Celebrating biodiversity

Vivak Manohar Arya, Ajay Thakur
The origins of life on earth some three and a half billion years ago are vague. Life was probably initiated as a product of organic reactions in the Earth’s primeval seas. Once life took hold on the planet, it began gradually to diversify. Biological diversity is the term given to the variety of life on Earth, including plants, animals and micro-organisms, as well as the ecosystems of which they are part.

(International Day for Biological Diversity)

Biodiversity includes genetic differences within species, the diversity of species and the variety of ecosystems. It is the result of the interaction of species, including humans, with one another and with the air, water and soil around them. This combination of life forms ecosystems, species and genetic varieties has made Earth a uniquely habitable place. Environmental services from species and ecosystems are vital at global, regional and local levels. Production of oxygen, reducing carbon dioxide, protecting soil are important services. The world now acknowledges that the loss of biodiversity contributes to global climatic changes. Forests are the main mechanism for the conversion of carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen. The loss of forest cover, coupled with the increasing release of carbon dioxide and other gases through industrialization contributes to the ‘greenhouse effect’. It is causing major atmospheric changes, leading to increased temperatures, serious droughts in some areas and unexpected floods in other areas. Biological diversity is also essential for preserving ecological processes, such as fixing and recycling of nutrients, soil formation, circulation and cleansing of air and water, global life support. India as a Mega Diversity Nationwith 2.4% of the world’s area, has over 8% of the world’s total biodiversity, making it one of the 12 mega diversity countries in the world. This status is based on the species richness and levels of endemism recorded in a wide range of taxa of both plants and animals. This diversity can be attributed to the vast variety of landforms and climates, resulting in habitats ranging from tropical to temperate and from alpine to desert. The India’s special geographical position between three distinctive centres of biological evolution and radiation of species is responsible for our rich and varied biodiversity. “We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity”. E. O. Wilson.
In 1992 state and government leaders agreed on a strategy for sustainable development at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as “The Earth Summit”, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sustainable development is a way to meet the needs of people all over the world and ensuring that planet earth remains healthy and viable for future generations. One of the most important agreements reached during the Earth Summit was the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention on Biological Diversity came into force on December 29, 1993, and each anniversary of this date was designated the International Day for Biological Diversity. From 2001 onwards the date of this celebration was moved to May 22 due to the number of holidays that fell in late December. On this date in 1992, the text of the Convention on Biological Diversity was adopted at a United Nations at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Each year, the International Day for Biodiversity focuses on a particular theme. The theme of 2018 was “Celebrating 25 years of action on biodiversity”.This year’s celebrations of the International Day for Biological Diversity, on 22 May 2019, focus on biodiversity as the foundation for our food and health and a key catalyst to transforming food systems and improving human health.The theme of the 2019 is ‘Our Biodiversity, Our Food, and Our Health’.The theme aims to leverage knowledge and spread awareness of the dependency of our food systems, nutrition, and health on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. The theme also celebrates the diversity provided by our natural systems for human existence and well-being on Earth, while contributing to other Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, ecosystems restoration, cleaner water and zero hunger, among others.In the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields. Half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost, and all of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits. Locally-varied food production systems are under threat, including related indigenous, traditional and local knowledge. With this decline, agro biodiversity is disappearing, and also essential knowledge of traditional medicine and local foods. The loss of diverse diets is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition, and has a direct impact on the availability of traditional medicines.Decisions from the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP 14), along with reports on biodiversity and health, provide recommendations. In addition, the EAT-Lancet Commission recently published findings on the health nutrition-food systems-biodiversity nexus, that describe what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food systems perspective, and which actions can support and speed up food systems transformation, in benefit of biodiversity.
Building from such work, individuals can mobilize and catalyze action around their concerns on health, nutrition, and food systems, together with awareness raising on how to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity for our well-being.The links between biodiversity, ecosystems, and the provision of benefits to human health are deeply entrenched in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. They are central to our common agenda for sustainable development. This focus on the nexus of biodiversity, food systems and health provides an opportunity to generate discussions on ways to support the post-2020 process for a global biodiversity framework and to help “bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2030” ICBD 2019.
“If we pollute the air, water and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us”. David Suzuki
(The authors are from SKUAST-J and are working in the field of Climate Change and NRDMS)