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- Cite this article as:
- Kasturirangan, K. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., India, Sect. B Biol. Sci. (2012) 82: 235. doi:10.1007/s40011-012-0092-3
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Biodiversity—the Natural Biotic Capital of the earth is fundamental to the fulfillment of human needs and vital for the survival of this planet. Biodiversity is the life ensurence; and there are four types of ecosystem services that we talk of, when it comes to biodiversity: one is of course the provisioning services—the food, live stock, fish, fresh water and so on, so forth; then the regulatory function—the regulatory services that the bio-ecosystem services give, like the filtration of pollutants, wetland, climate regulation, water cycles and so on. Then cultural services, as recreation, spiritual and aesthetic values and finally supporting services, as soil formation, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling and so.
India is a mega-diversity country with only 2.4 % of the land area. It accounts for something like 7–8 % of the recorded species in the world. But what is interesting, that it has a very long history of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. We have formal laws, policies and programmes that have been developed over the decades; and this in a sense has provided a robust organizational structure in dealing with biodiversity in our country. Before I come back to India we can just look at a few things which are happening in the global context and the type of information that we have about the same. If one look at it, biodiversity is currently disappearing and I want to really paint that part of the picture—the picture of concern: (1) It is disappearing at the rate of something like thousand rate of disappearance, that one has to explain in terms of normal extinction characteristics. It is thousand times more; (2) 60 % of the ecosystem worldwide are in advanced state of degradation; (3) 1.6 billion people worldwide rely on forest for their livelihood; and (4) some 80 % of the people in developing country rely on traditional medicines, the majority of which are derived from plants; and there are several such things. What does it all add up to? The estimated global annual cost of biodiversity loss is close to US $3 trillion. One should know that in our present 2012, our own economy is some thing like $2 trillion, so one can compare with respect of biodiversity loss and its economics of $3 trillion.
Now look again to its perspective in the Indian context. India is known for its rich heritage of biological diversity. Over 90,000 species of animals and 40,000 species of plants in the ten bio-geographic regions, the country has documented, merely 6,500 native plants are used in indigenous health care systems. Thousands of locally adopted crop varieties are grown traditionally since ancient times; and nearly 140 native breeds of farm live stocks continue to thrive in its diversified farming system. However, over 300 thousand samples of cultivars kept under long term storage in the national gene bank has gone out of cultivation; and many among the well known, nearly 140 breeds of farm live stocks and poultry are also facing similar threat for their survival. The country as one knows is recognized as one of the eight Babylonian centres of origin and diversity of crop plants having more than 300 wild ancestors and close relatives of cultivated plants still growing and evolving under natural conditions. It is estimated that about 400 thousand more species may exist in India which need to be recorded and described. In the backdrop of this let us look at the concerns, the threats and the challenges.
In the backdrop of varying socio-cultural milieu and often conflicting demands of various stakeholders and with half the total land under cultivation, and another 23 % of the land under forestry, one can imagine the type of the challenges that the biodiversity conservation, preservation would mean. There is, however an urgent need for augmenting and accelerating the efforts for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity; and for fair and equitable sharing of benefits, arising from the utilization of the genetic resources. An estimated 41 % of the country’s forest cover has been degraded to some extent; as much as 78 % of forest area is subject to heavy grazing and about 50 % of the forest area is prone to forest fires. Domestic demand for timber and fuel wood is well above the sustainable level.
In this context, I would like to say that some of our satellite systems make routine observations over the forest coverage, not only over India, but on a global basis. This provides a means of looking at the first cover at different ground densities. These, one can classify as the degraded forest, forest having tendency to degrade and the forest which have thick ground cover. Therefore, we have been able to distinguish them; and once in 2 years, we place these as important information to the Parliament of India, so one can see the Govt. of India attached to the biodiversity preservation and conservation. We do this regularly and more recently ISRO is also planning to have geo-synchronous system through which one can look out the whole system of sub-continents with respect to forest degradation, particularly one can have an early detection of forest fire so that one can preempt the destruction of the forest coming out of this major impact on the forest wealth of our country. For the rich diversity of medicinal plants, the country needs conservation and sustainable utilization, as their habitats are either degraded or the species are over exploited. In fact nearly 90 % of the medicinal plants concentrate are harvested from the wild, so substantial chunk of India’s biodiversity also exists outside the precincts of the formally declared conservation zones, which are owned and managed by the local community. The livelihood securities of these communities is delicately and intricately inter-woven with the prudent resource management and conservation strategies of these areas.
Therefore, the key issues of biodiversity and wild life conservation are fragmentation and degradation of wild life habitats which adversely affect the population of many wild animal species resulting in increased animal human conflicts; increase in demand for wildlife products globally resulting in poaching; increase in live stock population in and around the protected areas (one of the reasons for decline in herbivores population and a constant threat of spread of disease in wild animals); preventing poaching of wildlife including flagship species to secure rare, endangered and threatened species.
A National Action Plan on species recovery.
Provide sufficient resources for allocation of villages from critical habitats to create inviable space for all flagship species (It is easier said than done; there are difficulties in relocation).
A National Action Plan for management of invasive species be strengthened.
Greening five million hectares under Green India Mission of the 12th Five Year Plan; and including 0.75 million hectares of degraded land under afforestation and eco-restoration of two million hectares of ecologically sensitive areas. This is an important thing with respect to the Green India Mission; and this is one of the eight action plans under the Prime Minister of India Action Plan for the climate change.
Then the second part of the course is to reclaim wetlands, inland lakes and ponds; and we are trying to put a target for this.
Improve present production and maintain biodiversity.
Prepare and implement recovery plan for identifying 16 wildlife species; introduce performance monitoring; and development of environment performance linked mechanism for devolution of financial assistance. Thus, we are trying to rank our country in terms of Environmental Performance Index.
To assess coastal biodiversity sources, use and sustainability.
The hot spots are the homes of numerous large birds and mammals, including Vultures, Tiger and Rhinos etc. Their conservation is therefore also an important issue.
The issues related to ecosystem regeneration, molecular marker, environmental biotechnology, medicinal and aromatic plants, animal biotechnology, bio-resources development and utilization, and ultimately application of biotechnology for conserving endangered species.
The inaugural talk will not be completed without discussing that what the state of Kerala has done in term of bio-preservation and conservation. The bio-preservation and conservation is very much in the blood of Keralites; and they are too sensitive to the ecosystem. What is specific, they always try to display their concern through the variety of mechanisms the state has adopted over the years. They are the first state in the country to establish a Biodiversity Management Committee in all the 970 Gram Panchayats; People’s Biodiversity Register Preparation—a unique attempt to classify the biodiversity information (we have 300 places where this has been done, and another 300 is in the process). Then, we have the first India Biodiversity Congress that was held in Trivandrum in 2010; a three years project on agro-biodiversity conservation in collaboration with the local self help groups, agricultural department and farming community; a unique Children Ecological Congress; and finally four biodiversity heritage sites have been identified. Further procedures are on currently to notify them.
In the broader context of India, the “Committees of Parties on the Conservation of Biological Biodiversity”—they had a conference in Nagoya in October 2010; and they adopted strategic plan for biodiversity 2011–2020 with 20 targets under five strategic goals as the frame work for all conventions and stake holders. They (five strategic goals) address the underlying causes; reduce the direct pressure and promote sustainable use; directly safe guard ecosystem, species and genetic diversity; enhance the benefits to all; and finally enhance implementation through participating, planning, knowledge management and capacity building.
And at last, I would like to quote—“Leaving in harmony with nature, by 2050 biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used mainly maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all the people”.