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Diversifying India’s Food Basket: NBA outlines the critical role of biodiversity

Biodiversity is critical to the sustainability, resilience and adaptability of agricultural production system. Of the 250,000 globally identified plant species, about 7,000 have historically been used in human diets. At present, however, only about 30 crops from the basis of world’s agriculture and just three species of maize, rice and wheat supply more than half the world’s daily calories (CBD, 2008). Agriculture continues to be the mainstay to India’s large and growing population. Due to prominence of agriculture in the national food security, its performance is central to India’s policy and planning.

The biodiversity mainstreaming is the process of embedding biodiversity consideration into policies, strategies and practices of key public and private actors that impact or rely on biodiversity. It is important to strengthen the linkages between biodiversity and agriculture to enlarge the food, nutrition and health security of India.

Integrating biodiversity concerns into the agricultural sector will increase the agricultural productivity, environmental quality, reduce externalities, improve the ecosystem services and most importantly reduce the negative impacts on biodiversity. Therefore, it is important to mainstream biodiversity concerns into national plans and strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity towards minimizing the negative impacts on biodiversity through policy interventions.

Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law (CEBPOL), under National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) recently initiated a study on mainstreaming Biodiversity into the Agriculture Sector. The policy analyzed various schemes and missions of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare and has come out with few recommendations for integrating biodiversity concerns into the agricultural sector involving local, regional and national government.

The discussion titled- ‘Policy Dialogue on Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Agricultural Sector’ was held at National Agricultural Science Complex (NASC) of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa on January 20, 2017

The proposed policy intervention document could help in achieving the twin goal of enhancing agriculture productivity as well as contributing to sustained agro biodiversity wealth of India.

Under the CEBPOL Programme, the NBA has recently suggested strategies as follows:

  1. Conserve in-situ
    Agro-climatic zone wise planning and on-farm conservation need to be promoted across the agro biodiversity rich areas. Incentives can be provided to local communities for promoting diversified agro-ecological systems and designation of agricultural biodiversity conservation sites/agro biodiversity hotspots.
  2. Conserve traditional seed varieties
    An integrated approach is required to increase the agricultural productivity to eradicate hunger, strengthen farmer’s resilience to environmental changes and restore crop diversity. A national database/mapping of traditional seed varieties need to be developed and documented. To ensure adequate availability of traditional seeds, seed banks can be set up in each agro-climatic zone/village/block level, so that these valuable resources can be saved and utilized by the new generations of farmers.
  3. Identify economically potential crops and facilitate cultivation
    Bio-economy encompasses the sustainable production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, bio-based products and bio-energy. To identify the economically potential agro biodiversity crops/resources, the marketable traditional crops/breeds should be identified. This knowledge based frontier has the potential to generate new solutions for the planet’s most important challenges regarding energy, health, food, water and climate change delivering social, environmental and economic benefits.
  4. Manage and conserve pollinators
    Bee keeping is vital for agro-biodiversity for cross pollination of horticultural and many agricultural crops. In order to maximize agricultural production, along with honey-bees, other native agriculturally important insects also can be promoted viz moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other vertebrates.
  5. Encourage use of bio pesticides
    Increasing the usage of bio-pesticides/insecticides at the local level, also the agriculturally important insect population can be increased in the agricultural landscape by planting native varieties of trees/providing bio infrastructural facilities towards controlling pests and diseases.
  6. Conserve livestock
    Incentives/free insurance should be given for communities who preserve those indigenous/local varieties/breeds. Relevant indigenous knowledge of management strategies used by communities to utilize the genetic diversity in their livestock should be documented; Indigenous knowledge of pastoral communities about animal maintenance and breed should be documented with the active involvement of the communities, breeders association, gaushalas and NGOs.
  7. Below ground biodiversity and agro biodiversity index
    The agro biodiversity index can be used to monitor the loss of agro biodiversity in the agro biodiversity hotspots. Also the below ground level biodiversity index can be included in the soil health card scheme for assessing the wealth of soil biodiversity.
  8. Land use planning
    The agricultural land utilisation area need to be classified considering the importance of conserving the varietal genetic diversity. It is suggested to classify the agricultural landscape through a land use policy and the agricultural landscape can be classified as: a)Agro-biodiversity hotspots; b) Prime agricultural/farm lands (fertile); c) Watershed area; d) Double cropped land; and, e) Pasture land for livestock rearing.
  9. Identify Problematic Invasive Alien Species
    The spread of alien species is considered one of the greatest global threat to biodiversity. The spread and establishment of have resulted in significant negative economic consequences around the world along with posing threats to human health and agricultural species. A criteria need to be developed for identifying the problematic species and strategies need to be developed towards prioritizing, managing and controlling the spread of invasive alien species.
  10. Integrate horticultural mission with the Green Highways Policy
    A green highway is a new concept that includes a roadway design integrating the functionalities of transport and ecological sustainability. The aim for this concept is that growth and development should go hand in hand with sustainability of the eco system and public health. It is recommended that, horticultural crops, fruit bearing trees, medicinal plants , high value timber trees can be promoted in the national and state highways.
  11. Compliance with the Biological Diversity (BD) Act
    The agriculture related research institutions need to report to NBA, if any new taxon, breed(s), culture(s), strain(s) or line(s) discovered or developed. All the State Biodiversity Boards(SBBs) should notify the list of plant and animal genetic resources which are in the verge of extinction and necessary rehabilitative measures need to be taken. Also, the list of Normally Traded Commodities for domestic stock and breed of animal, insect and fish genetic resources need to be notified by the central Government. It is also suggested to activate Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) in the agro-biodiversity hotspots towards conserving and sustainable utilization of agro biodiversity resources.
  12. Awareness and capacity building
    Some of the existing programmes like Farmers Field School (FFS) can be used for creating awareness among farmers about the importance of agro biodiversity. Considering the importance of agro-biodiversity in the emerging global scenario, awareness/literacy campaign for conservation and sustainable management of agro-biodiversity need to be initiated at the gross root level, starting right from school, colleges, gram sabha/ panchayat level.
  13. Finance mobilization and incentive mechanism
    To conserve the agro-biodiversity, the financial mechanism can be mobilized through monetary and non-monetary sources. Economic incentives can be provided to the farmers switching over to ecological intensified farming practices (organic farming, integrated pest managementpractices, farming using native varieties) and polluter pay principle can be used to reclaim the agricultural lands affected due to industrial pollution and to reverse the ecology.
  14. Include biodiversity experts in the national/state and district level committees for implementing various missions
    The NBA, SBB, BMC representatives/ biodiversity experts may be included as a members in the national/state/district level committees of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers welfare schemes viz a) National Food Security Mission; b) National Mission on Oliseeds and Oilpalm; c) Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture; and, e) National Livestock Mission.

References:

Convention on Biological Diversity. 2008. The Convention on Biological Diversity Year in Review 2008. Available at: https://www.cbd.int/doc/reports/cbd-report-2008-en.pdf

Convention on Biological Diversity. 2014. India’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity 2014. Available at: https://www.cbd.int/doc/world/in/in-nr-05-en.pdf

Food and Agriculture Organisation. 2015. State of Food Insecurity in the World: In Brief. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4671e.pdf.

 

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