Conservation of biodiversity

The planet earth millions of years ago must have been a wonderful place with a plethora of flora and fauna.

Year after year, such priceless treasure is being destroyed, mostly due to man-made activities. It is estimated that 27,000 species are lost every year because of loss of natural habitat. An interesting finding is that the densely populated regions of the earth lose more species than the less densely populated regions. Majority of the world’s gene banks are located in or near the richest regions of biodiversity, which means there is less human incursion and interference to the natural occurring species.

To protect the remaining species is of everyone’s concern, as man cannot create the lost genes. His only hope is to conserve the gene banks by taking care not to tinker with biodiversity regions of which our country have a few. The craze to grow single species (monoculture) trees for commercial purposes is growing. Those who want to harvest trees on plantations, which fetch a handsome return, opt for trees like teak and casuarinas trees. In fact, even government’s own forest department is encouraging planting and harvesting of trees and other single species plants with an eye on returns. Biodiversity receives a step-motherly treatment from everyone but there are a few who are convinced that earth’s precious biodiversity has to be conserved for future’s sake.

The loss of precious species year after year is something, which is beyond the control of individuals. Nature has its own way of generating newer species over the centuries which man cannot replicate in his lifetime. On the other hand, a misguided action can easily destroy forever the varied biodiversity in a hotspot like rain forests and mangrove forests through developmental projects. Nature is best left alone with least human incursion where biodiversity is present.

Exploitation of plants

A mere human presence can harm certain species and that is why it is recommended that outsiders be kept out from a biodiversity spot. Only the locals, in the know-how and the gene experts can conduct research without disturbing the plant species. In the name of encouraging local and traditional medicine, large-scale degradation is taking place as there are always agents masquerading as local people in search of fast bucks, destroying the plant species. That is also one reason why some experts do not want the census of these medicinal plants to be taken because with such a knowledge, it would become easier for those with commercial interests, domestic and foreign, to step in. These experts feel that traditional knowledge should not be documented but handed over from one generation to another through word-of-mouth.

There is apathy all around for any activity that tries to protect the environment, and more specially, the biodiversity. The common man is not aware that this very same issue ignored by him could bring succour. For example, the traditional medicines, based on roots, leaves and fruits, can give him relief from chronic pain. The villagers near a forest can get all their nutrition from forest based fruits and roots.

Sustainable development, keeping biodiversity in mind, is possible when man takes just what he needs from the forests. That is why commercial exploitation of any form should be discouraged. Those who claim that they would plant trees as replacement for those that they consume, for making paper pulp or match sticks or any wood-based industry have ignored the biodiversity aspect. They simply cannot get away by growing monoculture trees. There is hope that special places such as devarakadus, grahavanas, temple gardens and medicinal plant farms encourage biodiversity.

We have been tinkering with nature when we grow genetically modified (GM) food. The “hybrid” varieties of plants are another example how natural selection is altered to suit man’s needs. Now we have BT products like cotton and brinjal that are waiting to be used widely. No one knows the consequences of such genetically tinkered products in the long term on air, water, soil, man, birds and animals. But nature has a way of dealing with such modification.

It is established that a hybrid variety has lower resistance to pests than the normal ones. The yields from hybrid varieties may be temporarily better but there is a difference in taste. In fact, certain wise villagers refuse to sow seed varieties, which have better yields. What they want is traditional rice varieties, which taste better and resist pests better.

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