EXCLUSIVE: Investing in land health for sustainable recovery

By FrontierManipur | Published On 16th Jun, 2021, 08:44 GMT+0530

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The Global Environment Facility’s report ‘Food System, Land Use and Restoration (2020)’ outlines that the primary sources are ‘land use change from converting forests, woody savannas, and grasslands into crops and pastures, and draining peatlands for agriculture, methane from livestock, nitrous oxide from fertilizer use, carbon dioxide from tractors, and fertilizer production’.

By Salam Rajesh

The SARS-CoV-2 pathogen induced Covid-19 pandemic that has ravaged the world through 2020 and 2021 has literally forced world communities to come up with various nature-based solutions that can help meet the crisis presently and which would assist in preventing future pandemics of this dimension.

The race is in finding sustainable, resilient solutions that requires innovative thinking in all aspects of society. This amplifies into thinking and planning on how the world grows its food, obtains its energy, uses land, and disposes of chemicals and other toxic wastes including the pervasive plastics which is becoming a potential threat to land and sea ecosystems.

In tackling the huge task ahead, the Global Environment Facility (GEF)’s Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez stresses the need to invest in the protection and rehabilitation of nature in order to support clean, resilient, green, and blue pandemic recovery.

Outlining nine new initiatives of the GEF which aims at in contributing to the restoration of planet Earth in the best way possible, Carlos emphasizes that these initiatives will help in the planning and execution of global land health recovery as part of the post-pandemic recovery efforts worldwide.

These nine initiatives include protecting sea turtles and seagrass in Madagascar, investing in mangroves for climate resilience in Benin, valuing and safeguarding biodiversity in Gambia, safeguarding iconic threatened species and their habitats in China, protecting varied ecosystems in Chile, bolstering biosafety in South Africa, supporting national efforts in restoring degraded lands in Azerbaijan, providing energy efficient lights to off-grid consumers in Africa, and investing in land health for sustainable recovery in the Bahamas.

The Bahamas is a biodiversity hotspot with at least 1,111 species of vascular plants and 406 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles. The GEF project in the Bahamas which would focus on land health will help the biodiversity rich region regenerate climate-resilient food production. The project also targets in improved local conditions through sound policy and governance, improved training and tools, and the creation of incentives for regenerative agricultural practices, including grant mechanism for ecologically focused businesses.

It is in this context that similar reflections are needed to address the hyper sensitive nature of the biological diversity of the eight sister States in North East India. Clubbed together as a single unit, the North East is remarkably one of the significant biodiversity hotspots in the world. When viewed in the context of the tropical rainforest zone of Southeast Asia, the extended rainforest covers in North East India assumes significance in terms of the diverse biodiversity that the region supports. This is precisely why the Indian Government needs to provide exceptional support to the States in the region in preserving and protecting their natural assets.

The Amazonian rainforests are the biggest store house of carbon in the world, manifested by the huge area coverage of primary rainforests which are also the habitats of a wide ranging biological life. So is the rainforest cover in North East India, where the diversity of floral and faunal species distribution make the region relatively important in the global context of regions naturally meeting the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Douglas Marett, CEO and Founder of GH Sustainability, observes that, “A green recovery, is at its foundation based on reducing GHG emissions and fomenting responsible social and economic development”. As outlined in its Sustainability Report 2020, one of GH Sustainability’s focuses is on ‘collaborating with international development agencies with mapping cooperation opportunities linking climate change and specific impacts on sustainable development (e.g., green growth, diversity & gender, health and human rights)’. On a similar note, the GreenBiz Group’s State of Green Business 2021 report too stressed that ‘the Covid-19 pandemic has brought sustainability further into the spotlight, raising awareness about the negative impact climate change and social justice issues are having on the world’.

The Forest Peoples Programme’s report ‘Local Biodiversity Outlooks 2’ (2020)presents the perspectives and experiences of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) on the current social-ecological crisis and their contributions to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The report defines that ‘IPLCs own and manage at least 50 percent of the world’s land area, and many are working in policy fora and on the ground to defend their territories, manage their resources sustainably, and combat pollution, invasive alien species and the impacts of climate change’.

The report further outlines that ‘recognising and prioritising the complex and enriched ecological mosaic that IPLCs’ lands and territories deliver, with high conservation outcomes blossoming from culturally rooted approaches, governments and all related actors should mainstream species protection, including in production landscapes and biocultural habitats, and work with IPLCs to protect and enhance genetic diversity, including in local food systems’.

This broadly comes back to the question on defining sustainability and the wise use of lands and other natural landscapes in their proper aspects. This is where the role of Indigenous peoples and local communities comes to the fore in safeguarding “territories of life” that in-houses vital land and water resources. The territories of life are normally the landscapes upon which IPLCs thrive through ages, being integrated into the ecosystems that provide food and shelter for them while in return they safeguard these resources generations after generations.

It then is understood why the world community is now referring to the role that IPLCs play in addressing climate emergencies. It is being accepted that lands that IPLCs protect have the greenest cover and the widest range of biodiversity. Where government policies have largely failed to meet desired goals, the traditional systems of IPLCs have succeeded in maintaining healthy ecosystems. This factor becomes important in the context of the United Nations’ thrust on “ecosystem restoration” in this decade (2021-2030).

The Global Environment Facility’s report ‘Food System, Land Use and Restoration (2020)’ re-emphasizes that food systems are a major source of global greenhouse gas emissions. The report outlines that the primary sources are ‘land use change from converting forests, woody savannas, and grasslands into crops and pastures, and draining peatlands for agriculture, methane from livestock, nitrous oxide from fertilizer use, carbon dioxide from tractors, and fertilizer production’.

Consequently, the GEF’s global Impact Program is focused in building a global coalition to engage stakeholders in the major food systems and supply chains, including existing platforms such as the Food and Land Use Coalition, Tropical Forest Alliance, Consumer Goods Forum, Bonn Challenge, and others to work collectively with countries toward achieving sustainability.

The key word is then achieving sustainability in various aspects – foods, livelihoods, biodiversity, and nature conservation amongst others. The current land use systems that devastates forests and other nature reserves for commercial benefits only has to be done away with and gradually replaced with nature-based solutions that meets targets in achieving sustainability through ecosystem restoration.

(The writer is IUCN Member, Commission on Environmental, Economic & Social Policy. He can be contacted at salamrajesh@rediffmail.com)

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