BONN, Germany (Landscape News) – As an expert in the field of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius takes a tough stance regarding the detrimental impact of human activities on fragile landscapes.
Gurib-Fakim, the first woman president of the island nation situated off the coast of continental Africa in the Indian Ocean, will make a keynote speech at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany on Dec. 19.
“There is a serious call for us to do things differently and sustainably,” said Gurib-Fakim, who has served as Mauritian president since 2015. “’Landscape’ means different things to different people, but to me the message that resonates is that sustainability should underscore everything we do.”
The GLF aims to reach 1 billion people by strategically building a community around sustainable landscapes, restoring degraded land, ensuring land rights, gender rights, financial security, and addressing challenges posed by food insecurity and declining rural livelihoods.
Trained as an organic chemist, Gurib-Fakim, who cites increased urbanization, climate change, migration and a global population projected soar to more than 9 billion people by 2050 among her key concerns, will speak at the GLF about the role of women as custodians of traditional knowledge.
“Safeguarding this information could help create a third way between science and tradition and help towards better adaptation to climate change, for example,” said Gurib-Fakim, who is a founding member of the Pan African Association of African Medicinal Plants, and co-author of the first ever African herbal pharmacopeia.
Engaging with others at a forum to share experiences, concerns and to work towards a common goal is important for ensuring the planet has the capacity to feed a growing population and to ensure access to energy and water, she said.
“These are to me basic human right issues, and yet, if we look at the African continent where I hail from, 600 million plus people are still without energy, and billions of people across the world go to bed hungry at night,” Gurib-Fakim said.
The world doesn’t lack resources; distribution must be improved, she said.
“How do we empower women to bring food to the table every night? A forum like this can help bring to bear these issues which in many instances call for global solidarity.”
Gurib-Fakim, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at the University of Surrey, and a doctoral degree from the University of Exeter in Britain, said she hopes her message in support of the greater empowerment of women and girls will resonate. “When girls and women are educated, we can ensure families have food to eat and are healthier.”
She has authored and co-edited 28 books, several book chapters and scientific articles in the field of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. She fears that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity.
“My message [at the conference] will be a call for more integrated approach in terms of valuing our heritage,” she said. “However, the centrality of the concept of sustainability must remain at the core of everything that we do and to remind ourselves that we have only one planet and not four.”
We seem to be oblivious to this fact, Gurib-Fakim said, pointing out that oceans, which normally absorb over 30 percent of greenhouse gases may no longer be able to do so in the wake of increasing acidity; and that melting permafrost will contribute more methane gas to the environment.
Additionally, she expresses concern that climate change is reported to be affecting food quality.
“The rapid loss of our crop biodiversity is another cause for concern as it underpins our food systems and ensure food security,” she said. “One must be constantly reminded that biodiversity as underpins our very survival on this planet.”
The landscape approach matters to the country of Mauritius, but it should also matter to the world, she said, adding that the global community has not yet woken up to the notion that global solidarity is required to address environmental challenges.
“If there were [solidarity], policymakers would have rallied more to protect what is left of our resources (marine, terrestrial) by drastically reducing our proclivities in polluting and destroying,” Gurib-Fakim said.
“Unfortunately, a fair proportion of this biodiversity resides in the developing world especially in small island states like mine,” she said. “By allowing these spaces to go underwater, we are destroying our own future, that of our children and the generations that will come after us.”