Sustain biodiversity for better future

Biodiversity and natural resources at large are caught in a dichotomy of 'preserve or perish' way of decision-making mechanism. Even today in India, 400 million people are dependent on the ecosystem for their basic needs, a reason why the sustainable use of natural resources is more critical than their preservation or diversion.

The theme at Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for this year is 'Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods.' In support of the CBD's strategic plan 2011-20 with five goals and 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the United Nations has declared this decade as UN Decade on Biodiversity. This is also a reminder to correct our actions. The review of global targets suggests that progress on policy and governance efforts across the world so far is insufficient. No significant stride has been taken to prevent loss of habitats and species globally.

Biological Diversity Act, 2002 (BD Act) with the National Biodiversity Authority, the State Biodiversity Boards and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at local levels are the instruments of biodiversity governance in India. But the overlap of biological resources with forest, agriculture, animal husbandry and fishery sectors makes the process more complex in dealing with the resources and the stakeholders.

The main function of the BD Act is to implement a national regime on access and benefit sharing (ABS regime) in the context of commercial use of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge through guidelines. This regime is compliant with the internationally agreed upon Nagoya Protocol. The ABS regime is mainly involved in compensation and mitigation measures for equitable benefit sharing with the local communities.

Still, there is a definite decline in biodiversity resources in the country. Despite a stabilised forest cover, the quality of forests is degrading consistently.

It is an indicator suggesting similar fate of ecologically important habitats and rare species of plants and animals. For a huge population of farmers, continued and free access to traditional genetic resources, such as seeds and livestock, is becoming dearer. The governance of biodiversity at present falls short of meeting these needs.

Interestingly, at the grassroot level India has extremely strong institutional mechanisms operational in the form of traditional and modern systems dealing with biodiversity conservation and management.

The country is bestowed with more than 200,000 estimated sacred groves, forests, grasslands, water bodies which are conserved by the local communities. At the national level, India has more than 100,000 Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) associated with 22 million hectares of forests. As on date 37,769 BMCs are spread across 26 states.

Presently, more than 73,000 hectares of forest area is managed by local communities under the Community Forest Rights of the Forest Rights Act, 2006. In most of the northeastern states, local communities and village councils own the forests which harbour a one of the richest biodiversities in the world.

These institutions are mandated with the conservation of biodiversity and landscapes facilitated by the government. The Central and the state governments have spent enormous resources to build capacities for most of these committees to prepare micro-plans (for JFMCs), people’s biodiversity registers (for BMCs) and many other initiatives for local development. But the present biodiversity governance and decision making process has very little contribution towards these institutions.

Traditional knowledge including recent ethno-biological studies and people’s biodiversity registers is undeniably an important resource. But there is a serious lack in recognising this resource and applying it for sustainable development.

The threat to food security due to changing climate may find an answer in the vast stock of traditional crops available with the farmers. It is high time that our research comes out of laboratories and national bureaus and taps the genetic resources to solve our needs.

To achieve sustainable development, we need to look at biodiversity as an important resource, along with participatory governance of it at the grassroot level, for a better future.