I am a conservation biologist by training. Actually, I was one of the three Ugandans who went through the program of training in The Biology of Conservation at the Chiromo Campus of Nairobi University, Kenya, when the program was launched in the Department of Zoology towards the end of the 1970s. It was a multidisciplinary program, meaning that The Biology of Conservation was a multidisciplinary science.
This is unlike the sustainability sciences or team sciences of interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinary, and nondisciplinarity (or extradisciplinarity) all of which seek genuine interaction between scholars and non-scholars at varying levels of integration of Knowledge.
No genuine integration or interaction takes place in multidisciplinary science. Participants in the science come together but do not meaningfully and effectively interact.
They only reduce the distances between themselves and between their disciplines. The knowledge workers interact with the students at different times but never meet during the dynamics of the program of training. During our training at the University of Nairobi a variety of knowledge workers from across the university curriculum imparted knowledge to us, but at no time did all of them meet us at the same time. Therefore, the program did not enable us to adequately interact during its discourse although there were always opportunities for us to interact with the men and women in the field when we were engaged in practical work or when we were interacting with professionals.
However, the program was sufficient in changing our professional outlook and grasping the truism that science is one, with three dimensions: natural science, social science, and humanities (or arts). Among the course units were Social Science for Biological Conservationists and Political Science for Conservation Biologists. Besides the broad fields of knowledge constituting the programme were Ecology and the Conservation and Management of Resources. I wish to inform you that at that time, Nairobi University was the only university in the whole world offering training in The Biology of Conservation. However, only a few students participated in the program every two years from 1978. I was one of the three Ugandans that benefitted from the program between 1978 and 1982.
The first one was the late Dr Pamba and the second one was Prof. Alfred Kambe who lives in the United States of America. In this article, I want to use my background training in The Biology of Conservation to integrate conservation, biodiversity, and sustainability. Let me begin by defining the three concepts.
Conservation may be defined as the careful maintenance and upkeep of a natural resource to prevent it from disappearing or becoming derelict or extinct. A natural resource is the physical supply of something that exists in nature, such as soil, water, air, plants, animals, and energy.
Conservation protects the environment through the responsible use of natural resources. It is different from preservation, which protects the environment from harmful human activities. Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life.
Sustainability is defined as: “the integration of environmental health, bioecological integrity, social equity, and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse, and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come. The practice of sustainability recognizes how these issues are interconnected and requires a systems approach and an acknowledgment of complexity. It also requires different types of sciences called sustainability sciences, also called team sciences, or integration sciences to achieve it.
These integration sciences have been mentioned elsewhere in this article as interdisciplinarity, crossdisciplinarity, transdisciplinary, and nondisciplinarity (or extradisciplinarity).
As Richard A. Niesenbaum recently stated in his article “The Integration of Conservation, biodiversity, and Sustainability”, on which this particular article is based, “Our understanding of conservation biology and sustainability have been independently developing for a long time. Evidence suggests that biodiversity is critical for ecosystem function and services on which humans depend, and is directly linked to the economic, social, and environmental components of sustainability.
Because of this, the integration of research from each of these areas should and is becoming a priority. A number of research priorities that allow for the transition from conflict to mutual compatibility between conservation and sustainability objectives have to be explored through research. These priorities include research that will improve our understanding of (1) ecosystem services and functions provided by biodiversity that benefit humans; (2) the connection between biodiversity and poverty reduction; (3) biodiverse agriculture; (4) issues surrounding indigenous knowledge; and (5) the development of indicators that allow for the integrative assessment of biodiversity conservation and sustainability objectives.
The correct research is integration research via the sustainability sciences rather than the traditional disciplinary approaches Richard A. Niesenbaum observes that the relationship between sustainability and the conservation of biodiversity has only been slowly evolving and until recently has not been well established, particularly from a research perspective. In some cases, sustainability objectives have been viewed as incompatible with the priority of conserving biodiversity. There is now a growing body of evidence that the diversity of life is critical for ecosystem function and services on which humans depend, and is directly linked to the economic, social, and environmental spheres of sustainability.
However, this diversity is increasingly threatened by human activities such as urbanization, global deforestation, agricultural expansion, and climate change and it is estimated that we are currently losing species at up to 1000 times the background rate of extinction. In Uganda, environmentally unconscious policies for industrialization, agriculture, energy, forestry, food production and land grabbing by greedy and selfish people are delinking conservation from biodiversity and sustainability Ecosystem services everywhere in the country are being violated for selfish ends at the expense of humanity.
Whole ecosystems are being destroyed simultaneously with the destruction of agroecological systems. This is in total ignorance of the fact that there can be no meaningful and effective development if conservation, biodiversity, and sustainability are not interconnected and integrated to maintain their interdependence. Many writers are in agreement that the preservation of biodiversity is important if not essential in allowing humans to sustain their lives in a variety of ways.
At the same time, biodiversity conservation and human activity and development are often seen in conflict with each other. This conflict can be alleviated through the integration of biodiversity conservation with the three-pillar model of sustainability and sustainable development. For Uganda to achieve meaningful development, transformation, and progress, conservation, biodiversity, and sustainability must be taken as principles and integrated into one spectrum of civilization.
However, this will be possible until the governors of the country institutionalize the sustainability sciences in our education system, particularly in higher education. Doing so is a 21st-century imperative. We must have scholars developing conservation science, biodiversity science, and sustainability science simultaneously at our institutions of higher learning. But this won’t be possible unless our education planners and managers as well as curriculum designers accept that integration sciences, also called sustainability sciences or team sciences, are superior to the disintegrating disciplines.
A lack of interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, and nondisciplinary or extra-disciplinary scholars working on solutions-based research has been a barrier to achieving sustainability objectives in the country. Yet without achieving sustainability objectives, we are just sojourners of the century.
Or God and My Country.