To effectively address the challenges facing biodiversity and environmental degradation, it is important to understand that threats to biodiversity are social and not necessarily biological. These were the sentiments of Dr. John Waithaka during a seminar at JKUAT on ‘The role of Universities in Biodiversity Conservation’, February 24, 2022.
Dr. Waithaka, who is a Member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Commission, said biodiversity has significant economic and social value and it is vital for universities to play a critical role in championing for policies and action towards addressing biodiversity and environmental degradation.
“The field of conservation has been mainly left in the hands of biologists, although the challenges facing conservation are mainly social, political and economic in nature,” said Dr. Waithaka.
To play their part, Dr. Waithaka said, universities are expected to bring out economic, political, social and cultural transformation in society and need to be centres of excellence in conservation through collaborative cutting-edge research.
“Universities are uniquely resourced in that they have disciplinary experts who can lead inquiry to provide scientific approaches and knowledge needed to untangle real complex issues and challenges,” opined Dr. Waithaka.
Acknowledging that we have developed good policies as a country, Dr. Waithaka however, says more needs to be done to ensure that these policies are implemented and come up with home-based solutions for biodiversity.
He believes, universities can serve as a steady source for consistent and ongoing long-term conservation research and monitoring, saying, “universities are uniquely situated to positively influence public understanding and acceptance of science as they are often perceived by the public and many policy-makers as trusted sources of objective information.”
On curricula, Dr. Waithaka said curriculum development should be cognizant of the changing time to produce multi-skilled professionals to support inclusive conservation.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi, who is a Professor of Botany, challenged the researchers to engage in collaborative interdisciplinary research in a bid to protect and conserve the biodiversity of the country and region.
She encouraged researchers to share and communicate these research findings to address the challenges of Africa’s biodiversity conservation as stipulated in Kenya’s Agenda 2030 and Africa’s Agenda 2063.
“National Geographic explorers are working to slow the extinction of global species and to protect global biodiversity and habitats. Environmental filmmakers and photographers are essential to conservation efforts as well, documenting and bringing attention to endangered wildlife all over the world. As Universities, we cannot afford to be left behind in this noble and important role of conservation,” said Prof. Ngumi.
The hybrid (both virtual and physical) seminar, organized by the Research, Production and Extension’s Directorate of Research and Innovation in partnership with the College of Pure and Applied Sciences (COPAS), attracted over 100 staff and students.
The seminar was also addressed by Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research Production and Extension, Prof. Mary Abukutsa, Principal COPAS, Prof. George Thiong’o, Dean, School of Biological Sciences, Dr. Peter Mwangi, Director, Research and Innovation, Dr. John Kinyuru and Chair of Department, Dr. Gladys Onyambu.