Need to preserve our biodiversity

Industrial agriculture and livestock breeding are the major factors for destruction of biodiversity.

India is hosting the 11th Conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad to discuss various issues related to conserving the bio resources of the world. As the representatives form different parts of developed and developing world discuss the ways to implement the biodiversity protocol, it is essential to review the rhetoric and the realities of biodiversity conservation.

Biological diversity is essential for our existence as they provide us with nutrient rich food, shelter, fuel, medicine, clean water and air. In fact, given the interdependence of the earth's living organisms, ecosystems, and biological processes, without biodiversity, life on earth would become extinct.

The signing of the CBD in 1993 was seen as a great victory for the developing countries; especially form the South, departing form the conventional path in which the industrialised countries had been plundering the biodiversity and traditional knowledge of the communities in the South. It is seen as a beacon to bring forth equity and justice through fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out the utilisation of genetic resources. The convention gave the legal sovereignty claims to individual governments to own the biodiversity and to regulate and share its benefits with communities. This is a departure from the earlier approach of biodiversity being ‘common heritage of mankind.’
Unfortunately this novel treaty has had least impact on either the national governments of South or the developed countries of North.

Changing state

The Living Planet Report of 2012 documents the changing state of biodiversity and its implications for the well being of humanity. This report emphatically states that due to the consistent trend of over consumption by developed and developing nations, the ecological footprint exceeded the earth’s biocapacity and  “the area of land and productive oceans actually available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2 emissions -- by more than 50 percent. Ecological foot print is larger than biocapacity”.
The recent trends in propagating industrial agriculture and livestock breeding have been a major contributing factor for destruction of biodiversity. According to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) since 1900, approximately 75 per cent of world’s genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been eliminated. India is a mega diversity country with diverse ecological regions stretching from the snow clad peaks to the marine, tropical forest and desert ecosystems. It is the centre of origin for numerous food and fibre crops and for livestock breeds. Many developed countries have gained from the genetic wealth of India at the cost of local farmers.

Ignoring this status of mega diversity, our policy makers and political leaders have opted for a path of development that has decimated the existing diversity of agricultural crops and livestock. The existence of 30,000 varieties of rice in the 1950s and its decimation to just over 1,000 varieties in 2012 is a clear indication of how our policies are geared towards destruction of our basic capital that is the foundation of our food security.
The passing of Biological Diversity Act in 2002 and establishing of National Biodiversity Authority has had least impact on arresting the trend of biodiversity destruction in the country. Adopting the industrial model of agricultural and livestock development in India has had serious implications for the survival of biodiversity. It is not just the diversity of crops and livestock breeds that we have lost, but the basic capital of soil and water is being threatened due to excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides. The food security can be achieved only through diversity of corps, including the cultivation of nutrient rich millets.

Unfortunately, the recent trends of economic and agricultural development are towards establishing a regime of monocultures in which the commercialisation of seeds gets priority over conserving diversity. The FDI in retail market is an invitation to expand the industrial food model that will have adverse consequences for nutrition and health.
Both the Central and state governments are keen to jettison the sovereignty accorded by CBD on seeds and genetic resources to be handed over to corporate giants. Whatever the outcome of the CBD meeting in Hyderabad, there is no indication from the Indian government that it is willing to charter a different path towards conserving its status of mega diversity or to protect the interest of those common people who are protecting the genetic wealth for generations.

(The author is working on biodiversity issues for past three decades)

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