Dryland forests call for more attention from researchers, policy makers

October 16, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

I come back to the point about the ‘poor cousins’ of forestry, the under-rated forests. One such is dryland forests.

Its time to look beyond rainforests to dry-land forests; and the latter’s conservation, says Sergio Zelaya, from the secretariat of UNCCD (UN Convention to Combat Desertification). I caught up with Zelaya this week as discussions among various UN agencies dealing with environment, biodiversity and forestry, steered to restoration of degraded land.

Zelaya says research on dryland forestry is lagging behind other sectors.

Dryland forests tend to be ignored in research and policy. Photo credit: Forest & Kim Starr, Wikipedia

The neglect of dryland forest research is a pity, I think, because this is one more area where modern science and traditional knowledge can join hands to make a difference to poor communities. The dryland nomad communities are a rich storehouse of knowledge on water and biodiversity conservation, dryland farming, and cattle keeping, something that was brought up in sessions on local communities’ knowledge too.

An equally important, but lesser known fact , is that much of developing countries land has dryland forests — an estimated 72%.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture organization, 40% of the Earth comprises open or closed forests; and 42% of these are dry forest; while only 33% are ‘moist’ forests and 25% wet forests.

Dry forests, ranging from desert to grasslands, Mediterranean scrublands and woodlands, are home to 2.5 billion people who depend on them for food, fodder, medicine, energy and shelter. They are the key to food security as dryland ecosystems support 44% of the world’s food production systems and 50% of its livestock. .

About 18% of land in arid zones is covered by forests, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Report.. The largest proportion in Africa and the world’s tropical islands, where they account for 70%-80%, and these forests make up about 22% of South America and 50% of Central America’s land.

Dryland forests are also rich in biodiversity which is adapted to extreme conditions; provide ecosystem services; serve as a buffer against drought and desertification by preventing soil erosion; and can help in adaptation to climate change. They store carbon, and hence can contribute to mitigation

Yet these forests do not attract conservation and sustainable management programmes, or technical and financial resources, and most discussions on forests and climate change also side-line them, focusing  mostly on rainforests.

Hopefully they catch policy makers attention.  As Nuc Gnacadja, UNCCD executive secretary, observed on Monday, drylands are the buffer zone for the biodiversity outside the ecosystem.”

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Afro-Asian millets network launched to bring millets back on research and farm agenda

October 15, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Millets, the so-called ‘poor man’s’ cereal and a ‘neglected and under-utilised crop’ in scientific parlance, could bridge poor farmers of two ancient continents, Africa and Asia. An Afro-Asian millets network was launched together today (15 Oct), where millet networks agreed to draw attention to research and promotion of millets as a way to preserve agricultural biodiversity, especially in poor soils where few other crops grow.

“Who is implementing the Aichi targets? The governmental groups ganging up together to get funds for Aichi targets, or the poor farmers, especially women, who have been doing in-situ (on field) biodiversity conservation without any money?” questioned P V Sateesh, director of Hyderabad-based Deccan Development Society that organised the millets network launch.

An Afro-Asian millets network seeks to bring millets back on research and farm agenda. Photo credit: Mikael Häggström. Wikipedia

There is need for strong research and development, and exchange programmes on millets, as millets can be a source of livelihoods and nutrition for majority of farmers below the poverty line, T A Prakash, professor at the department of agriculture economics at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru, emphasised.

Even if one wants to promote millets today, there are neither simple mechanical tools for harvesting and milling, or innovations in the sector, he explained later to me.

Despite the neglect, some doughty farmers are pushing ahead with millets.

“Millets are an important part of the food chain and we are fighting to bring back the millets, says Mohammad Coulibaly, from Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in development (IRPAD,) Mali. In Africa, land where poor farmers once grew millets in giving way to commercial cotton, says Rene Segbenou from Coalition to Protect Genetic Heritage, from Benin.

India’s north-eastern state of Nagaland in the eastern Himalayas holds an annual millets festival every year, and local farmers groups resist the government’s efforts to replant the area with ‘alien commercial’ plants such as rubber and Jatropha.

Such alien commercial concepts means “we have lost the essence of life, the essence of biodiversity,” pints out Seno, a woman farmer from the state.

Prakash says that wheat-maize economies dominated by the west, and national governments’ support for rice as the major crop in Asia, have together led to the neglect of millets.

“Millets can be a powerful tool for the third world to fight the wheat-maize agriculture systems dominated by the west,” he said at the launch of the network.

Interesting theory!


This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

How the great apes (and maybe other endangered primates) could help local communities and conserve the planet

October 15, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

This morning the IUCN released a report on the world’s 25 most endangered primates for 2012-14, and hence needing conservation most. The list has five species from Africa, six from Madagascar, nine from Asia and five central and Southern America. Country-wise, Madagascar tops the list with six species, followed by Vietnam with five, Indonesia with three, Brazil with two and China, Colombia, Peru, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Venezuela with one each.

Primates are important to tropical forest ecosystems, says Russel Mittermeir, president of Conservation International and chair of IUCN’s primate group. They are  at risk from a slew of development and infrastructure projects that destroy their natural habitats; Eboloa virus and global warming. “There is an impending extinction crisis,” says  Mittermeir.

Gorillas and other primates need urgent conservation measures. Photo credit: Rene Nijenhuis. GRASP

There is a great example from Rwanda, on how a gorilla conservation programme that vested its ownership and management to local communities improved the economy of the communities and they now have keen interest to conserve the gorillas.  Gorillas are among the four species of great apes, the others being chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos. Less than 800 mountain gorillas remain in the wild, and by 2030, over 90% of the great apes would be impacted by human activity, GRASP estimates.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), an alliance of UN organisations, conservation agencies, scientific instates and private organisations, started the gorilla conservation programme in Rwanda 2009.

The key to the success of the gorilla programme is that local communities were involved in its management, with roles as wardens and park managers, while other found jobs as tourist guides and drivers, Douglas Cress, GRASP programme manager coordinator, explained to me.

The gorillas were also an indicator of human health as there was risk of transmission of viruses from humans in surrounding areas to the endangered species. In the process, the local communities benefited with the setting up of health clinics.

As scientists explain, great apes can reason and communicate emotions, have mastered some forms of communication through signs and symbols; and have their own culture.  Great apes and humans share more than 96% of the genetic materials, and crucial to understanding evolution.

I am all for our endangered ancestors.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Conservation by indigenous people and local communities needs scientific and legal support

October 13, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

There is a tendency for governments to assume that the onus of nature conservation lies on its bulging shoulders. What most governments tend to ignore is the rich biodiversity in indigenous peoples and local communities conserved areas (ICCAs). A colloquium on Saturday (12 Oct) presented two studies by an ICCA consortium, across Africa, Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

Several speakers at the colloquium spoke of inadequate rights to indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) and the major threats they face. One is loss of habitat and over-exploitation of resources; pollution, invasive species and climate change. The second is direct pressures on these communities and resources from industrialisation, development, mining, , infrastructure and dams and similar activities.

Indigenous people’s and local communities customary rights and role in biodiversity conservation need to legal and scientific recognition. Photo credit:Robertobra, Wikipedia

But the most important threat is that, despite increased on-legal recognition of these communities, for example, in national and international projects there is lack of effective legal recognition of these communities’ customary rights over their resources, and they have no rights over sub-soil resources.

For example, governments in Fiji, Philippines and Suriname can issue prospecting licenses over land areas without owner consent if it is considered important for the nation, report of the studies, issued in the colloquium, shows. In Chile, the government can cede mining and geothermal resources, as well as water, to non-indigenous peoples and private firms.

There are similarly lack of land tenures in several African countries, while in India, the government owns much of the lands within IPLC’s conserved territories and areas.

One problem, says the report, is that most countries have “severely inadequate” documentation of and research on ICCAs, and almost none have databases.

“The ICCAs have simply been invisible to the formal sector of scientists and conservationists,” it says.

Another problem is that even in places where ICCA recognition is rising, documentation, research or database development is not by the indigenous peoples, nor is free and prior informed consent taken from them. The information is in a format that the indigenous peoples cannot access or understand.

Countries are also weak in providing fund and technical support for providing legal empowerment, mapping and building capacity for reclaiming rights over land management of their territories and resources.

Conservation is clearly in area that needs a humane face of science and law.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Developing indicators of biodiversity-poverty linkages is complex

October 13, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

A key goal under the Aichi targets agreed in Nagoya is to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity in to development and poverty reduction strategies. But despite well-meaning initiatives on the linkages between biodiversity and poverty; enough ground evidence, precise tools to demonstrate, monitor and assess to what extent biodiversity is integrated in development process are difficult to find.

This week there were attempts to show a way forward on this difficult road. On Friday (12 Oct) evening, a draft study on development of indicators for poverty and biodiversity linkages, and their application, was presented at a side-event chaired by Didier Babin,CBD sceretariat. The indicators, says Sameer Punde,   from the NGO Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF), demonstrate how biodiversity trends directly impact people’s livelihoods.

Tools to assess how much biodiversity is integrated into poverty reduction plans are still to be developed. Photo credit: IFAD.org

The study assesses current initiatives and indicators for poverty and biodiversity in 11 indicator frameworks, whose criteria include sensitivity, scale, relevance, and scientific validity.

Suneetha Subramanian, United Nations University;s Institute for Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) described how the study next outlines a strategy to develop poverty-biodiversity indicators, using criteria such as biodiversity resources, livelihood activities dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services; equity; cultural diversity; and cross-sectoral linkages.

Indicators could be both standalone and a mix, cost-effective and amenable to scaling up.  Poverty-biodiversity indicators,

Earlier on Tuesday (09 Oct), the International Institute for Environment Development (IIED) launched a ‘biodiversity mainstreaming diagnostic tool’ to help policy makers assess how far they have integrated biodiversity and development in their national plans., and the challenges they face.  IIED says it would also help “identify impacts, knowledge gaps and barriers to progress.”

The tool sets out a framework of questions and issues – understand the extent of progress in mainstreaming biodiversity; map and analyse mainstreaming approaches; assess how institutional structures and procedures support or inhibit biodiversity mainstreaming; examine performance; and identify areas for change and improvement.

It was the product of joint project by IIED and the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), under which  four African countries – Botswana, Namibia, Seychelles and Uganda —  are using the tool.

IIED and UNEP-WCMC are also seeking feedback for their proposed 2013 report on current knowledge on efforts to include biodiversity in policy making; and will document the evidence base on biodiversity-poverty linkages.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

New policy brief on mangrove mangament says need for sound data and new research

October 12, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

I trawled to mangroves Friday evening that saw the launch of a policy brief  on ‘securing the future of mangroves,’ by the United Nations University – Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

As I mentioned in a previous brief, mangroves are a unique ecosystem, covering only 150,000 square kms or less than 1% of all tropical forests worldwide, and are disappearing fast. They are disappearing three to five times faster than overall global forest losses, and some countries have lost 40% of their mangroves over 25 years.

Mangrove management needs sound data and new research. Photo credit: VasuVR, Wikipedia

The new policy brief, which follows the launch of the World Atlas of Mangrove atlas in 2010,  recommends a slew of measures to improve mangrove management, from increasing conservation and restoration efforts as part of ‘natural coastal infrastructure, to economic incentives and promoting payment for ecosystem services as a source of income for mangrove management; to coordinated international policy agenda.

It also highlights that management interventions will be successful if they are backed up sound data and a broader knowledge and understanding for the need for the interventions.

Towards this, one of the measures suggested is support for new research and maintenance of long-term data sets on the extent of mangrove resources, their value, and responses to a range of pressures to inform sound policy and management decisions.

Despite an increasing trend in data and knowledge, many countries still have inadequate information on the extent and status of their mangrove resources, which “hampers robust policy making”, planning and resource management, it says.

The brief suggests that the formation of the Inter-Governmental Scientific Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) would be an important step to bridging science and policy, much like the climate change IPCCC has done for climate change.

The document also highlights the role of mangroves in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, which should be integrated in local and national adaptation plans. It suggests coordinating mangrove restoration with climate change mechanisms – for example, supporting implementation of mangrove projects for carbon emission reductions under REDD+; and encouraging the use of clean development mechanism (CDM) to support mangrove restoration.

I only hope the already beleaguered mangroves do not get caught in the kind of wrangles that plague climate change agenda.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

India’s grasslands, home to the lion and pastoralists, lie forgotten

October 12, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

After wetlands, I trawled India’s forgotten grasslands, at a session this (Friday) afternoon. In case you thought that grasslands were all about some grass, sheep and goats, think again. In India, one such grassland in its west is home to the Asiatic lion. And also to many marginalised, mobile and itinerant communities, including pastoralists.

Grasslands biodiversity is often ignored. Credit: Shantanu Bhardwaj, Wikipedia

Grasslands are important for biodiversity, and loss of a square kilometre of grasslands causes more loss to biodiversity than an equivalent of the much-fancied monoculture plantations, Ranjit Manakandan, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), said at a side-event today.

They are critical habitats for some key species, including the rhino, wild ass, great Indian bustard, deer, insects, and, of course the lion.

The much neglected pastoral groups also maintain and manage  livestock diversity, including some rare breeds,  under low-input systems.

The Indian grasslands are under threat, from invasive species such as the Prosopis and Parthenium, unsustainable grazing, and shrinking land use due to encroachment by real estate and industries.

What’s worse, they are often wrongly classified by the state governments. For example, what is technically a grassland in Tamil Nadu has been classified as a wasteland, and there is a profusion of suggestions to make it fit for growing crops, says a forest officer from the state.

As many traditional pastoralists with their low-consumption lifetsyles are forced to give up their traditional lands, along with them also go their special breeds of livestock, indigenous knowledge systems.

Under the circumstances, I found the story of the Pardhi community, in India’s western state of Maharashtra. A traditional nomadic hunting community, Pardhis were classified as a ‘criminal’ tribe in 1872, and the stigma ahs remained ever since. Independent India’s forest act which bans huting, did not help matters for the Pardhis. Today they are at the heart of an award-winning land restoration programme that makes sue of their deep knowledge of local biodiversity.

Hear the Pardhi story in the link here:

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

The cost of losing, and restoring lost wetlands, will be huge

October 12, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Quietly lamented in some of the side-events here is that compared to the glamorous cousin, the tropical rainforests, the ‘poor cousins’ – other forests and ecosystems – are not receiving enough attention.  The latter are presumed to have little, or at best, some boring biodiversity.

So I turned today to one such neglected region – the wetlands – at a side-event today. COP-11 is discussing  a draft report by  the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a global initiative on the economic value of conserving biodiversity,  n wetlands, which is expected to be finalised in early 2013 after inputs from COP-11.

Wetlands, such as Sundarbans mangrove in India (above), offer water and food security, but are getting degraded. Credit: Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Wetlands come in different forms  — coral reefs, coastal wetlands, mangroves, freshwater lakes, tidal marshes, peatlands, coral reefs,  sea grassbeds, to name some.  Examples include the Pantanal wetlands of Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay; Okavanga delta in Botswana; the Sundarbans in Bangladesh and India; the Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe in the two Congos,  and Lake Tchad across Niger, Nigeria and Tchad.

Wetlands also provide a range of services that benefit people, particularly water-related services, including recharging groundwater, and fresh water supply. They offer are food security – mangroves, for example, serve as fish nurseries for their inhabitants.

They also moderate extreme weather events, regulate water flow;  help in water treatment and/or purification, and recycle nutrients;  stall erosion control and sediment transport; help withstand storms; and some like peatlands, mangroves and tidal marshes, store carbon.

Sadly, governments are “hugely not recognising, or under-estimating the value of wetlands,” says Nick Davidson, deputy secretary general at the Ramasar Convention on wetlands.

The world is losing its wetlands  fast due to agriculture production, urbanisation; and industrialisation. Since 1980, one-fifth (3.6 square kms) of the mangroves are lost.

The speed at which wetlands are being degraded  is also worrying.  East Asia is losing at the rate of 1.6% each year, while mangroves are going at the rate of 1% .

“The risks and costs of inaction are huge, and the cost of (wetland) restoration big,” he says.

Meanwhile, there is disappointment over draft resolution on wetlands at the ongoing COP-11. “It is weak and timorous,” said one delegate.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Marine Protected Areas should not evict traditional fishing communities

October 11, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Ever wondered why, despite some fantastic programmes on conservation and scientific inputs, things don’t work on the ground? Here are some insights from a study by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) on the social dimensions of marine conservation, conducted in Central America, and other presentations at a side event today.

The 2012 study on conservation efforts in marine protected areas and its impacts on local fishing communities, in Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, showed that “in most cases the cost of conservation fell on the shoulders of local communities, coastal fishermen and indigenous peoples”. The biggest price they had to pay was restricted access to resources and traditional fishing areas, Vivienne Solis Rivera, from Marvin Fonseca Borras, Costa Rica said.

Local fishing communities pay the prize for marine conservation programmes, says study. Credit: Brocken Inaglory.Wikipedia

In most cases, the conservation efforts failed to address local and social needs; excluded local fishing communities who did not see or get any benefit from the process; and there is limited involvement of government and other institutions engaged in conservation efforts, including scientific institutes.Riza Damanik, from the People’s Coalition of Fishery Justice, Indonesia, presented case studies on protected areas conservation in Indonesia, where 92 per cent of fishermen using traditional fishing methods for the local markets.

Since 2006 Indonesia has committed to set aside 20 million hectare waters for conservation by 2020, of which by 2012, 15 million hectares have been identified for marine conservation area.

Damanik presented the case of Sangalaki Island, in east Kalimantan, for feed and nesting for two of Indonesia’s six species of sea turtles,  the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochely imbricata). On 23 September this year, about 50 traditional fishermen of nearby Derawan Island were evicted by two conservation institutions, including an NGO, says Damanik.

South Africa has designated 21 marine protected areas covering 785 kms  (5 per cent) of its 3000-km coastline,. They lie within “in-shore” zones which impact small-scale fishing communities.

Similarly, many coastal communities of South Africa have customary rights, but are excluded from Marine Living Resources Act decisions and stakeholder consultations where  influential conservation lobbies, commercial lobbies and recreational fishing groups tend to dominate, Donovan van der Heyden, from the NGO Coastal Links, said.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Integrate science with traditional knowledge to describe ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs)

October 11, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Traditional knowledge has been engaging the attention of delegates at COP-11, and it is relevant to the previous blog on ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs).

During previous discussions at COP-9 in 2008 and COP-10 in 2010, CBD had recognised the need to integrate traditional, scientific, technical and technological knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs).

Science and traditional knowledge should together determine ecologically and biologically significant areas. Credit: Michael Foley, World Bank

CBD Alliance, a network of non-government organisations attending COP-11 in Hyderabad, says that in the five regional workshops held so far to identify and describe EBSAs did not attempt to integrate the scientific criteria with traditional knowledge of IPLCs.CBD Alliance  points out that during discussions held before 2008, countries had already identified for ecologically and biologically significant marine areas within open oceans and deep-sea habitats, which needed protection, based on scientific criteria.

In recent years, the focus has shifted also to EBSAs in marine and coastal areas within national jurisdiction, but the criteria being used for these are the same as for oceans.  In the case of marine and coastal areas within national territorial waters, integrating traditional knowledge becomes all the more important. An estimated 3.5 billion people – over a half of the world’s people – live within 100 miles of the coast;  and 90 per cent of people who depend on fishing live in developing countries.

CBD also cites the conclusions of a study by the subsidiary body on scientific, technical and technological advice (SBSTTA);  an intergovernmental scientific advisory body for COP, in 2001 which says social conditions often determine long-term success of conservation initiatives and hence socio-cultural criteria for EBSAs need to be considered along with scientific criteria, especially in areas with human populations.

The SBSTTA study also concluded that it is equally important to management of identified EBSAs will depend on social, economic and cultural factor.

Training workshops should, therefore, bear social, economic and cultural factors too in future EBSA workshops, says CBD Alliance.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) suggests that reports of the regional training workshops be included in a repository by the CBD, which could be used as a scientific basis for setting up “a globally comprehensive, adequate and representative” system of EBSAs.

The Hyderabad meeting should also ensure sufficient resources are committed for more regional workshops to identify EBSAs, it says.

Whether natural science and traditional knowledge will be treated on on equal footing remains to be seen.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

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