Sunday, May 28, 2023

Working For A Shared And Sustainable Future

Working For A Shared And Sustainable Future

On this International Day for Biological Diversity, we look at five Indian organisations working towards 'building a shared future for all life'

IBD 2022 goal: Building a shared future for all life
IBD 2022 goal: Building a shared future for all life Image credit: Santosh Nimbalkar /

The United Nations had proclaimed the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. When first created by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in late 1993, December 29 (the date of entry into force of the Convention of Biological Diversity), was designated as the day of observation. However, in December 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted May 22 as IDB, partly to ease the problem faced by many countries who found it difficult to organise programmes owing to the year-end holidays. As the text of the Convention was adopted on May 22 (1992), it was designated as the International Day for Biological Diversity.

The importance of biodiversity and why we need to protect it was further driven home during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest lessons the pandemic taught us was that we have to develop a strong and sustainable ecosystem to ensure our survival in the face of any similar global threat in the future. And to achieve that, according to experts, we have to ensure the health of the biological diversity of planet Earth.

According to a note by UNICEF, ‘biodiversity is essential for human health and well-being, economic prosperity, food safety and security, and other areas critical to all humans and all human societies. Organisms, ecosystems and ecological processes supply us with oxygen and clean water, they help cycle carbon and fix nutrients, they enable plants to grow, they keep pests and diseases in check, and they help protect against flooding and to regulate the climate’.

UNICEF has also warned that biodiversity is declining faster than it has at any other time in human history. People represent just 0.01 per cent of all living creatures, but have still caused the loss of 83 per cent of all wild mammals and half of plants in just the past 100 years. How we grow food, produce energy, dispose of waste and consume resources is destroying nature’s delicate balance that all species — including ours — depend on for survival. Besides, according to scientists climate change is happening much too fast for species to adapt and survive.

The UN website pointed out that ‘biological diversity resources are the pillars’ upon which civilizations have been built. Fish provide 20 per cent of animal protein to about three billion people. Over 80 per cent of the human diet is provided by plants. As many as 80 per cent of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant‐based medicines for basic healthcare.

Therefore loss of biodiversity threatens all, including our health. It has been proven that biodiversity loss could expand zoonosis (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) while, on the other hand, if we keep biodiversity intact, it offers excellent tools to fight against pandemics like those caused by coronaviruses, the UN website said.

Every IBD has a specific theme. For 2022, the theme is ‘building a shared future for all life’. The slogan builds on the momentum generated in 2020 and 2021 in support of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, due to be adopted at part two of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP-15) in Kunming, China, later this year, according to a release from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“To achieve a sustainable future for all, we need to act urgently to protect biodiversity, the web of life that connects and supports us all,” said Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, in his message for IBD 2022. “We must end our senseless and destructive war against nature. The rate of species loss is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average of the past 10 million years – and accelerating.”

He also said, “Biodiversity is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, ending the existential threat of climate change, halting land degradation, building food security and supporting advances in human health. And biodiversity offers ready solutions for green and inclusive growth.”

CBD Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema in her message also focused on solidarity, underscoring the importance of addressing the biodiversity crisis and building a shared future for all life. "Wherever you are in the world, every one of you matters and every action you take matters," she said.

Interestingly, in India, private enterprises have been working towards sustainable living and raising awareness about protection of biological diversity in various ways. Here are five organisations which have been working towards a shared and sustainable future. And if you are keen to know how you may work towards protecting biodiversity as a traveller, you may sign up for their workshops or join a volunteering programme as part of your itinerary.

Darjeeling based environmental organisation Tieedi (founded in 2016) has been practicing permaculture to pave the way for sustainable use of natural resources. They work and impart training in experiential environment education, regenerative tourism, natural farming, decentralised waste management solutions and sustainable land and building design consultation. They also provide volunteering opportunities where participants learn about permaculture while working at any of their projects. And if you are not sure if you want to volunteer, you may spend a few days at their place observing closely the kind of work they do. The accommodation built for guests by the organisation itself is a lesson in natural building handcrafted by local artisans without compromising on amenities.

Located in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, Thannal Hand Sculpted Homes was set up by natural building architect Biju Bhaskar and his wife Sindhu Bhaskar in 2011. They have been researching about indigenous knowledge in shelter making, which was practiced in India since the Vedic ages but gradually forgotten – such as use of suda (lime) and surkhi (burnt mud), use of natural derivatives from plants and animals – and offering hands-on training programmes for the same. The organisation is also attentive to the fact that alternative building solutions should not be such that they require premium investments; the solutions must be economically viable for wide-spread adoption. Visitors are welcome to book a Thannal Campus Tour (currently suspended) through prior appointment and on specific dates only; walk-in not allowed. You may also contact them for details of workshops and training programmes here.

Mumbai based BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society) is one of the oldest scientific organisations in India. They have been working for nature conservation since 1883, the primary aim being spread awareness about nature through science-based research, conservation advocacy, education, scientific publications, nature tours and other programmes. One of their key activities involve conservation research which includes researching on species, landscapes and seascapes. Nature walks and camps (the pandemic situation may affect the timings) organised by BNHS are excellent opportunities to see and learn about biodiversity in India and how we may work to protect it.

A spot of volunteering with BuDa Folklore can help you reap years of accumulated knowledge. The main aim of the organisation is to conserve, educate and promote the folklore and natural environment of the Uttar Kannada region in Karnataka. And in the process they boost livelihoods and local economies, help in diversifying farm and forest produce, and promote tribal culture, safeguards natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystems. For a hands-on experience, you may send your kids or young family members on a study tour conducted by them. Or, you may choose to join their volunteering programme. You may also choose to stay in their Gokarna Beach House located in Haarumaskeri coastal village, about 5km from Gokarna Town. Get the details here.

Nestling in the foothills of the Sahyadri in the Western Ghats is Vanvadi, a biodiversity hotspot. But this lush forest of 65 acres would have been lost if it was not for the efforts of a group of like-minded citizens who bought the clear-felled land in 1994. Among other things, today Vanvadi is home to 50 forest food species and 120 traditionally useful plants and shelters a host of birds, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, crabs, etc. One of the key achievements of Vanvadi is enhancing the ground water system and ensuring water security in the downstream region. They also practice organic farming. The collective also imparts training and workshops in sustainable practices, organic farming, etc. as well as holds public programmes and volunteering opportunities for interested people. To know more about Vanvadi , which is located between Mumbai and Pune, see here.