What Migratory Birds Tell Us About Sustainability
© FAO/Bruno Portier, 2019
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Migratory birds are indispensable to healthy ecosystems and to the well-being of people in every region of the world.

One dramatic example can be seen in the Sahelian Wetlands, which cover several countries in Africa and provide food and livelihoods for nearly a billion people.

In response to the challenges facing migratory birds in the Sahelian Wetlands, five countries in the region, together with international organizations and communities, are pooling their efforts to develop ways to protect the wetlands and their bird populations, while taking into account the daily needs of the people who share these habitats.

A sign of the passing seasons which many of us have come to expect is, increasingly, under threat. Each year, flocks of migratory birds arrive and leave in dazzling displays, landing in trees and on lakes, ponds and beaches, foraging for food in fields and marshes. They provide both sustenance and delight for billions of people around the world. But many migratory birds, like people, are struggling amid unsustainable conditions.

Migratory birds are indispensable to healthy ecosystems and to the well-being of people in every region of the world. They provide food and income. They consume billions of insects. They help to disperse crop seeds and are also capable of stimulating primary productivity, for instance while foraging in marshes. But their numbers have been falling due to a lethal combination of factors, including pollution, climate change, unsustainable hunting practices, habitat losses, and the impact of human settlements and infrastructure.

One dramatic example can be seen in the Sahelian Wetlands, which cover several countries in Africa and provide food and livelihoods for nearly a billion people. Since 1960, the population of water birds has plummeted by some 40 percent.

These wetlands, including the Senegal River Delta, the Inner Niger Delta, Lake Chad Basin and parts of the Nile River Valley, typically experience long and harsh dry seasons. The presence of migratory wild birds, especially water birds, is critically important to the well-being of rural people in the region and ongoing efforts to address hunger and malnutrition.

Every year, World Migratory Bird Day is observed in May and October as part of an annual campaign designed to raise public awareness of migratory birds and the need for international cooperation to protect them. This year’s events take place on May 11 and October 10.

This global campaign also reflects a growing understanding that major challenges like hunger and poverty are frequently linked to the state of the natural environment and the ways in which we manage our land and water resources. The long-term well-being of migratory birds is closely interconnected with our own prospects for a sustainable future. As a consequence, the World Migratory Bird Day actively contributes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and SDG 15 (life on land). It also contributes to SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger) and this year, in particular, to SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) by focusing on the devastating effects of plastic pollution.

In response to the challenges facing migratory birds in the Sahelian Wetlands, five countries in the region (Chad, Egypt, Mali, Senegal and Sudan), together with international organizations and communities, are pooling their efforts to develop ways to protect the wetlands and their bird populations, while taking into account the daily needs of the people who share these habitats.

This regional initiative, known as the RESSOURCE project, is coordinated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), and involves policy and conservation experts from various organizations, primarily from Africa and Europe, with funding support from France and the EU.

To date, it is the most comprehensive effort to reconcile people’s food security needs with the conservation of water birds in the Sahelian Wetlands.

The project focuses on such issues as monitoring bird populations, training in better management of wetlands, reducing poaching and over-hunting, and developing or supporting laws and institutional systems to support sustainable management of water birds and their habitats.

Making sure that migratory birds find healthy and welcoming places to settle on their repeated journeys across continents and waterways is not the only path towards a sustainable future but it is a fundamental step towards their conservation, a goal whose importance can no longer be ignored.

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This article was written by Bruno Portier, FAO Forestry Officer. The ‘Strengthening Expertise in Sub-Saharan Africa on Birds and Their Rational Use for Communities and Their Environment’ (RESSOURCE) project is co-funded by the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) and the EU, through the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme. It focuses on wetlands situated in the Senegal River Valley, Inner Niger Delta, Lake Chad Basin and the lower and middle reaches of the Nile River, and aims to improve the state of natural resources in these regions, particularly waterbird populations.


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