What is most wonderful on the living planet? It is undoubtedly the biodiversity. What is needed to be protected, conserved and enhanced at the first place is biodiversity. Biodiversity must be the primacy of all ideas, plans, all programmes and all projects. Biodiversity must be central to all celebrations of life. Biodiversity is the very foundation of sustainability. There can be no sustainability without the consideration and operationalisation of biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity is not just totality of all life forms. It also encompasses the ecological processes with which it flowers with great varieties at genetic, species, community and ecosystem levels.
“Celebrate Biodiversity” is the theme ascribed to the World Environment Day 2020 to be marked on June 5. We Indians have been celebrating forests, trees and all forms of life. Our culture has sacred notions for soil, land, species, rivers and all shapes and colours of life. The most outstanding celebration is reflected in the variety of genetic resources we have been cultivating and conserving on farm in our agricultural systems. An extraordinarily broad genetic base of all food and non-food crops and livestock is worth appreciating. About 5000 years ago we used to derive our foods from as many as 5000 plants. We used to cultivate about 60,000 varieties of rice and rear hundreds of livestock breeds. Our agriculture throughout its 10,000 years old history has been replete with biodiversity. Indian farmers continuously enriched agriculture by adding more and more biodiversity.
Spelling out the beauty, fragrance and numerous virtues of agro-biodiversity, our agriculture is a unique example of biodiversity celebration. However, the so-called Green Revolution that began in the West and landed at Indian soil in 1960s, has squeezed out most of the agro-biodiversity from cultivation practices. The Green Revolution type agriculture depended on a limited number of so-called HYVs (high-yield varieties). The HYVs are fertiliser-responsive and their high yield potential can only be sustained by applying high doses of chemical fertilisers and frequent irrigation. Since narrow base of species and genetic biodiversity in agriculture is extremely susceptible to insect and disease onslaughts, plant protection measures dependent on life-annihilating pesticides became necessary for realising yield potential of HYVs.
Biodiversity and sustainability go hand in hand. The higher the level of biodiversity, the greater the degree of sustainability. What is worst in modern agriculture is raising the crops in monocultures. Monocultures are extremely vulnerable to various diseases and insect pests. Biodiversity in nature creates barriers against damaging agents in nature, physical as well as biological. It imparts resilience to ecosystems. Resilience is an essential attribute of biodiversity for operationalising sustainability.
Among the three major processes of species extinction – natural, mass level, and anthropogenic – the anthropogenic, that is, due to human activities, is the worst and most impactful. At present we face the danger of losing as many as one million species. It is estimated that due to adverse human activities we shall have lost about 50 per cent of the total species by the end of the 21st century. Biodiversity depletion accelerates processes of unsustainability and creates an environment of economic uncertainty. Continuous biodiversity loss and faster pace of species’ extinction would snatch hope of ushering in a sustainable and happy future.
The “Celebrate Biodiversity” notion at the heart of the World Environment Day in 2020 helps awaken our consciousness for the greatest value of life (that lies in biodiversity), calls for conservation and augmentation of Earth’s biodiversity, and makes us reinvent our socio-cultural values based on biodiversity of the Nature.
Let this wonderful world of ours blossom with biodiversity in its climax form. Our own survival, our health, our safety, our material progress, our hopes, our sustainability, our future, and our happiness all depend on biodiversity. Celebrating diversity is an imperative of our life. Let us celebrate by preserving, protecting, conserving ameliorating, sustainably utilising and appreciating biodiversity of the Earth.
(The author is a Professor of Environmental Science in GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology)
Sunday, 31 May 2020 | Vir SIngh | in Guest Column