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UNESCO steps up efforts for biodiversity conservation with the designation of 20 new biosphere reserves

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UNESCO steps up efforts for biodiversity conservation with the designation of 20 new biosphere reserves

New biosphere reserves are designated every year by the MAB Programme’s governing body, the International Co-ordinating Council

PARIS, France, September 16, 2021/APO Group/ —

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme today added 20 new sites, in 21 countries to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which now numbers 727 biosphere reserves in 131 countries, including 22 transboundary sites. UNESCO Biosphere reserves now cover more than 5% of the Earth’s landmass, in which biodiversity conservation, environmental education, research and sustainable development are combined.

The International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC) meeting in Abuja from 13 to 17 September (for the first time on the African continent) approved these additions along with the extension or re-zoning of two existing biosphere reserves. The MAB programme  also celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021.

Lesotho, Libya and Saudi Arabia join the MAB Network this year with the designation of their first sites: Matšeng Biosphere Reserve, Ashaafean Biosphere Reserve, and Juzur Farasan Biosphere Reserve, respectively. In Europe, the Five-country Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube becomes the first MAB site to be co-managed by as many countries (Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia).

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General

UNESCO biosphere reserves are central to education, research and awareness-raising work to foster innovative sustainable development practices and combat the loss of biodiversity. The network supports local and indigenous communities and Member States’ understanding,  and the protection  of the natural  environment.

New biosphere reserves are designated every year by the MAB Programme’s governing body, the International Co-ordinating Council, which has a rotating elected membership of 34 Member States. Established by UNESCO in 1971 as an intergovernmental scientific programme, the Man and the Biosphere Programme has pioneered the idea of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

Five-country Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube (Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia)

The first biosphere reserve to connect five countries in the world encompasses the largest and best-preserved river system in Central Europe and aims to create a model of international cooperation for river basin management, while building bridges between people and nature. It brings together the Lower Mura Valley Biosphere Reserve (Austria), the Mura-Drava-Danube Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (Croatia and Hungary), the Bačko Podunavlje Biosphere Reserve (Serbia) and the Mura River Biosphere Reserve (Slovenia). 

It is home to about 900,000 people and covers an area of 931,820 ha centred around the Danube and the Mura and Drava tributaries, stretching from the Alps through the Carpathian Basin to the foothills of the Balkan Mountains and linking a network of 13 major protected areas. 

This unique river system provides essential ecosystem services and is essential for the survival of characteristic habitats and species. Harmonizing its sustainable management and biodiversity conservation across borders marks a major step forward in international cooperation and the sharing of responsibility, demonstrating State Parties willingness to think globally and act locally together.

Atl’ka7tsme/Howe Sound Biosphere Reserve, Canada

A short distance from Vancouver, the biosphere reserve encompasses the fjord and islands of Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound over a 218,723 ha, of which 16% are marine areas. This mountainous coastal ecosystem of great altitudinal range influenced by the Pacific Ocean, is home to high levels of biodiversity, with some 721 native terrestrial animal species including grizzly bears, wolverines and bald eagles. It also sustains thousands of marine species, including living glass sponge reefs, which were long thought to have gone extinct 40 million years ago. 

 Átl’ka7tsem (pronounced At-Kat-sum) is the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh/ Squamish word for paddling up the Sound and First Nation people have prospered in the region since time immemorial. Sustainable forestry and ecotourism are the main economic activities of the biosphere reserve’s 50,000 inhabitants. Following unsustainable practices such as overfishing and polluting heavy industry, which had devastating impacts on the environment, a decisive shift toward conservation and responsible resource development was made in the mid-70s. After more than 30 years of restoration, there are promising signs of recovery. Whales, dolphins and pink salmon have returned, and the estuary is once again a rich, productive ecosystem that is recognized internationally as an Important Bird Area. As land stewards and knowledge keepers, First Nations are key collaborators in co-creating the vision for Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound. In order to safeguard its cultural value and the holistic use of land and sea, the biosphere reserve’s governing body will ensure a balanced representation between First Nations, civil society and local authorities.

Martinique Biosphere Reserve, France

This is the 12th biosphere reserve along the volcanic arc of the Caribbean, one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots. Its richness is unique, as it includes many endemic species living in rare and endangered habitats. The whole island is included in the 4,924,768.63 ha biosphere reserve, together with its marine Exclusive Economic Zone. The site’s remarkable geology features the 1,397m high Mount Pelée active volcano, sleeping ‘mornes’ and a coastline of bays and coves. The rainforest covering the island’s steep foothills and the mangroves along its coastline demonstrate its vital role as part of an ecological corridor between the Americas.

The biosphere reserve is home to some 380,000 people, and its economy is mainly based on agriculture, as 20% of the island is arable land, agro-food industry and tourism, with one million visitors every year.

Moselle Sud Biosphere Reserve, France

Nudged between the Ardennes and the Vosges mountains, this 1,329,257 ha rural biosphere reserve, home to 76,609 people, encompasses the French part of the fertile mountainous slopes and open plains of the Moselle valley, which has evolved into a cultural landscape marked by cattle and sheep farming. Forests cover about half of the biosphere reserve, and wetlands in the west are dotted with innumerable ponds, formed over centuries to drain pastoral lands and serve as reservoirs, notably for fish farming, in an area known as the land of ponds.

The valley has been a major West Europe crossroad since the Middle Ages. There are plans for the biosphere reserve to become a hub for agro-pastoralism, ecotourism and environmental research.

Monte Grappa Biosphere Reserve, Italy

In the pre-Alpine belt of eastern Italy, 25 municipalities have come together to form the Monte Grappa Biosphere Reserve, an area of 66,067.30 ha inhabited by 174,184 people. Located on the outcrop of a faulting, Monte Grappa’s landscape of snow tops and alpine meadows typical of the Dolomites, looks over the wider plain ecosystems of the Veneto and Po Valley.

The group of municipalities plans to attract newcomers and reverse the gradual depopulation that began at the end of the 19th Century by resuming forestry and pastoral activities. The biosphere reserve is slated to serve as a laboratory of ideas and a local platform for the green and circular economy.

Kolsai Kolderi Biosphere Reserve, Kazakhstan

Located in the northern part of the Tien Shan mountain system, Kolsai Kolderi features unique landscapes of steppes that rise to the iced peaks of the alpine belt, canyons, rivers and scenic lakes framed by coniferous and deciduous forests It is home to many rare and endangered species, notably Tien Shan brown bears, snow leopards and Turkestan lynxes. The biosphere reserve covers an area of 242,085 ha and is bordered to the south by Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve.

While most of its 8,000 inhabitants make their living from agriculture and animal husbandry, the biosphere reserve has an enormous potential for sustainable tourism, enhanced by its proximity Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial, economic and cultural hub.

The main goal of the biosphere reserve is to preserve typical, rare and unique natural features, and support sustainable socio-economic development. 

Wando Biosphere Reserve, Republic of Korea

Located at the Southernmost tip of the Korean Peninsula, the Wando Archipelago comprises 265 islands, only 55 of which are inhabited by a total of some 50,000 people who welcome 3 million visitors a year. Marine areas account for almost 90% of the 403,899 ha biosphere reserve.

Warm-temperate evergreen broad-leaf forests cover the mountain slopes and stretch along the coasts of Wando, which features a variety of ecosystems including salt marshes, rocky habitats, sandy areas, tidal flats, and intertidal and sub-littoral zones extending into the sea, which hosts an equally rich diversity of marine wildlife.

This biosphere reserve presents fine examples of traditional land management practices, such as Maeulsup (village forests and groves that protect residents and farmlands from strong winds) and Gudeuljangnon (terraced rice paddies). The inhabitants recognize that these sustainable practices and a healthy environment add a significant value to their archipelago’s seafood production and tourism.

Matšeng Biosphere Reserve, Lesotho

The first biosphere reserve in the country, Matšeng covers an area of 112,033 ha, in the northern highlands of Lesotho, sometimes called the Kingdom in the Sky, due to the height of the Drakensberg-Maloti Mountains. It sustains a natural, minimally disturbed ecosystem with high levels of endemism and striking natural features, including Lesotho’s last indigenous woodlands. The site is an endemic bird area of high priority, with species such as the Drakensberg siskin (Crithagra symonsi).  

Subsistence farming and animal husbandry (cattle, sheep and goats for wool and mohair, horses for transportation and donkeys as pack animals) represent the main economic activities in the biosphere reserve. A variety of crops and vegetables are grown on smallholdings to supplement income and complement farmers’ food needs. 

There are plans to foster a thriving biodiversity economy in the biosphere based on climate-smart agriculture and cultural and natural ecotourism, made all the more attractive by awe-inspiring sceneries of mountain panoramas and ideal trails for hiking and pony trekking, walking.

Ashaafean Biosphere Reserve, Libya

Located in the north-eastern part of the Nafusa Mountain, Ashaafean is the first biosphere reserve in Lybia. Its Mediterranean biogeographic mountainous region features a wide variety of habitats supporting dry woodlands and steppe grasslands to the north and hyper-arid southern zones in the Sahara Desert.

Protected by governmental decree since 1978, the biosphere reserve’s 83,060 ha core area is home to a variety of rare and, or endangered species, including medicinal and aromatic plants and fauna species inscribed on the IUCN Red List, such as the Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), the Land tortoise (Testudo graeca) and the Houbara (Chlamydotis undulate).

The area provides a platform for research and training to university students working on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Most of the biosphere reserves 65,000 inhabitants make a living from traditional sustainable agriculture, wood gathering and beekeeping. The region is known for the quality of its olives and oil.

Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve, Malaysia

Penang Hill is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia, attracting 1.6 million visitors each year. Situated on Penang Island, in a global biodiversity hotspot. It covers a surface area of 12,481 ha including 5,196 ha of marine areas and features Malaysia’s only meromictic lake whose bottom layer of seawater is covered by a layer of freshwater constituting a rare ecosystem that is home to fragile and threatened aquatic species, like the endemic toad Ansonia penangensis.

Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve is a mosaic of urban, agricultural and natural landscapes, with one of the last coastal rainforests in Malaysia, coastal lowland and hill dipterocarp forests, mangroves, wetlands, sandy beaches and coral reefs. These diverse habitats support a wide range of floral and faunal diversity, including endemic and endangered species such as Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) and migratory birds. Its beaches are common nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles.

Penang Hill has been a major tourist attraction and a magnet for colonial officials and botanists in the 19th century. Since their creation in 1884, the Penang Botanic Gardens have served as a repository of Penang Hill’s flora and fauna which numbers over 2,400 plant species, including over 200 species of orchids.

Uvs Lake Depression Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Mongolia – Russian Federation

Situated on the border of the Russian Federation, the 335,000 ha Uvs Lake, the largest in Mongolia, is encircled by the semi-arid foothills of the southern Altay Mountains. Uvs has a flat shallow basin, which makes it a natural salt lake. 

The Uvs Lake Depression, a core area of the Altay Sayan global eco-region, is part of the newly designated transboundary biosphere reserve which extends over a vast 2,242,112.70 ha, bridging two entire biomes of the Siberian taïga and Mongolian steppes. The site provides habitat to emblematic species such as the Argali sheep, snow leopard, Altay ibex, as well as migratory birds.

The transboundary biosphere reserve brings together Uvs Nuur Basin Biosphere Reserve, on the Mongolian side, and Ubsunorskaya Kotlovina Biosphere Reserve, on the Russian side, both of which were designated in 1997.

Work to join the two biosphere reserves began in 2011 with the creation of a joint coordinating body, which carried out participatory workshops and meetings to foster transboundary nature conservation. Ten years on, this long-term cooperation allowed for the establishment of a model region straddling the two countries.

Avireri-Vraem Biosphere Reserve, Peru

Located in the provinces of Satipo and La Convención of central Peru, Avireri Vraem spans altitudes of 280 m to 6,271 m, hosting 12 different ecosystems in three ecoregions: the Amazonian rainforest at the foot of the Andes, Yungas on the steep mountain slopes with montane and cloud forests, and the Andean Region in the heights of the Andes mountain range. It is home to 257 endemic fauna species, 307 endemic and endangered flora species and 115 endangered fauna species on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. 

The biosphere has a population of around 458,701 people including local and Indigenous communities, who speak eight different languages. Their tangible and intangible cultural heritage forms a defining element of the diverse identity of Avireri Vraem. “Avireri” is a mythical Ashaninka hero who helped shape the world by separating day and night, the dry and the rainy season and creating music for each of them. He also kept invaders at bay by turning them into rocks. “Vraem” is the acronym for the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers (Valle de los ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro).

The newly designated 4,110,762.685-ha. biosphere reserve establishes a link between Peru’s Oxapampa Ashaninka Yanesha and Manu biosphere reserves, and will reinforce the inclusive and sustainable development of the region.

Kuznetsky Alatau Biosphere Reserve, Russian Federation

Facing the unfolding Siberian expanses to the north and shouldered by the Altay Mountains to the south, the Kuznetsky Alatau Ridge remains virtually unchanged since the last ice-age. It encompasses mountains shared by Siberian fir and Siberian pine, tundra and taiga ecosystems where Siberian forest reindeer, moose and brown bears live. Otters, minks, muskrats and beavers thrive on the shores of its rivers and lakes. The 2,698,772-hа biosphere reserve has a population of 138,632 inhabitants and is home to the Shorian people.

In these remote mountains, the biosphere reserve will serve as a hub for social services, environmentally oriented small businesses, eco-tourism and the revival of the local indigenous culture. Over 100,000 tourists visit its monuments, witness traditional rites and sample the local cuisine each year.

Mountain Great Bogdo Biosphere Reserve, Russian Federation

Between the meandering Volga to the west, overlooking the steppes of Kazakhstan to the east, the 60,423-ha biosphere reserve constitutes a crossing of landscapes and cultures. It is home to 230 bird species, such as curly pelicans, long-legged buzzards, several species of eagles and falcons, and on the migratory routes of several bird species protected under the Ramsar Convention. The mountainous semi-arid ecosystem also hosts 88 species of higher vascular plants,12 species of reptiles, notably the endemic squeaky gecko (Alsophylax pipiens), over 160 taxa of insects and 113 species of arachnids 46 species of mammals including a relic population of antelope Saigatatarica, wild boar, elk and roe deer.

At the centre of the biosphere reserve, Lake Baskunchak, known throughout Russia for its salt production, stands out from its surrounding scrubland. The biosphere reserve, a landmark of the Caspian depression, contains numerous archaeological and cultural monuments testifying to its position on the Silk Road. Its sparse population includes Russians, Kazakhs, Ukrainians, Chechens, Tatars, Koreans, Azerbaijanis and Kalmyk people, who mostly live of farming, animal husbandry and horse breeding. The biosphere reserve will serve as a hub for nature conservation and research on the traditional medicinal use of plants and clay, as well as tourism.

Juzur Farasan Biosphere Reserve, Saudi Arabia

The archipelago of Juzur Farasan in Saudi Arabia is a group of islands located at the extreme south-west of the country near the Yemeni border. The 820,000ha area combines marine and terrestrial habitats constituting a complex of important ecosystems in the South Red Sea. 

The Farasan Islands feature rare and endemic species of both flora and fauna that contribute to making this first biosphere reserve in Saudi Arabia, an exceptional site. It is notably home to three of Saudi Arabia’s 13 recorded stands of the threatened red mangrove Rhizophora mucronate, as well as a relict population of Dugong dugon listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, the largest population of Idmi gazelle in the country and various species of seabirds (nesting pink-backed pelican, osprey, crab-plover), marine species (several dolphin species, whales, hawksbill sea turtles, corals and manta rays) and reptiles.

The remoteness of the islands has contributed to the preservation of many ancestral agricultural traditions. Local people still maintain built terraces and employ traditional irrigation systems. Local communities also use traditional forms of small-scale, subsistence agriculture in areas where shallow wells are maintained and used to irrigate local plants varieties including cereals and vegetables.

Ribeira Sacra E Serras Do Oribio E Courel Biosphere Reserve, Spain

Located in Galicia, at the mountainous northwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, the 306,534.77 ha biosphere reserve is a site of great natural beauty enriched by a rich cultural heritage. 

The river Miño meanders at the bottom of the vertiginous Sil canyons, in a landscape of valleys, tertiary depressions and scrubland foothills, resulting in a diversity of microclimates.

The newly designated biosphere reserve now encompasses a UNESCO Global Geopark and six Natura 2000 sites into a unique safe haven for biodiversity that harbours 1,214 species of vascular flora, 52.7% of the floristic diversity of Galicia, and 277 species of fauna. The site is the westernmost extension of the ecological corridor formed by biosphere reserves in the Cantabrian Mountains and protected areas along the European Atlantic Coast.

Inhabited by 75,203 people, the site has a history of research and educational activities devoted to conservation and sustainable management, focusing notably on balanced agro-systems and ecotourism. High levels of protection also apply to cultural heritage. The site is famous for the Routes of Santiago de Compostela inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1993. It also features caves, rock shelters, petroglyphs, megaliths, monasteries, churches, ancient settlements and bridges which attest to the high value of the region.

Doi Chiang Dao Biosphere Reserve, Thailand

Doi Chiang Dao Biosphere Reserve is located in Chiang Dao District of Chiang Mai Province in Thailand. It is the only region in the country to be covered with sub-alpine vegetation, found also in the Himalayas and in the southern part of China. Many rare, endangered or vulnerable species live in the 85,909.04 ha biosphere reserve, such as the Lar Gibbon (Hylobates lar), leaf monkey (Trachypithecus phayrei), Chinese Goral (Naemorhedus griseus), Tiger (Panthera tigris), or Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa).

The landscape abounds with caves formed by the infiltration of rain water through limestone formations. The largest and most important of these is Chiang Dao Cave, from which the biosphere reserve takes its name. The cave is associated with the legend of Chao Luang Chiang Dao, the king of all spirits, who is believed to reside in the towering Doi Chiang Dao mountain; both are revered as sacred places. A Buddhist temple in the Lanna style marks the entrance of the cave. The cave and mountain attract many visitors each year, and a model for visitor impact management was implemented. Ecotourism, birdwatching and stargazing are further local tourist attractions. 

Agriculture using a traditional gravity-based irrigation system called Maung Fai is a notable activity in the site, where local practices and knowledge have been maintained over almost 800 years. 

Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve, Uzbekistan

Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve (LABR) in Uzbekistan is located in the northern part of the lower reaches of the River Amudarya, southeast of the former coast of the Aral Sea. The site is one of the largest areas of natural Tugai in Central Asia which, from a global perspective, is a unique and threatened ecosystem. 

By entering the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, LABR’s stakeholders will notably aim to conserve and restore the natural landscapes, animal and plant species of Tugai forests as well as other natural features characteristic of the riparian forests of Central Asia.

The area provides an important habitat for plant and animal life and contains the highest biodiversity in the desert regions of Central Asia. It is also the natural andprotected environment of the threatened Bukhara Deer (Cervus hanglu bactrianus).

Nui Chua Biosphere Reserve, Viet Nam

The 106.646,45 ha. Nui Chua Biosphere Reserve encompasses the terrestrial and marine areas of Ninh Thuan Province and is located at the end of the Truong Son Mountain Range where the climateis harsh with sunny, hot and arid weather and minimal rainfall The biosphere reserve is a representative area in terms of biodiversity with a rich and diverse mosaic of ecosystems characteristic of  the south-central region of Viet Nam, including unique semi-arid vegetation, sea turtle nesting beaches and coral reefs. 

A total population of 447,162 people live in the site including the main ethnic groups of Kinh, Cham, Raglai, Hoa, Tay, Nung and Muong, all of whom have diverse cultures, artistic, religious and architectural traditions as well as numerous rituals and large festivals.

Kon ha Nung Biosphere Reserve, Viet Nam

Kon ha Nung is located in the highlands of Central Viet Nam, the so called ‘Roof of Indochina’, the highest peak of which reaches over 1,700 m. and extends over 413,511.67 ha and is home to 413,511.67 inhabitants. The biosphere reserve is also home to rare species such as the Gray-shanked douc (Pygathrix cinerea) a rare and endemic primate species of Viet Nam, classified as critically endangered, with only about 1,000 individuals in the wild.

The biosphere reserve is managedin line with the traditional knowledge of local communities including Indigenous and folk knowledge about production and social organization. The Gia Lai Province People’s Committee formulates policies concerning land and forest allocations to households, payment for forest ecosystem services and the development of sustainable ecotourism.

Extension, re-zoning or renaming of existing biosphere reserves

Appennino Tosco Emiliano Biosphere Reserve, Italy

The biosphere reserve was extended by 275,384 ha and now encompasses a total of 498,613 ha, with a permanent population of over 378,424 inhabitants.

The site’s location on the geographical and climatic boundary between continental and Mediterranean Europe provides great biodiversity, with at least 260 species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and 122 species of birds, amphibians, fish and invertebrates of community and regional conservation interest.

The extension will serve to engage local communities in living in harmony with nature, encourage local recognition of the value of ecosystem services, of which communities are the primary beneficiaries, and provide opportunities for investment in the conservation and development of these ecosystem services.

Lauca Biosphere Reserve, Chile 

The total area of the Lauca Biosphere Reserve (Chile), established in 1981, was extended from 358,000 ha to 1,026,567 ha. and now covers the communes of General Lagos, Putre and Camarones located in the northeast on the borders with Bolivia and Peru.

Around one-third of Chile’s fauna is present in the Lauca Biosphere Reserve and due to the high ecological value of the region, a RAMSAR site and three national Wildlife Protected Areas are already located within its perimeter. 

The extended biosphere reserve is home to a population of 4,734 permanent residents, including 50 Indigenous families. The region is classified as an Area for Indigenous Development; thus, the extension of the biosphere reserve provides local communities with an opportunity to expand dialogue and share Indigenous knowledge, as the participation of the Indigenous community is key to the biosphere reserve’s management.

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