2020-A decisive year for Biodiversity to achieve Bio-Security


Despite the escalated biodiversity crisis, many believed 2020 would be a "super year" for biodiversity because of several milestones, which aimed to halt the loss of wild species and agrobiodiversity fall in this year. As we observe the 50th anniversary of global Earth Day, the end of the year would mark the end of the UN decade on Biodiversity and the Global Biodiversity Targets (Aichi Targets). 2020 also would mark the UN's 75th birthday, as well as the deadline for achieving 21 of the 169 targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. The major goal of all these global commitments is to halt the loss of biodiversity evolved over millions of years to promote conservation and sustainable use of farmers' varieties and breeds, evolved ever since farming was invented for food and agriculture. The major strategic pathway adopted for saving the endangered species and the genetic diversity as well as protecting the ecosystem services is mainstreaming biodiversity in achieving food, health, nutrition and livelihood securities.

Twin Problems:

Both biodiversity and the bio-security of this planet are severely threatened.

A major lesson from the coronavirus pandemic is that we must stop exceeding the limits of planetary boundaries, and rely on evidence from science to prepare for the future management of the planet's life with no difference whether it is human or microscopic viral life. The discussion should focus on how to engage and twine the activities of private sector industries, government institutions, and the key non-governmental organizations in achieving the post-COVID development agenda by integrating the post-2020 biodiversity action plans at different levels.

Biodiversity integrity in peril

Global health and economic securities have been shattered severely by a microscopic living organism. Since, the 1996 Ebola linked deaths in Gabon, crossing of new viruses and pathogens from wildlife to humans is on the rise with a wider and faster spread. Increase in zoonotic viruses like SARS-CoV-2 has an origin in deforestation and biodiversity loss. A major reason for the emergence of the new viruses and diseases is destruction of forests and loss of wild biodiversity. It is believed that every one hour 240 acres of natural habitats are getting destroyed. Forest loss due to land-use changes, forest fire and climate changes hit a record high in 2016-2017 and remained above historical levels in 2016 (Fig.1). The human interference makes habitat fragmentation faster and fragmented habitats surrounded by modified environments function like islands with isolated populations of species, become more vulnerable to early extinction of the species. Fragments of less than 1,000 ha size range, experience a faster rate of loss of animal life, especially mammals and birds. Across the planet, we cleared and continue clearing the natural habitats including primary forests of so many species of animals and plants and disrupted the natural energy flow in the food web to the extent of overshooting multiple times the earth's regenerative capacity. Currently, we draw natural resources 1.75 times higher than the capacity for its regeneration by the planet's ecosystems, and if this trend continues we would require fourmore Earths to meet our requirements for natural resources.

All forms of biodiversity- ecosystems, species, to genes across almost all taxa, are threatened, and facing an alarming rate of extinction. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimated that one million species are threatened with extinction Over 80 per cent of the biodiversity decline is caused by habitat destruction and degradation. According to WWF reports, there are 12,505 plant, 1204 mammal, 1469 birds, 1215 reptile, 2100 amphibian, 2386 fish and 1414 insect species are considered threatened. According to IUCN, one in every 4 species of all major taxa are threatened (Fig 2). Nearly 75 per cent of the genetic diversity in crops and breeds has been already lost, and 90% of the remaining diversity is under threat. Intact natural forest ecosystems and genetically diverse agricultural farms and landscapes are critically vital for providing the services like supply of freshwater, protection against storms, floods and other hazards as well as for resilience to the production landscapes. This massive loss of wild species has now forced environmentalists to think the Planet is entering its 6th great extinction phase.


Fig 2:

Bio-security at risk

Human-animal and environmental health are related and have to be treated synergistically as one health to fight many of the human health problems. In the human-dominated Anthropocene epoch where disruptions in the natural environment become rampant, the emergence of many more pathogens in the future cannot be ruled out. Studies reveal the source of over 90% of the zoonotic virus transmission is wild animals that are in the range of thousands of species- rodents, birds, bats to primates.

The one health approach is gaining recognition in many parts of the world and mobilizing human and animal health doctors, and ecosystem health experts to work together. If we ignore the warning signs of repeated human illness of zoonotic origin, the cost will be massive to the extent the entire humanity getting wiped out from this earth.

For the post-corona development phase, every nation needs to bring out the way forward plan that has local level actions aimed at protecting and enhancing the wild landscapes, ecosystems and species diversity.  Unless there is a paradigm shift in our approach in the management of and investment on our wild biodiversity and the planet's health, we could expect more and more health calamities in the future. We do not know when and where will be the next outbreak of a new pathogen.

The Urgency: On the ground integrated Action

The potential policy needs and projects should be discussed for practical actions to improve the Ecosystem health, and Bio-security of the region, especially the biodiversity hotspots of the country. Some of the urgent actions needed are outlined here.

1. Increased Investments in Biodiversity​

The situation is urgent now for investing in Biodiversity to help Humanity secure life on this planet. Good Ecology is Good Business. Commercialization and sustainable production (including cultivation) and consumption can trigger conservation if the business world wants to grow good business for sustaining good ecology and safeguard biodiversity. Unfortunately, the present-day business in production sectors such as agriculture, aquaculture &marine fisheries, forestry, and pharmaceutical herbs are placing enormous pressure on biodiversity. The impact of biodiversity loss and collapse of ecosystem services will be significant on any commercial production and supply chain of goods and services. There is a growing concern on the need for risk-benefit assessment associated with commercial products and services, as well as delivering sustainable management mechanisms and practices that reduce pressures on biodiversity. As the Climate risks, the risks related to unscientific management and use of biodiversity are far more compared to the benefits for society and business. The plantation crops like coffee, tea, cocoa, rubber, teak, oil palm are produced by clearing natural forests that house many critically endangered and keystone species. So reducing pressure on biodiversity, and developing sustainable commodity supply chain is essential for both industry and governments.

The need to have fast actions from all to spend for saving biodiversity and restoring wild habitats is stronger.  Investments are needed to solve root causes, not to treat the symptoms. More investments on biodiversity conservation and a foundation for sustainable and inclusive development are the only way out.  Unfortunately, the current global investment to protect forests and biodiversity is a paltry 0.002 per cent of the global GDP. If we want to curb the pandemics like COVID-19, the pace and size of the current investments on Ecology, biodiversity conservation and development have to be increased manifold. Biodiversity is the foundation for Sustainable Development, and Investments in Biodiversity are the investments in Sustainable Development. SDGs 14 & 15 are directly focused on Biodiversity and indirectly the SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG3 (Good health), SDG6 (clean water) and SDG13 (Climate Action). 

Globally, the private sector has recognized the need for targeted biodiversity finance mechanisms and began testing innovative green marketing mechanisms both on their own and together with governments and other champions of sustainable development. The UNDP leads a global partnership BIOFIN for this purpose and working to achieve the twin objective of developing country-level biodiversity finance plan, and mobilization of the required resources and policies for achieving the national biodiversity targets mainly by synergizing with the SDG Action Plan.  According to UNDP data, the private sector investment grew from less than a billion USD in 2004-2008 to USD 8 billion in 2015, but this is inadequate to meet the needs. Equally important is need for increased funding from developed countries to biodiversity-rich developing countries, which can leverage and incentivize private sector investment.

The key underlying principle in biodiversity finance is that no society should fail in achieving the biodiversity targets by the systemic lack of investments, biodiversity finance is intended not only to mobilize new resources but better utilize available resources and generate revenues and incentives for long term conservation, enhancement and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Private companies and investors help is needed to restore the endangered ecosystems, species and degraded natural and heritage biodiversity sites. When investors rescue as many wild ecosystems and biodiversity, they ensure not only improve ecosystem services, but create conditions to retain lethal pathogens in wildlife, and reduce risks of harmful pathogens jumping from animals to humans.

Promote a "4-C continuum" for Sustainable Biodiversity Business

To just cite an example of unhealthy production and consumption that destruct biodiversity and health is that of palm oil. India is the largest consumer of palm oil in the world, and there are intensive effort happens to expand the cultivation of this crop in more fertile mountains of the country. Palm oil consumption in India has increased by almost 230 per cent in the last 10 years with the current annual consumption of 10 million tonnes which is a reason attributed to increase in diabetes cases in India. Currently, nearly 90% of the world demand for palm oil is met by two countries -Indonesia and Malaysia, and the industry is on a rapid rise in other biodiversity-rich countries in west and central Africa, Latin America, Papua New Guinea and India. The oil palm plantations, mining and industrial logging operations have destroyed almost 80 per cent of the intact forests - the natural habitats of flagship species such as Orang-utan, Sumatran elephant, Bornean pygmy elephant and bird of paradise. Likewise, the seafood industry, the world's last major hunter-gatherer food system and aquaculture market, which considered to be a major role player in the 21st-century diet growing much faster than the agriculture sector in India.

So how can we promote a sustainable production and consumption patterns? When intensification practices happen in a socially and environmentally benign manner with an inclusive approach in food, health and nutrition production and supply chain system, it can be called sustainable biodiversity business. Sustainability in the supply chain occurs when the management practices and governance impact positively on the social, economic and environmental outcomes throughout the lifecycles of goods and services. Sustainable commerce can be better illustrated through a 4C continuum promoted by MSSRF. In this approach, commerce is done with the primary aim of creating an economic stake in conservation through options in livelihood security of small and marginal farmers, and promoted through a consumption pattern that enhances biodiverse diets, ensures food and nutrition security, and drives to cultivation practices which avoid hazardous chemicals and based on principles of organic farming. All the three-sector activities lead to conservation of biodiversity at in situ, on-farm and ex-situ levels. With this approach, sustainability can be achieved, and it will help companies to protect the long-term viability of their businesses by reducing supply risk and securing a social license to operate in the market. UNDP's Green Commodity Programme also a perfect example of this direction, which aims to transform agriculture production and trade through multi-stakeholder collaboration and the establishment of an effective national enabling environment in producer countries.

Empower Local Self Governments to Mainstream Biodiversity

All local bodies of the country need to tailor the biodiversity-related projects towards achieving concurrently the Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Biodiversity Targets. The preparedness for SDG achievement should start with partnership building amongst all the key stakeholders with clearly defined targets that benefit the prosperity of people and the planet. There is a huge gap exists at the local level, even amongst the conservation leaders regarding the legal demands and the awareness about the implications concerning the policies related to the sustainable use of biodiversity. This becomes an issue while dealing with subjects like Access & Benefit Sharing (ABS), Biodiversity conservation outside forest areas, and Climate change adaptation. This can be addressed if there are concerted efforts that lay towards the transfer of more learning of formal sector science and of traditional knowledge and skills to help the elected members and grass-roots institutions for mainstreaming biodiversity in development.

Following are some actions recommended to be taken up at every locally elected body of this country (panchayaths to corporations) to pave a pathway for a sustainable world where people live in harmony with nature in the coming years.

Mainstreaming Biodiversity Action Area:  CONSERVATION

Immediate (01-03 months)

  1. Photo documentation of homestead biodiversity of both wild and cultivated nature in from both urban and rural settings;
  2. Listing out the endemic and threatened species of all categories based on secondary data and expert opinions;
  3. Listing out degraded landscapes, waterscapes and ecosystems including the causal factors for degradation, focusing on the lands/waters of commons like beaches, lagoons, lakes, backwaters, and privately owned sacred or otherwise important groves, hills etc;
  4. Listing out all cultivated and domesticated varieties and breeds of food, nutrition, medicinal and other material value
  5. Reach out to children and adults through on-line and social media platforms with a call to action to know the biodiversity including the pressures on it.
  6. Identifying champions at the local and state level for Conservation of threatened biodiversity.
  7. Identifying a flagship species for every local body through a collective process and taking steps for its conservation.
  8. Organizing field verification to recognize and protect the biodiversity-rich sites outside the currently protected/reserved areas.

Short & medium-term (01 to 36 months)

  1. Organizing studies on the conservation status of all of the forms of biodiversity found in urban, rural and tribal settings.
  2. Opting for a few commissioned projects for collection and multiplication of the rare, endemic and threatened plant species.
  3. Publication of state-level RED Lists and RED DATA Books.
  4. District or Panchayath level GIS and Drone imaging of the landscapes and waterscapes with quantifiable information on the land/water use area size and diversity.
  5. Organizing preparation of agrobiodiversity registers and conservation corps to enable the farmers to register their seeds/breeds and continue the on-farm conservation.
  6. Panchayath or district viz Species-specific conservation action projects targeting the critically endangered species across all taxa
  7. Identifying and organizing species-specific conservation expert organizations & Conservation Networks.
  8. Establishing Community Seed Banks for preserving the seeds of useful tree species in particular for farmers and traditional healers.
  9. Ground verification studies/surveys of the Landscapes and waterscapes outside protected areas in different seasons to understand the present land use and land cover measures.
  10. Establishing Seed Multiplication Plots and Breeding Sites for the varieties and breeds that are unique to the state.

Mainstreaming Biodiversity Action Area:  Sustainable USE & Benefit Sharing

Immediate (01-03 months)

  1. Documentation of all forms of commonly consumed/used food and agricultural and bio-cultural species diversity. Document the recipes on a regional basis (Travancore, Cochin & Malabar) or faith-specific with emphasis on the ingredients and traditional cooking procedures and tools.
  2. Documentation of all the health issues of zoonotic origin and the traditional remedial measures.
  3. Documentation of Home remedies for Health care & Medicinally useful plant and animal species as well as healthy environmental/soil/water conservation and sustainable agricultural practices'
  4. Green Health Campaigns at every panchayath to prepare and use primary healthcare products under the supervision of qualified doctors and taxonomists;
  5. Listing out the traditional and sustainable tools and harvest methods and practices for biodiversity use.
  6. Awareness building amongst the traditional plant/NWFP collectors, mandies for herbals and traditional healthcare practitioners et al on the sustainable and healthy use of the resources and knowledge.

Short & medium-term (01 to 36 months)

  1. Scientific validation of the traditional claims of nutrition and medicinal values of the taxa
  2. Joint Publication from the part of Botanists and Traditional Healers/farmers on the food, nutrition, and medicinal values.
  3. Databases by covering the IPR concerns maintained at district and state levels.
  4. Establishing Community Conservation Gardens at every district to grow all the plants of direct utility value and to promote the traditional uses for nutrition and health.
  5. Promoting Eco-technologies and sustainable harvest of the useful plants and plant parts.

Building up local level biodiversity funds managed by Biodiversity Management Committees with contributions received from the commercial users of biodiversity.

The required strategies to achieve these actions should be aimed at achieving (i) Educated and Empowered BMCs working with the respective LSG to execute and monitor the conservation action; (ii) Working with Celebrities (Cinema, sports, politics, media, literature, religion etc) to function as the Champions to save the vanishing species; (iii) organised Commissions headed by eminent scientists respectively for the coastal, midland and mountain areas of the state to study and report the status of biodiversity in the targeted regions; (iv) Community Agrobiodiversity Centres in all the critically important ecological regions of the country, and (v) Business & Biodiversity Cell at the state level by constituting experts from the community, biodiversity and industry.

The strategic pathway for a healthy and happy world will be possible when the intended actions are implemented through a partnership model with the effective involvement of scientists from multiple complementary disciplines, Local Self Governments, government-run institutions, the Planning Board, the State Biodiversity Board and all other appropriate Institutions.

N. Anil Kumar/MSSRF

Earth Day 2020