Today is International Day of Biological Diversity

Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB), and the theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health’. It seeks to increase global awareness of the dependency of our food systems, nutrition and health on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. The UN General Assembly adopted May 22nd as the day for celebration of the IBD to commemorate adoption on May 22nd 1992 of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) by the Nairobi Final Act of the Conference of Parties to the CBD.

This year’s celebration is a reminder that even as cooking innovations are offering more diverse foods to people all over the world, “the global diet as a whole and generally what people eat, is gradually becoming more homogenised; and this,” according to the UN, “is a dangerous thing”. This is happening because of the unprecedented destruction of biological diversity resulting in loss of species, with about one million species of both plants and animals facing threats of extinct due to climate change, according to a recently released UN Report.

Come to think of it, if you consider that some plants and even crops that served as basic food ingredients for cooking by our grandparents can no longer be found, then it is time to realise that something unusual is happening. And in the midst of this gradual progression of species losses, it is possible that some indigenous delicious foods and their methods of preparation will eventually be lost forever.

For instance, are Ghanaian and Nigerian fufu lovers aware that tree species that were used to carve pestles and mortars are now very difficult to come by in the forests? So, carvers are resorting to using other tree species, which our ancestors would never have used for that purpose. Thankfully, technology is helping to address the problem – so we now have powdered fufu and fufu pounding machines.

But we must not forget that technology hinges on natural resources, and to a large extent in some instances require biological resources to mimic in order to come out with other products. Moreover, biological diversity is what accounts for the distinct diversity among humans and therefore the uniqueness of our foods and food systems which spice up lives – as the saying goes, “diversity is the spice of life”.

The helplessness, hopelessness and bleakness that humans will face should the current spate of destruction of biological diversity be allowed to go on unchecked is the underlining element of the UN Report, prepared by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

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The report was approved at the 7th session of IPBES Plenary meeting held in Paris, about a fortnight ago. It warns that: “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinction is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely”. Shedding more light on the report at the Paris meeting, the Chair of IPBES Sir Robert Watson noted: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” adding, “we are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life”.

The report identifies and ranks the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far, as “changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution and invasive alien species”.

The report has established that going by current approaches, the 2030 deadline of global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability is likely to be missed. This is because per IPBES’s assessment, current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress toward 80% of the assessed targets of the SDGs related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.

The good news is that the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is not all catastrophic news. According to Sir Robert Watson: “The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global”. He is optimistic that “through transformative change, involving a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors…nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably”.

Consequently, this year’s International Biodiversity Day is being observed today for people to begin appreciating biodiversity as the foundation for our food and health, and also as a major catalyst for transforming food systems and improving human health. Furthermore, the theme celebrates the diversity provided by natural ecosystems for human existence and well-being on earth.

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, acknowledges that biological diversity is vital for human health and well-being – and is therefore urging all governments, businesses and civil society “to take urgent action to protect and sustainably manage the fragile and vital web of life on our one and only planet”.

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To be able to heed this call by the UN Secretary-General, governments and nations need to revisit and implement the decisions adopted by at the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, last year. The 15 points of decisions first of all recognise the mainstreaming of biodiversity as a cross-cutting element for not only the sectors of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, but also essential for the energy, mining, infrastructure, manufacturing and processing as well as the health sectors.

Therefore, among other decisions, governments and nations have been urged to “provide where appropriate effective incentives to mainstream biodiversity in the health sector consistent with international obligations; promote and strengthen best practices on sustainable consumption and production implemented in the health sector that favour conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; and make efforts to review, adjust and improve biodiversity-health linkages in the environmental assessment of projects”.

In Ghana several public institutions including the Environmental Protection Agency, Forestry Commission, the public universities and some NGOs are assisting in various ways to mainstream biodiversity in their activities. But what might be lacking is the usage and application of consolidated biodiversity data in the national decision-making, policy development and implementation processes.

To this end, the Connect Ghana Project with its implementing partners is championing the establishment of a Biodiversity Information System that will serve as a central hub where digitised biodiversity data are stored and formatted consistently in a user-friendly manner. The goals are two-fold: first of all, to use biodiversity data to measure the value of ecosystem services and their contribution to national economy; secondly, to integrate processed and packaged data into the relevant national development plans, so government can use that in making decisions and be able to protect areas of high ecosystem services.

This year’s celebration of International Biodiversity Day is a wake-up call for all Ghanaians to begin seeking understanding of the value of biological diversity and the linkages among the various components – land, forests, animals, wetlands, water, air and human life, diet and well-being.

The Day’s celebration today is ushering in a Climate Action by the group ‘Young Reporters for the Environment-Ghana’ in partnership with Greenway International Foundation, an organisation working for a carbon-free environment and oceans free of single-use plastic.  On Friday, May 24th, 2019, members will embark on their annual Climate March to raise public awareness on the need to take climate action in their daily choices to reduce individual climate footprints.

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