COVID-19 lockdowns have confined people to their homes across the world. For some, this causes stress and mental anguish. People need greenery: research shows that green spaces in and around cities have mental health benefits.
Banco National Park, in the heart ofAbidjan, Côte d'Ivoire’s capital, is one such respite. Since it was set up in 1983, the park has become Abidjan’s “green lung”, teeming with diverse flora, and supplying around 40 percent of the city’s drinking water needs.
One of eight national parks and seven nature reserves in Cote d’Ivoire—covering 6.5 per cent of the country’s area—Banco park spreads over 3,438 hectares (about 5,000 football fields). It includes 600 hectares of primary forests; an arboretum with over 800 species of plants from tropical Africa, Asia and Latin America; fish ponds; chimpanzees; and the river that flows through it has huge catfish. A treasure trove of data for science, the park has spiritual, scientific, educational and recreational value.
At the end of 2019, a study funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that Banco was home to more than 590 vascular plants (plants with tissue that can transport water to great heights), including 561 angiosperms (flowering plants that produce seeds encased in “fruits”), 27 ferns, and two lycophytes (vascular plants similar to ferns).
The study also documented the park‘s mycoflora (fungi) and found 86 species of mushrooms, essential for the proper functioning of ecosystems. Fungi aerate the soil and break down forest litter, releasing the minerals essential for plant growth.
The flora include 88 rare or endangered species, seven of which are only known in Côte d'Ivoire. Twenty species of flora appear on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List (2019), meaning that they are threatened globally, including two “endangered” and 18 “vulnerable” species.
Two endangered species Placodiscus pseudostipularis and the makore (Tieghemella heckelii—a wood renowned for its great strength and durability) face a very high risk of extinction in the wild because their area of occurrence has drastically reduced due to the expansion of agriculture.
“You can’t properly appreciate and value what you can’t measure,” says UNEP Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya who recently visited the park. “Documenting all the species that exist in Banco National Park is vital for effective conservation and stewardhsip.”
A park under pressure
For all its natural beauty and the ecosystem services it provides, the park is under pressure. Untreated domestic and industrial wastewater from the densely populated suburb of Abobo is a major threat to the park’s vegetation and flora. Air pollution, agricultural encroachment, economic activities and population growth are affecting plant cover in the protected area.
Rainwater and wastewater are depositing sandy sediments and muddy soil at the edge of the park, leading to a proliferation of invasive species.
To address these problems, UNEP, the Government of Côte d'Ivoire, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and other partners have been working on a project titled Integrated Management of Protected Areas in Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa. The initiative is operating for four years, between 2017 and 2021.
In relation to Banco Park, apart from carrying out an inventory of species, the project aims to improve park management, establish an innovative financing mechanism, integrate local biodiversity conservation initiatives into outlying areas of the park, and reduce pressure on forest resources to increase the flow of ecosystem services.
“Prior to the project, the main problem was the high pressure on forest resources and low involvement of local communities, leading to a decrease in the supply of ecosystem services,” says Adamou Bouhari, a UNEP biodiversity expert.
Banco National Park not only offers residents of Abidjan better living standards, but also, livelihoods. Non-governmental organization “Vision Verte” and the Ivorian Office of Parks and Reserves (local partners in the project) have come together to create jobs for youth from nearby communities. The young people work in the park as tourist guides, for flora and fauna data collection, and maintain paths and green spaces, all of which helps raise environmental awareness.,
Robert Beugré Mambé, the District Governor of Abidjan, The mayor of Abidjan is a strong supporter of the park, and the regular local management committee sessions, and is helping to get local authorities involved. A 61,000 hectare area is being Integrated into the park.
Nature is in crisis, threatened by biodiversity and habitat loss, global heating and toxic pollution. Failure to act is failing humanity. Addressing the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and protecting ourselves against future global threats requires sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste; strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity; and a clear commitment to “building back better”, creating green jobs and facilitating the transition to carbon neutral economies. Humanity depends on action now for a resilient and sustainable future.
For more information, please contact Adamou Bouhari: [email protected]