besides, those responsible forcreating awareness opportunities for advancement, lack specialized training and have lowprestige, lack sufficient equipment and managerial capacity. These ultimately affect theconservation efforts of the rural farmers.Shepherd (2002) blames the poor conservation disposition of the rural farmers on tenure andland use changes. He noted that one of the facts which emerge of recent in the conservationcircle is the tremendous paucity of formal forester knowledge about the conservation offorest-based agro-resources. Set against this knowledge, one finds the imposition ofEuropean concept of property and land tenure, with disastrous effect. The most importantgap was the failure to understand the Swidden fallowing system which had used thelandscape sustainably for some years now. swidden fallowing is coming to an end and moremarginal lands are farmed with accompanying destruction of bush areas. Each householdhead now tries to spread his bets by sowing over as wide and varied an area as possible withthe 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 ofauthority of elders in the traditional farming community. Thompson el al (2006) noted thatthe introduction of plantation crops such as oil palm, cocoa and rubber as major economiccrops has a negative effect on other many areas with attendant loss of agro-ecosystem andagrobiodiversity. He also said that in some local communities the authorities of the clanelders who were originally solely responsible for livestock and agro-resource management, isbeing eroded by modern education for the young and the promulgation of Land Use Acts bythe government. Pointing out the effect of this on conservation effort, he said that, theStrategies for Involving Rural Farmers in Agricultural BiodiversityConservation in Akwa Ibom State, NigeriaCamilus Bassey Ben106weakened position of the elders makes the conservation of agro-resources through theinstitution of sacred groves no longer tenable.Another factor which has tremendous adverse influence on the ability of the rural farmer’sconservation is unattended population growth. Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team(NEST), (2001) rightly argued that a finite world can support only a finite population. Under agiven socio-economic system and technology, there is an upper limit to the number of peoplewhich land area can support. As long as the number of people is below this critical value theirdemand for agricultural land, grazing land and food at least in theory can be met without theenvironment being degraded or destroyed by population pressure, However, if the criticalpopulation density is exceeded, these human demands translate into excessive pressure onthe land and agro-resource, The partnership between population and the environmentbecomes endangered and may break down as problems of deforestation and loss ofagrobiodiversity Once the population sinks into a miserable state, what was once aharmonious and happy partnership between people and environment can easily become avicious cycle in which environmental degradation makes people desperately poor. Povertyforces 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 shiftingcultivation, In its traditional form, shifting cultivation is known for a rich source of cropdiversity (BOSTID, 2002) In Nigeria, the whole cycle has less than halved in length and thefallow period is less than a third of what it was (NEST, 2002). The tendency is for thefallowing system to shrink in the end to the point where it is replaced by, crop rotation andmonocropping. In these systems conservation practices are often replaced by quick easyfarming (Thompson, Fenny, & Oakerson , 2006).One of the constraints to the conservation of agrobiodiversity by rural farmers is lack ofeducation. Nigeian Conservation Foundation (NCF), (2005) pointed out that tacklingenvironmental problems (loss of agrobiodiversity inclusive), requires action mostly fromenvironmental education, Noibi (2002) noted that a person’s level of ignorance of theenvironment can be said to be positively related to the degree of damage to theenvironment. He exemplified this by relating a case of farmers who over-graze their land orsubstitute chemical fertilizer for organic manure and pesticides for biological means of pestcontrol 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 thesingle greatest contributor that constraints the conservation of agricultural biodiversity byrural farmers. Education can impart knowledge and determination necessary to resolve agiven set of environmental problems.The social and perceptual factors also influence the conservation attitude of the ruralfarmers. According to Kellert (2008), the development of compelling rational and effectivestrategy for protecting endangered agro-species will require an increasing recognition thatJournal of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences Volume 2, December 2010107most contemporary extinction problems are largely the result of socio-economic and politicalforces. Norton (2008) pointed out that only a small minority of people possess much concernor empathy for the plight of endangered agro-species. Kellen (2008) while reflecting this viewnoted “the study of vanishing biodiversity is necessarily the study of man’s perception ofanimals and plants. What we fear, what we hope and what we admire in animals/plants willinevitably determine their fate. Agro-species are there but most of them figure as villain inour myths”.As Norton intimates, agro-species are viewed somewhat more positively when they possesssome aesthetic and utilitarian values. Human benefit factors include animal capacity toprovide food, clothing, recreation and companionship. Ecological factors include species rarityand its contribution to diversity and ecological balance. Important psychological factorsinclude the animal’s species aesthetic characteristics, spiritual and religious associations,habituating capacity and behavioural plasticity. These factors and values outline theperceptual categories rural farmers typically employ in deciding which species are worthy ofpreservation.Another factor affecting conservation by rural farmers borders on the conservation policiesoperating in the country. NEST (2008) pointed out that one of the biggest bio-resourcesmanagement problem is the absence of well coordinated rational policies and legislationoperating in the country, but such policies have often been implemented without reallyconsidering local socio-economic issues. Also conservation policies tend to be largely“western” in outlook and having been designed and possibly managed by governmentofficials can be poorly adapted to meet vital local needs (Barrow, 2008) He pointed outthat conservation can involve a range of different interests such as central government,state/local government, local farmers, and conservation group/development staff and theremay be conflict of interest between them. He concluded that developing conservation policieswithout 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 withculture and religious beliefs. NEST submits that because of the closer relationship betweenculture and the environment, any campaign for environmental awareness and conservationmust take on a new cultural time, calling for new ways of life and a new orientation. Duringpre-colonial times, religious beliefs and practices played important roles in the conservationespecially agrobiodiversity. Sacred grooves and sacred animals were not exploited by peopleand so they remained in their pristine state. However, with the institution of colonialgovernment and the spread of western values and culture, our traditional methods ofconservation gradually disappeared and sacred forests became hunting ground (NEST, 2001).On the adverse effects of religious influence on traditional conservation practices, varioustraditional farmers have developed over the centuries, effective method of using theenvironment sustainably. These included the setting aside of land for religious and otherStrategies for Involving Rural Farmers in Agricultural BiodiversityConservation in Akwa Ibom State, NigeriaCamilus Bassey
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