conservation for biodiversity


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conservation for biodiversity

  1. 1. Conserving Biodiversity in India - Dilip SurkarIndia, a megadiverse nation, is one of the richest nations in terms of biologicaldiversity. India owes this to its position in the tropical and subtropical latitudes.India has a great diversity of natural ecosystems ranging from the cold and highHimalayan regions to the sea coasts; from the wet north-eastern green forests tothe dry northwestern arid deserts; with different types of forests, wetlands, islandsand the oceans. India consists of fertile river plains and high plateaus and severalmajor rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus. The diverse physicalfeatures and climatic situations have formed ecological habitats like forests,grasslands, wetlands, coastal and marine ecosystems and desert ecosystems, whichharbour and sustain immense biodiversity. The country is also one of the 12 primarycentres of origin of cultivated plants and domesticated animals.Why Conserve Biodiversity?As we all know by now, Biodiversity is essential for maintaining the ecologicalfunctions, including stabilizing of the water cycle, maintenance and replenishmentof soil fertility, pollination and cross-fertilization of crops and other vegetation,protection against soil erosion and stability of food producing and otherecosystems. Conservation of biological diversity leads to conservation of essentialecological diversity to preserve the continuity of food chains.Biodiversity provides the base for the livelihoods, cultures and economies ofseveral hundred millions of people, including farmers, fisher folk, forest dwellersand artisans. It provides raw material for a diverse medicinal and health caresystems. It also provides the genetic base for the continuous up-gradation ofagriculture, fisheries, and for critical discoveries in scientific, industrial and othersectors. The rapid erosion of biodiversity in the last few decades has impacted onthe health of the land, waterbodies and people.Biodiversity is a wealth to which no value can be put. In the final analysis, the verysurvival of the human race is dependent on conservation of biodiversity. It isevident that this invaluable heritage is being destroyed at an alarming rate due toseveral reasons. Measures are being taken up at national and international levels toaddress this issue. The Earth Summit produced a plan of action on a number ofissues (Agenda 21) including conservation of biodiversity during the 21st century.Conservation and sustainable use of biological resources based on local knowledgesystems and practices is ingrained in Indian ethos. The country has a number ofalternative medicines, like Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathic systemswhich are predominantly based on plant based raw materials in most of theirpreparations and formulations. Herbal preparations for various purposes includingpharmaceutical and cosmetic form part of traditional biodiversity uses in India. 1
  2. 2. There are several strategies which are adapted for conservation of Biodiversity.Some of these are:1. LegislationFormal policies and programmes for conservation and sustainable utilisation ofbiodiversity resources dates back to several decades. The concept of environmentalprotection is enshrined in the Indian constitution in articles 48a and 51a(g). Majorcentral acts relevant to biodiversity include: • Environment Protection Act, 1986 • Fisheries Act, 1897 • Forest Act, 1927 • Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 • Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act 1991The various central Acts are supported by a number of state laws and statutesconcerning forests and other natural resources. The policies and strategies directlyrelevant to biodiversity include National Forest Policy amended in 1988, NationalConservation Strategy and Policy Statement for Environment and SustainableDevelopment, National Agricultural Policy, National Land Use Policy, NationalFisheries Policy, National Policy and Action Strategy on Biodiversity, NationalWildlife Action Plan and Environmental Action Plan.2. In-situ ConservationConserving the animals and plants in their natural habitats is known as in situconservation. The established natural habitats are: • National parks and sanctuaries • Biosphere reserves • Nature reserves • Reserved and protected forests • Preservation plots • Reserved forestsThe first such initiative was the establishment of the Corbett National Park in 1936.National Parks are highly protected by law. No human habitation, private landholding or traditional human activity such as firewood collection or grazing isallowed within the park. Sanctuaries are also protected but certain types ofactivities are permitted within these areas.Biosphere Reserves are another category of protected areas. Under this, a largearea is declared as a Biosphere Reserve where wildlife is protected, but localcommunities are allowed to continue to live and pursue traditional activities withinthe Reserve. The Government of India has set up seven biosphere reserves: Nokrek(Meghalaya), Nilgiri (Kamataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu), Namdapha (ArunachalPradesh), Nanda Devi (Uttar Pradesh), Sundarbans (West Bengal), Great Nicobar(Andaman & Nicobar Islands), Gulf of Mannnar (Tamil Nadu). 2
  3. 3. Several special projects have also been launched to save certain animal specieswhich have been identified as needing concerted protection effort. These projectsare designed to protect the species in situ, by protecting and conserving theirnatural habitat. Project Tiger, Project Elephant, Save the Barasingha campaign areexamples of this initiative. Other strategies include offloading pressure fromreserve forests by alternative measures of fuelwood and fodder need satisfactionby afforestation of degraded areas and wastelands.A programme "Eco-development" for in-situ conservation of biological diversityinvolving local communities was initiated. It integrates the ecological andeconomic parameters for sustained conservation of ecosystems by involving localcommunities with maintenance of earmarked regions surrounding protected areas.Approximately, 4.2 % of the total geographical area of the country has beenearmarked for extensive in-situ conservation of habitats and ecosystems. Aprotected area network of 85 national parks and 448 wildlife sanctuaries has beencreated. The results of this network have been significant in restoring viablepopulation of large mammals such as tiger, lion, rhinoceros, crocodiles andelephants.3. Ex-situ ConservationEx-situ conservation of plants and animals preserve/ or protect them away fromtheir natural habitat. This could be in zoological parks and botanical gardens orthrough the forestry institutions and agricultural research centres. A lot of effort isunder way to collect and preserve the genetic material of crops, animal, bird andfish species. This work is being done by institutions such as the National Bureau ofPlant Genetic Resources, New Delhi, the National Bureau of Animal GeneticResources, etc. Reintroduction of an animal or plant into the habitat from where ithas become extinct is another form of ex situ conservation. For example, theGangetic gharial has been reintroduced in the rivers of Uttar Pradesh, MadhyaPradesh and Rajasthan where it had become extinct. Seed banks, botanical,horticultural and recreational gardens are important centres for ex situconservation. Ex-situ conservation measures complement in-situ conservation.4. Recording Indigenous KnowledgeThe lives of local communities are closely interwoven with their environment, andare dependent upon their immediate resources for meeting their needs. Thesecommunities have a vast knowledge about local flora and fauna which is veryimportant for biodiversity conservation. Much of this knowledge is orally passed onfrom generation to generation. Such indigenous knowledge needs to be recordedand preserved before it is lost. Several organizations have recognized this and areworking to record the knowledge and preserve it for posterity.5. Community Participation in Biodiversity Conservation 3
  4. 4. It is being recognized that no legal provisions can be effective unless localcommunities are involved in planning, management and monitoring conservationprogrammes. There are several initiatives to do this, both by government as well asnon-governmental organizations. For example, the Joint Forest Managementphilosophy stresses involvement of village communities in regenerating andprotecting degraded forest land in the vicinity of villages. Successful conservationstrategies will have to have the confidence and participation of the localcommunities.6. International Conservation StrategiesConserving biodiversity is not an issue confined to any one country or community. Itis a crucial global concern. Several international treaties and agreements are inplace in the attempt to strengthen international participation and commitmenttowards conserving biodiversity. Some of these are:• The Convention on Biological Diversity: This was signed during the Earth Summit in 1992. It focuses not only on conserving biodiversity but also on sustainable use of biological resources and equitable sharing of benefits arising from its use.• The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES): This is an international treaty which is designed to protect wild plants and animals affected by international trade. The treaty, in force since 1975, controls the export, import and re-export of endangered and threatened wildlife.• The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance: This Convention, also known as the Ramsar Convention, was signed in Ramsar (Iran) in 1971 and came into force in December 1975. It provides a framework for international cooperation for the conservation of wetland habitats which have been designated to the List of Wetlands of International Importance.Programmes have also been launched for scientific management and wise use ofwetlands, mangroves and coral reef ecosystems. Twenty one wetlands, andmangrove areas and four coral reef areas have been identified for intensiveconservation and management purposes. Mangroves conservation is one of thethrust areas of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Under the World HeritageConvention, five natural sites have been declared as "World Heritage Sites".To conserve the representative ecosystems, a Biosphere Reserve Programme isbeing implemented. Twelve biodiversity rich areas of the country have beendesignated as Biosphere Reserves. These reserves aim at conserving the biologicaldiversity and genetic integrity of plants, animals and microorganisms in theirtotality as part of the natural ecosystems, so as to ensure that self-perpetuationand unhindered evolution of the living resources.The Ministry of Environment and Forests constituted the National Afforestation andEco-development Board (NAEB) in 1992. NAEB has evolved specific schemes forpromoting afforestation and management strategies which help the states in 4
  5. 5. developing specific afforestation and management strategies and eco-developmentpackages for augmenting biomass production through a participatory planningprocess of joint forest management and microplanning.A detailed National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) usingparticipatory planning approach has been prepared, which is currently beingimplemented. India’s richness in biological resources and related indigenousknowledge is well recognised. One of the major challenges before the country liesin adopting an instrument which help realise the objectives of equitable benefitsharing enshrined in the convention.Conservation of WetlandsWetlands are areas of land where the water level remains near or above thesurface of the ground for most of the year. The association of man and wetlands isancient, with the first signs of civilization originating in wetland habitats such asthe flood plains of the Indus. Wetlands cover about 6% of the earth’s land surface.There are several kinds of wetlands such as marshes, swamps, lagoons, bogs, fensand mangroves. They are home to some of the richest, most diverse and fragile ofall natural resources. As they support a variety of plants and animal life,biologically they are one of the most productive ecosystems. Wetland systemsdirectly and indirectly support lakhs of people, providing goods and services tothem. They help to preserve water quality and increase biological productivity forboth aquatic life as well as human communities of the region. India has a wealth ofwetland ecosystems spread over different geographical regions. At present, only 50percent of India’s wetlands remain. They are disappearing at the rate of 2% to 3%every year. The loss of wetlands leads to environmental and ecological imbalances,which have a direct impact on the biodiversity. Wetlands are important as agenetic reservoir for various species of plants including rice, which is a staple foodfor 3/4th of the world’s population. India is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention.Some Ramsar sites which are located in India are: Wular Lake Jammu & Kashmir),Sambhar Lake (Rajasthan), Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan), Harike Lake(Punjab), Chilika Lake (Orissa), and Loktak Lake (Manipur).Conservation of Medicinal PlantsIn India, 7,000 species of plants found in various ecosystems are used for medicine.During the Buddhist period, plants, vegetables and fruits were in use for treatingdifferent ailments. The great works of Ayurveda - Charaka Samhita, SushrutaSamhita and Ashtanga Hridaya - mention about 600 species of plants that were inuse. The traditional system of medicine in India dates back to the age of theRigveda.In 1978, the World Health Organisation (WHO) drew up a list of 240 absolutelyessential medications. All these medications can be obtained only fromplants. Every year, nearly two hundred Indian medicinal plants are being tested inthe research laboratories of several prestigious drug companies the world over. 5
  6. 6. Apart from the practitioners of Ayurveda, most women are aware of themedicinal properties of certain plants which they come across in their daily life.In the past people generally collected medicinal plants from forest areas because avariety of medicinal plants were found there. Due to urbanization and also forcultivation, these forests have dwindled. The present immediate need is toconserve the medicinal plants. Over-exploitation of several herbs is endangeringthe species. In order to retrieve the situation, these important herbs must beconserved either in the nurseries, gardens or cultured laboratories.Apart from propagating medicinal plants, villagers can be encouraged to set upkitchen gardens where medicinal plants can be grown for their domestic use.Organic farming using medicinal plants as botanical pesticides can be encouragedto replace chemical pesticides. A gene pool of herbal and medicinal plants can beestablished. Conservation strategies based on present demands and immediatefuture needs need to be prioritized.Role of Communities in Biodiversity conservationProtecting the environment is everyone’s responsibility. There is an increasedawareness among the people towards the conservation of ecologically sensitiveareas. There are many conservation movements and initiative in India, which havesaved the precious natural resources. Despite all threats, diversity of the speciesand diversity within the species still continue to survive. Their continued existenceis due to farmers and other communities living within the forest. Their culturalpractices and knowledge systems have helped nurture biodiversity.Nature worship is a tribal belief based on the premise that all creations of naturehave to be protected. Such beliefs have helped preserve several virgin forests inpristine form called Sacred Groves (the forests of God and Goddesses). Thesepatches of forest or parts of large forests have been left untouched by the localpeople and any interference with them is banned. The practice dates back to about3000 to 5000 B.C. Indian society comprises of several cultures, each with its ownset of traditional methods of conserving nature and its creations.Green India MissionThe National Mission for a Green India, recently announced by the Prime Minister,is one of the eight National Missions under India’s National Action Plan on ClimateChange. Its major focus is to increase cover and density of India’s medium densityforests and degraded forests. This mission will have repercussions for livelihoods ofpeople and biodiversity.Saving biodiversity - Saving lifeFollowing are some conservation actions that we can take up:• Plant trees. Grow native species of plants (trees, shrubs and climber) where possible, this would attract local wildlife such as birds, butterflies and insects.• Grow local vegetables in your school garden that are not usually available in the markets. This would allow help conserve them for generations to come. 6
  7. 7. • Initiate, organize and participate in responsible citizen action against existing or proposed activities that harm or are likely to harm local biodiversity.• Make a list of different kinds of trees in your campus or locality. For each one find out the names, uses, flowering season, animals and birds that depends on it. Present this information in an interesting way, and put it up by the tree. Many people will stop by to read this information and know more about the tree.• Curb our greed for products made out of animal parts like skin, fur, ivory, bones, nails, etc., to discourage wildlife traders and poachers, and spare the lives of the remaining animals.• Adopt vegetarianism which would require fewer animals to be fattened for slaughtering and more plants to be grown for food.• Avoid using insecticides, pesticides and inorganic fertilizers and try to use natural plant- based substitutes wherever possible. Paper and cloth should replace non-biodegradable plastic and polyester which damage the ecosystem.• Make children aware of their surroundings and the need for biodiversity.• Promote bio-farming which is less intensive and environmental-friendly.• Make use of sustainable technologies like smokeless chulhas, ground water recharging unit, wind energy, solar power, etc.• Set up ‘Community Sanctuaries’ for free ranging animals, migratory birds and endemic species. Establish voluntary ‘Village Reserves’ for plants and animals.• Assist National level Bodies in recording and preserving rare and endemic species• Create ‘Biodiversity Registers’ in communities, schools, villages.Biodiversity RegisterStudents can inventory and maintain records of all living beings in their locality. Abiodiversity register is a compilation of day-to-day observations of the immediateenvironment. It is a documentation of knowledge of diversity of life known to localpeople. It is a means of recording the wealth of biodiversity of a region. Theregister may include minute details about plants and animals, both wild anddomesticated. The record may include traditional knowledge regarding use of thevarious species.A biodiversity register has many uses. It helps make the complete inventory of allorganisms of an area. It makes us familiar with the biodiversity of an area. It helpsunderstand the inter-linkages between plants and animals and the direct andindirect benefits they offer to humans. It allows us to analyze the reasons fordepletion of biodiversity and plan conservation measures.Human is only one more of natural creatures and should not be alien to the otherlife-forms. We have no moral right to destroy nature and other beings that dwell onearth. We should treat all animals and plants with compassion. Every individual canmake a small and yet significant effort in the race to save our planet and conservebiodiversity. 7