15) Media has uncommon opportunities for promoting biodiversity conservation

Hyderabad, India, 9 October 2012 – With the impact of climate change already visible through extreme weather events and with a worsening scenario projected for the future, the genetic wealth in biological diversity could be the key to providing ecological and economic stability to countries and building climate-resilient agriculture. Media has uncommon opportunities to convince the societies and policy makers the value of biodiversity in providing economic and ecological services and thereby promote its conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits.

The Forum for Environment Journalists in India (FEJI), Panos South Asia (PSA) and the National Biodiversity Authority of India (NBA), organized a side-event at the 11th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at Hyderabad, India, to interact with the media on the value of biodiversity.

According to Dr Balakrishna Pisupati, Chairman of the National Biodiversity Authority of India, the media can help in spreading the message on the value of biodiversity. "Media and social networks in today's world are constantly redefining our approaches and focus on outreach and public awareness on a range of issues starting from social to political and environmental. Policy debates have reached the kitchens and roadside stalls,” he said.

“Media has the strength to leverage this reach pro-actively for protecting biodiversity,” Dr Pisupati added. “At present the media’s role on environmental issues is mostly an event-based involvement and therefore in the reactive mode. With more consistent reporting there are uncommon opportunities for the media to be involved in biodiversity conservation.”
Dr William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said that biological diversity has been and continues to be the foundation for agricultural research for sustainable food production and improved livelihoods across the world. “Breeding for improved crop varieties and hybrids using conventional methods and agri-biotechnology has been built on the foundation of this naturally-occurring genetic diversity,” Dr Dar added. “Locked in this biological wealth are genes that can provide climate-resilience to future crop varieties through increased drought, heat and salinity tolerance, and pest and disease resistance.”

ICRISAT, which has applied science-led agricultural research for the past 40 years to increase agricultural production in the semi-arid regions of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, has one of the world’s largest public-funded genebanks. It preserves seeds of more than 120,000 accessions of pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and small millets (finger millet, foxtail millet, barnyard millet, kodo millet, and little millet), that are kept as in-trust collections on behalf of FAO, for the benefit of the present and future generations. It has also distributed more than 1.4 million seed samples to 146 countries, restored about 55,000 germplasm lines to 9 countries, and released 830 cultivars in 79 countries from its germplasm and breeding materials.

The seeds selected and stored by world’s farmers over generations, and the seeds in the ex-situ collections in ICRISAT’s genebank (and other in publicly-funded institutions) could provide the genes for ensuring global food and nutrition security, and defence against climate change.

Biological diversity provides the stability and sustainability to the world’s natural systems. Its value is beyond mere computation of economic value, according to Mr S. Faizi, Board Member of the CBD Alliance, a network of NGOs working on biodiversity conservation. The environmental community originally began to estimate the economic value of biodiversity and ecological processes as a tactical exercise to convince the political leadership and policy makers of the importance of protecting biodiversity. However, in the recent years market-based economic models are attempting to turn biodiversity and ecosystem services into a tradable commodity.

“Ecosystem service is talked of with almost the same ease and profit motive as an entrepreneur talks of, say, travel service,” said Mr Faizi. The immense contribution that biodiversity makes to the rural economy is ignored and the traditional rights of communities over biodiversity are overlooked.”

Faizi also said that though the provisions of the CBD could be used for ensuring the protection of biodiversity, countries were shying away from it. “CBD is not a declaration, a statement of principles, an international program or a set of guidelines. It is a multilateral treaty that the contracting parties are legally obliged to implement.”

Public perception on biodiversity is a vague understanding of the multiplicity of species on planet earth. There is no clarity on how this diversity gives stability to life and also provides ecosystem services to villagers and city-dwellers.

In India this situation is ironic, since the country was the first to have a Biodiversity Act in 2002. Starting almost immediately after the Rio Summit of 1992, the process of developing India’s Biodiversity Act went through much public discussions. It legislatively reaffirmed that biological diversity in the country as its sovereign property. It was built on the three objectives of the CBD – conservation of biodiversity, encouraging its sustainable use and ensuring that the benefits arising from its use are equitably shared with those who helped in conserving the biological wealth in the first place.

The Biodiversity Act also put in place a three-tier structure to manage biological diversity. The National Biodiversity Authority was established in Chennai in 2003. There are 26 state biodiversity boards, and biodiversity management committees in many local bodies.
The Forum of Environment Journalists in India (FEJI) and Panos South Asia (PSA) have been working to strengthen informed reporting on biodiversity by creating platforms for interaction between journalists, experts, and governmental and civil society organisations.

According to Ms Keya Acharya, President of FEJI, the Hyderabad CoP, with its focus on the Nagoya Protocol designed to streamline access and benefit sharing and on the process of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiveristy (TEEB), will be an important event for the media for understanding the value of biodiversity.

For further information, contact Ms. Keya Acharya, President, FEJI (keya@feji.org.in, +91-98450-14070); Mr. S. Gopikrishna Warrier, Secretary, FEJI, and Regional Environment Manager, Panos South Asia (gopi@panossouthasia.org, +91-89397-34738); or Mr. Atul Deulgaonkar, Joint Secretary, FEJI (atul@feji.org.in, +91-94220-71905).


For media enquiries, contact: Showkat Nabi Rather, Media Liaison Officer, +91 40 3071 3187, R(dot)Showkat(at)cgiar(dot)org. or Cristina P Bejosano, Head, Media Relations and Science Writing, Tel: +91 40 30713236, C(dot)Bejosano(at)cgiar(dot)org
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