Steps for taking appropriate interventions to conserve biodiversity

The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) is working on an ambitious project to estimate the economic value of biodiversity goods in the country.

NBA Chairman Balakrishna Pisupati told The Hindu recently that the project is designed to support the development of a mechanism for Access to biological resources and Benefit Sharing (ABS), a key element of the Convention on Biological Resources (CBD). The pilot project covering agricultural, forest, and wetland ecosystems is being implemented in Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat, Dr. Pisupati said. The project is expected to come up with a simplified methodology for economic valuation of ecosystem goods over the next few months. “We are currently looking at biodiversity goods only because the inclusion of services would make it complicated,” he says.

“At the global level, we are stuck with a strange situation on the use of biological resources. The user does not know the value of the product while the provider is equally ignorant of the value of the material. A negotiation between the two is something like fighting in the dark. Some countries have come up milestone benefits that stagger payments over the product development phase to cover risks. But it may not work everywhere. Our effort is to take up economic valuation of ecosystem goods as a fundamental element of ABS,” he explains.

Dr. Pisupati says it is time for countries like India to look at the impact of development and biodiversity conservation on each other in a much more holistic and long-term manner. “We need to look at Access and Benefit Sharing and biodiversity offset programmes. All of these are important interventions…. It is important to understand the economic potential of biodiversity, without which much of the conservation argument will be questioned. The economic valuation argument is not good enough on its own merit because there will be people who will say that it is an attempt to privatise all biodiversity goods and services. The intention is to understand the potential so that appropriate interventions can be evolved.”

GM crops

Referring to the raging debate on genetically modified (GM) crops in India, Dr. Pisupati, who holds a PhD in Genetics with specialisation in Plant Biotechnology, says, “The issue is not whether we are for it or against it. It is how much we are prepared to assess the safety of whatever is being developed. We need to have protocols for safety assessment appropriately put in place and monitoring has to happen over a longer period.”

India still followed a two-track approach, with the scientific community and activists sticking to their rigid positions on GM crop trials. “The biggest concern is that we are losing time firefighting,” he says.