Urgent need to halt loss of biodiversity

The unprecedented loss of biodiversity, of plants, animals and other life forms is threatening the life on earth. In order to address the issue, about 180 countries have joined hands to form the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) in 1992. In order to work towards an effective strategy for conservation of biodiversity, 2010 has been designated as International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) and May 22 happens to be the Biodiversity Day.

The CBD is hailed as a landmark agreement in which the genetically rich but economically poor countries were given the sovereign rights over genetic resources. However, in reality the move is towards privatisation of the genetic resource, in which patenting of seeds and life forms is the rule that hijacked the CBD towards bio piracy and bio trade.
In the history of human agriculture about 7,000 different species of plant have been cultivated as food crops. However, adopting industrial agriculture in past 100 years have led to dramatic reduction of genetic diversity in food crops and livestock breeds. A total of 90 per cent of human food comes only from 15 plants and eight animal species. The homogenisation of food industry has resulted in narrow genetic base. Confirming this the Food and Agricultural Organisation has stated that since 1,900 approximately 75 per cent of the world’s genetic diversity of food crops has been eliminated.

Failed strategies
About 170 countries including India have evolved strategies and actions plans to conserve biodiversity. However, there is little political will and policy support for implementing this plan. In India, the target of nine per cent GDP growth set by the Planning Commission is directly targeting the areas that are centres of global biodiversity hotspots. For example the ecologically fragile regions of north east India and Western Ghats are the hotbeds for building numerous hydro power plants and mega thermal power plants that not only threaten but lead to extinction of diversity of plants and other life forms in these regions.

The NBSAP (National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan) is a dead document for all practical purposes. This grim scenario should have raised alarm bells at the highest levels of decision-making, but shockingly, they show least consideration to the issue of conserving whatever the diversity that is still left in the fields and forests.

In contrast to this apathy there are numerous positive examples of direct actions by the communities to conserve the biodiversity. In the Himalayas, the Beej Bachao Andolan, the Save Seeds Movement, has spearheaded a unique attempt to conserve the crop diversity of hill regions. In the deccan plains, the women groups led by Deccan Development Society has successfully regenerated the biodiversity of dry land crops in marginal land. Even they have set up alternate public distribution system that incorporates millet and other nutritional crops instead of white rice and hybrid wheat that causes malnutrition.
In south India, Save Our Rice campaign is working towards conserving the diversity of paddy varieties in different regions of south and eastern part of India. The Appiko movement is working with forest dwellers to conserve plant diversity of forest tress, which provide non-timber forest produce that enhances livelihood. Thus, the community attempts to conserve biodiversity in India is varied and vibrant.

Nevertheless, these initiatives have not been taken seriously by the policy makers to learn from their success and incorporate these time tested recipe of conservation and halt the erosion of diversity. Rather than adhering to the dikat of International funding organisations that appropriate the genetic resources, it is essential that we develop the route to conserve diversity through local means, under community control with the vision of equity and sustainability in using the resources.

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