The Importance of Biodiversity to Human Health and the Environment

The Importance of Biodiversity to Human Health and the Environment

Author ~ Funmi Akindejoye

“What is the economic value of the world’s ecosystem services to human beings?” This question was asked by Constanza and his colleagues in a seminal paper in 1997. Constanza estimated the value of the world’s ecosystem as ranging between US $ 16-54 trillion (1012) per year, with an average of US $ 33 trillion per year. Remarkably, the global Gross National Product (GDP) total that year was US $ 18 trillion, which is to say that about half of the world’s ecosystem services economic contribution.

This discussion became important as the population growth of the 20th century has witnessed a fourfold increase with over 7 billion humans in the world today, and we are placing unparalleled stress on the planet’s ability to cope with our use of non-environmentally friendly technologies and unsustainable consumption patterns. One of the most important environmental challenges of an ever-increasing global population is the management of its biological diversity or biodiversity.

Biodiversity generally refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. It is the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, their genes, and the terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems of which these living things are a part. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), biodiversity typically measures variation at the genetic, the species, and the ecosystem level.

Why conserve biodiversity?

Regrettably, most people do not appreciate the contribution of natural systems to our survival. Humans depend on biodiversity for air, food and water. While trees and plants improve air quality and reduce global warming by absorbing carbon, microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi breakdown organic and inorganic matter and provides nutrients for the soil which aids food production. Obviously, species richness in ecosystems can be linked to the quality of life of humans. Biodiversity can also contribute to new medicines, vaccines and many other health fundamentals. A study by Fuller et. al. indicates that abundant plant species enhance participant’s mood and drew a conclusion that biological complexity is important to psychological well-being. Infringement and habitat degradation have exposed humans to zoonotic pathogens, and an example is the link between Ebola and human movement into forested ecosystems.

Other benefits of the natural ecosystem to the daily life of humans (ecosystem services) include;

  1. Supporting services (ecosystem functions such as water cycle, pollination, soil formation)
  2. Provisioning services (products obtained from ecosystems such as water, food, medicinal herbs, raw materials: lumber, fuel, fertilizer, natural genetic diversity that improve crop production, natural energy sources, domesticated pets)
  3. Regulating services (benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes such as climate control, pure water and clean air management, waste management, pests and diseases control)
  4. Cultural services (non-material benefits of ecosystem people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences).

The state of Nigeria’s Biodiversity

Several forests reserved for conservation of forest resources were established by the Nigerian government, but the reserves have been seriously neglected with poor management and investments.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the analysis entitled ‘The Main Threats to Biodiversity in Nigeria’, noted that the consequence of these forest losses is that “many plants and animals, including many potentially valuable species are on the fast track to extinction.”

Nigeria is a signatory to over 15 biodiversity related international treaties including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 1992; Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992; United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 1994; Ramsar Convention on the Conservation of Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Water Fowl Habitat, 1971, among others. Nigeria’s participation in these treaties have been a mixture of success, inaction and notable failure. Nigeria is presently under sanctions from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), because of continued evidence of high trade in endangered species such as baby chimps and parrots as pets. There is also evidence of elephant poaching and sale of elephant ivory despite the obvious international and national illegality of the material. In 2016, following a recommendation from the European Union, the CITES Standing Committee voted to suspend trade of CITES-listed species with Nigeria, Angola, and Laos.

Illegal sand dredging in Lagos State, has also been a major source of biodiversity loss in the country. The Director General of the Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) stated that “…dredging in some places has been largely responsible for the loss of breeding habitats for sea turtles, which depend on sandy beaches for their nesting…”

Causes of Biodiversity loss

Biodiversity loss is caused by a number of factors which are grouped into direct and indirect drivers. The direct drivers include degradation of habitat and land use change, climate change, overexploitation/unsustainable use of natural resources, and spread of invasive species. While the indirect drivers are changes in economic activities, demographic change, socio-political factors, cultural and religious factors, and scientific and technological change.

How can Businesses take responsibility?

While the numerous phases of globalisation have magnified some driving forces that influence ecosystem change, biodiversity loss is an important risk factor in business development and a threat to long term economic sustainability. As a result, biodiversity conservation is fundamental for the success of any business in today’s world of natural resource constraints. Several businesses around the world are making biodiversity issues a top priority in their models and sustainability strategies. A good example is the case of LafargeHolcim – a leading multinational company operating in resources extraction and building materials – which builds local plant nurseries that respect indigenous species and are adapted to the local environment for the rehabilitation of quarries. Specifically, in Uganda, the nursery has a production capacity of 100,000 seedlings per year, which is founded on the steps given by Pippa Howard, the Director of the Business & Biodiversity Programme, towards managing biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The following actions have been carved out for businesses in addressing biodiversity loss:

  1. Recognising the need to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services management into their operations.
  1. Engage in biodiversity conservation initiative with stakeholders such as NGOs in environmental conservation space.
  2. Development of BES policies.
  3. Integrating BES into the business and operational practices through tools, protocols and projects.
  4. Funding biodiversity conservation projects (partnerships between business and conservation organisations provide crucial long-term support for biodiversity protection. In the end, securing the health of ecosystems benefits a huge range of stakeholders, including businesses).
  1. Reporting on biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services (this will help concerned parties to better understand the activities and impacts of the business sector on biodiversity and ecosystems and develop better framework).

The link between biodiversity and our sustainable future is closer than we think. We basically need to conserve biodiversity like our lives are dependent on it, because truly, they are.


  1. Alex Abutu (17 November 2015). Nigeria: Neglected Forests Threat to Biodiversity in Nigeria. Daily Trust
  2. Biodiversity.
  3. How the Convention on Biological Diversity promotes nature and human well-being. 2000
  4. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  5. Kristen Arvidson. 2016. Biodiversity, Nature, and Human Health. Natural Medicine Journal, Vol. 8 Issue 10
  6. Nigeria biodiversity and tropical forestry assessment maximizing Agricultural revenue in key enterprises for targeted sites (MARKETS). June 2008. Chemonics International Inc
  7. Pippa Howard. 2012. Business must respond to biodiversity loss. Fauna and Flora international
  9. Robert Costanza, Ralph d’Arge, Rudolf de Groot, Stephen Farberk, Monica Grasso†, Bruce Hannon, Karin Limburg, Shahid Naeem, Robert V. O’Neill Jose Paruelo, Robert G. Raskin, Paul Suttonkk & Marjan van den Belt. 1997. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature paper on Ecosystem services
  10. Why Conserve Biodiversity? 2013. Colorado Natural heritage program

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