It was in the year 2000, that the United Nation announced May 22 as the World Biodiversity Day, an attempt to bring attention towards the challenges of biodiversity, its impact on nutrition, food security and climate change. The week starting May 18 is being celebrated as the Biodiversity week, focusing on science and traditional knowledge, and the interlinkage between biodiversity, climate and land.
But what is biodiversity?
In simple terms, the variety of life forms that coexist, and their natural forms, together make “biodiversity”. This includes genetic diversity (varieties of crops, breeds of livestock, human genes) and ecosystem diversity (deserts, mountains, lakes and rivers)
Biodiversity is extremely critical to our food systems, and almost impossible to replace. Each species has a role to play in the ecosystem and contribute to its economic impact. Bees and other pollinators help in nutritious and bountiful yield, and up to ⅓ of the world’s food production relies on them. Similarly, biological organisms in soil and water can help degrade almost 75% of the chemicals that are released into the environment and are potential targets of both bioremediation and biotreatment. In 1997, by using bioremediationled to an annual economic saving of $135 billion worldwide.
But over the last century, 90% of the crops have disappeared and half of the breeds of livestock has been lost. One of the significant reasons is climate change. IPCC suggests that approximately 10% of the species can face high risk of extinction with every 1°C increase in temperature, which is alarming as the average global temperature has already increased by 0.74°C in the last century. Coupled with changing rainfall patterns and unsustainable soil and water practices, biodiversity is under serious threat.
Coordinated efforts between international governments, for local ecosystems can help preserve biodiversity. Science, Technology and Innovation for sustainable land practices, soil conservation and water management play an integral role in the same. For eg, nitrogen fixing legumes can help improve soil quality and help reduce the carbon footprint of food production.
Along with new innovations, greater application of indigenous knowledge can help preserve local ecosystems as well. For example, Scientists helped local tribes of Africa save millions by using naturally grown fungus to fight desert locusts and grasshoppers. Coupled with effective implementation of biotechnology, we can preserve biodiversity swiftly. Biotech has equipped us to create crop varieties with abundant yield, managing pests, and fighting harsh conditions.
With Covid19, the role of biodiversity becomes more relevant. Experts cautioned that loss of biodiversity plays a crucial role in outbreak of viruses (AIDS, Ebola, possibly COVID19) and that we are majorly dependent on biodiversity for medicines (An interesting read here). The World Economic Forum estimates that 50% of medicines come from natural plant extracts (including cancer, tumor, and prescription drugs), over 70% of all antibiotics currently in use originate from natural substances obtained from plants, fungi, bacteria and marine organismsmaking a strong case for preserving biodiversity.
 Pg 18 http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_New_Nature_Economy_Report_2020.pdf