17)Asia-Pacific has world’s highest number of threatened species

The Asia-Pacific region covers nearly 30% of the earth’s land area and contains some of the world’s greatest biological, cultural and economic diversity. Unfortunately, the earth’s biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate, with the Asia-Pacific region recording the world’s highest number of threatened species.

Conserving agro-biodiversity was the focus of a recent international symposium organized by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) held in Suwon, South Korea. The event was part of this year’s celebration of the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity, which highlights the value of life on earth and its conservation for posterity.

Addressing the symposium as Chief Guest, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Dr William Dar, recalled how our earlier generations selected certain crop varieties for their special taste, appearance, easy cooking and storage, which attracted higher market prices.

“Sadly, many of these land races have vanished, and with them their nutritional benefits and their adaptation traits that could have helped a world facing climate change… the knowledge that farmers accumulated over generations about the special traits of each landrace, is lost.” Dr Dar added.

About half of the world’s economy and 80% of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. Advocating for on-site use and conservation of agro-biodiversity by farmers to complement genebanks, Dr Dar emphasized the need to help farmers in accessing markets for them to earn money from this diversity, thereby creating a sustainable mechanism for its conservation for posterity. This, he stated, is the focus of ICRISAT’s new strategic plan for the next decade, called “inclusive market-oriented development.”

Harnessing the resilience of the poor, ICRISAT’s new strategy focuses on increasing the productivity of staple food crops and converting farm deficits into surpluses for the market. As household food security is achieved, market linkages are expanded to further raise incomes through high-value crops and other income-boosting products.

Nevertheless, Dr Dar mentioned, there are still pockets of diversity that have improved human well-being – the spices and teas grown in Kerala (India), Sri Lanka and the Himalayan foothills for global export; vegetable gardens in rice rotations in East Asia; and the rich and unique fruit tree resources grown across Asia’s tropical latitudes.

“Use it so that we do not lose it,” was his main message at the agro-diversity symposium, attended by about 100 senior scientists and policy-makers from the Asia-Pacific region.

 

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