Feature Story

Shifting the needle on biodiversity conservation in India

February 6, 2020

Woman tending garden in India
Photo: India's Regional Center for Development Cooperation (RCDC)

In some ways India could be considered a test case for the rest of the world, as it works out how to feed its population of 1.3 billion people in a sustainable way. The challenge is to achieve this feat without degrading the land, soil and water resources, destroying the country’s rich diversity of flora and fauna, or causing serious smog in cities like Delhi.

One project, implemented by India’s National Biodiversity Authority and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through funding by the Global Environment Facility, helped to achieve this through improved biodiversity utilization for improved rural livelihoods. The project ran from 2011 to September 2019.

India is a leading country in having established a comprehensive legal and institutional system to realize the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The third objective of the Convention—access to genetic resources and fair, equitable sharing of benefits—is being implemented in India through its Biological Diversity Act (2002) and Rules (2004).

The National Biodiversity Authority is recognized globally for its pioneering work to implement the Convention and fully operationalize the access and benefit-sharing provisions, among others through a national network of Biodiversity Management Committees, alongside the establishment of People Biodiversity Registers.

Biodiversity Management Committees are local level, statutory bodies, based on the 2002 Act, and require the selection and involvement of at least two women members through a democratic selection process, and are vested with enormous responsibilities. The Committees lead local processes of reaching consent in accessing bioresources by the proposed users (including researchers, private companies, governments). This encourages sustainable use and documentation of available resources through people’s biodiversity registers, as well as through the decision-making process for the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources.   

Titled Strengthening the Implementation of the Biological Diversity Act and Rules with a Focus on its Access and Benefit Sharing Provisions, the project aimed to improve access to biological resources, assess their economic value, and better share their benefits among local people. It covered 10 of the country’s 29 states: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal, Goa, Karnataka, Odisha, Telangana, and Tripura.

Many people may not know that India has significant global hotspots of biodiversity. Sikkim, for instance, has 422 species of birds and 697 species of butterflies, 4,500 species of flowering plants, 362 species of ferns and fern allies, and a rich diversity of orchids.

Assessing the economic value of tradable bioresources

“The project assessed and quantified the economic value of tradable bioresources at local, state and national levels to determine potential for benefit sharing,” says UNEP biodiversity expert Max Zieren, who worked with the project.

“This has already helped pinpoint prospective users of available bioresources in India, assess market value chains and determine the willingness to pay by users. It has also facilitated new research and investments in prospecting for biological resources for possible economic use,” he adds.

At the same time, this process will help national and state-level decision makers to prioritize conservation action through, for example, the application of appropriate economic instruments (taxes, fees, or royalties), the estimation of costs due to resources’ depletion, the need for restoration or conservation efforts, as well as the collectors’ willingness to accept sustainable harvesting standards and support benefit generation through local livelihoods.

So far, the project has established 315 Biodiversity Management Committees to validate the data held in 140 peoples biodiversity registers—on flora, fauna, and traditional knowledge. To help build local knowledge, the project also trained 25 young botanists in each state.

“The project, through leadership by the National Biodiversity Authority, was very successful in enabling many consultations between ayurvedic drug manufacturing agencies, academics, private research laboratories, and bioresource-based industries; including on some very innovative potential uses of bioresources,” says Zieren.

“This helped their understanding and willingness to invest in research and potential product development. To date, over 400 access and benefit-sharing agreements have been signed between providers—mostly local communities—and users (such as national and international companies). Initial revenue from these agreements has raised $1,800,000 for state biodiversity funds,” he adds.

This story was originally posted by the UN Environment Programme.