Shifting the needle on biodiversity conservation in India

Bioresources include genetically diverse plants, some of which are medicinal substances beneficial to humans. Photo by Joe mon bbk/Wikimedia Commons
26 February 2020

In some ways India could be considered test case for the rest of the world, as it works out how to feed its population of 1.3 billion people in a sustainable way. The challenge is to achieve this feat without degrading the land, soil and water resources, destroying the country’s rich diversity of flora and fauna, or causing serious smog in cities like Delhi.

One project, implemented by India’s National Biodiversity Authority and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through funding by the Global Environment Facility, helped to achieve this through improved biodiversity utilization for improved rural livelihoods. The project ran from 2011 to September 2019.

India is a leading country in having established a comprehensive legal and institutional system to realize the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The third objective of the Convention—access to genetic resources and fair, equitable sharing of benefits—is being implemented in India through its Biological Diversity Act (2002) and Rules (2004).

The National Biodiversity Authority is recognized globally for its pioneering work to implement the Convention and fully operationalize the access and benefit-sharing provisions, among others through a national network of Biodiversity Management Committees, alongside the establishment of People Biodiversity Registers.

Biodiversity Management Committees are local level, statutory bodies, based on the 2002 Act, and require the selection and involvement of at least two women members through a democratic selection process, and are vested with enormous responsibilities. The Committees lead local processes of reaching consent in accessing bioresources by the proposed users (including researchers, private companies, governments). This encourages sustainable use and documentation of available resources through people’s biodiversity registers, as well as through the decision-making process for the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources.

Titled Strengthening the Implementation of the Biological Diversity Act and Rules with a Focus on its Access and Benefit Sharing Provisions, the project aimed to improve access to biological resources, assess their economic value and better share their benefits among local people. It covered 10 of the country’s 29 states: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal, Goa, Karnataka, Odisha, Telangana, and Tripura.

Many people may not know that India has significant global hotspots of biodiversity. Sikkim, for instance, has 422 species of birds and 697 species of butterflies, 4,500 species of flowering plants, 362 species of ferns and fern allies, and a rich diversity of orchids.

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