“We have a special responsibility to document, monitor and conserve our most precious asset”: Biodiversity for sustaining their livelihoods – Survey of the Environment

West Ghats near Kanyakumari in the Tamil Nadu – Kerala border region
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India may be the only large country with huge scientific capability to lack a serious programme to monitor the state of its ecosystems. Because the major drivers of habitat loss or change are rooted in political, economic and social factors, India needs to develop a monitoring programme that is focused not only on biodiversity, but also on interactions between nature and society, and how such interactions are changing over time. Such a programme that I believe is now being considered by the Ministry of Environment and Forests could be unique in the world, and should allow us to not only monitor change, but also combat biodiversity losses.

We also have to get rid of the mistaken notion that complex natural ecosystems, once destroyed at one place can be easily created elsewhere. Such a notion is evident in government’s compensatory afforestation programmes that implicitly assume first that natural ecosystems such as forests can often be created de novo. Policy makers need to distinguish between a stand of trees and a natural forest with diversity of species, and a myriad of ecological interactions and processes, evolved over millions of years. […]

Partnerships for sustaining life

In a country with more than one billion people and aspirations of an annual economic growth rate of 9 – 10 per cent, how do we conserve biodiversity? Biodiversity is threatened not only by demographic and development pressures, but also by climate change. All these pressures are likely to intensify in the immediate future.

Our approach to conservation has been largely based on the paradigm of creating national parks, tiger reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and other protected areas managed by the State. This approach, borrowed from the West, has several flaws. First and foremost, people, particularly indigenous or tribal groups that number in millions live inside or at the periphery of protected areas, and rely on biodiversity for sustaining their livelihoods. Such people have been largely disenfranchised and have no role in management. In fact, in many cases, centralised management of biodiversity has created conflicts between people and managers of protected areas. These conflicts have endangered rather than enhanced conservation. […]

Overall, India is blessed with unique and an enormous amount of biodiversity that sustains many of our economic endeavours, and provides aesthetic, cultural and spiritual values. This biodiversity is declining, and this decline is threatening our survival. As a country that seeks to be a global power, we have a special responsibility to document, monitor and conserve our most precious asset. Meeting this responsibility will entail a fundamental shift in the ways we describe, assess changes, and conserve biodiversity.

Kamaljit S. Bawa (kamal.bawa@umb.edu) is president of the Bangalore-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment; Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Giorgio Ruffolo Fellow in Sustainability Science at Harvard University. His book, Conservation Biology: A Primer for South Asia, with Richard Primack and Meera Oommen as co-authors, will be published by the Universities Press.

This article is reproduced from the Survey of the Environment, 2010 published by The Hindu. The publication is now on stands. Copies can be obtained by Registered Post (not V.P.P.) for Rs.80 (Rupees Eighty) by drawing a cheque in favour of “Kasturi and Sons Ltd.” (Add Rs.10 for non-Chennai cheques) and sending it to the Circulation Department, The Hindu, 859-860, Anna Salai, Chennai 600002 Email: subs@thehindu.co.in

Source: Kamaljit S. Bawa in “Our biodiversity, our life, our future” (The Hindu, Sci-Tech / Energy & Environment, 2 August 2010)
Address : https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/article547960.ece
Date Visited: 11 July 2020

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