In Manipur’s context, things are yet to happen in earnest on understanding the menace and influence of invasive species on the local biodiversity and in the long term process that which would impact the livelihood of the rural population particularly
By Salam Rajesh
There are many issues challenging the world community in contemporary times from the perspective of an enfolding environmental crisis with debates and intensive discussions on Climate Change processes and impacts doing the rounds across the globe at different levels and platforms, and on various subject matters.
A wide range of hot topics from glacial melts to sea level rise to biodiversity loss (and damages) to extreme weather events and to food and water insecurity are on the menu, and these are knitted closely on the intricacies of changing climatic conditions globally that reportedly has been hastened by undesired human activities on a global scale.
One of the fundamental discussions is on biodiversity loss due to reasons like large-scale exploitation of forest and water resources for human commercial purposes, leaving massive mountain landscapes bare to the root and vital tropical rainforests charred and desolate, and wetlands steadily losing out to reclamation for human settlement, farming, urbanization, and industrial expansion.
In all of these discussions, one aspect that is less discussed in remote areas like Manipur in India’s far east but which is essentially located within one of the world’s top biological hotspots is the invasion of invasive alien species of plants, fish, insects and other life forms, and how the domination of invasive plant species over land and waterbodies could possibly be contributing to greenhouse gas emission and other process linked to global warming and climate change.
Climate change deliberation is basically looked at from two perspectives, one, that which occurs naturally (nature-induced climate change) and two, that which is influenced by human activities (human-induced climate change). For the layman, it is the latter that is most concerned in the current climate change scenario.
In 2022, the European Union in its parliamentary debates had rounds of earnest discussions on invasive alien species and it came up with a huge list of invasive species of European Union concern. The massive list mentions as many as 6,368 species of invasive terrestrial plants and around 4,682 species of invasive animals that are reportedly of serious concern to all of the countries in Europe.
At this scale, the amount of invasive alien plant species dominating the landscapes and causing massive biodiversity loss, particularly leading to the decline of native species of food and fodder value, overshadows the prospect of thriving and degrading vegetation in large volume contributing to greenhouse gas emission – which, of course, is the core of climate change related concern.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in its publication “Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control (2023)” states that, ‘When imported species run rampant and unbalance local ecosystems, indigenous biodiversity suffers’. The IPBES report further identified 3500 invasive species that are reported to be severely harming biodiversity and human livelihoods across the globe and that unless corrective measures are taken up post-haste these invasive species would multiply rapidly, with a forecast increase of 36 percent by the year 2050.
In Manipur’s context, things are yet to happen in earnest on understanding the menace and influence of invasive species on the local biodiversity and in the long term process that which would impact the livelihood of the rural population particularly. Biodiversity loss as interpreted with the loss of important food and medicinal plants available locally and which provide food, nutrition and local medicinal uses could lead to dependency on outside, or imported, foods and a change in nutritional diet and traditional food habits. It could also impact the earning capability of the local people who source food plants from the wild to earn their living.
In view of the emerging concerns at both the national and global scale on the issue of the invasion of invasive alien species and their control, the State’s Directorate of Environment and Climate Change initiated talks at the local level on the 20th of this month to understand how people at large perceive the threat and either are engaging in the subject or are yet to take root earnestly.
In early 2022, the Chennai-based National Biodiversity Authority brought out a report on the Invasive Alien Species of India listing several plants, fishes, animals, insects, and microbes that are invasive in nature, and sought opinions on their control and removal by the target year 2030.
On a similar footing, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2023) in its Key Finding 9 observed that, ‘As Climate Change threatens all countries, communities and people around the world, increased adaptation action as well as enhanced efforts to avert, minimize and address loss and damage are urgently needed to reduce and respond to increasing impacts’.
Dealing on the subject matter, Target 4 of the Ramsar Convention’s 4th Strategic Plan 2016-2024 clearly emphasized that ‘Invasive Alien Species and pathways of introduction and expansion are identified and prioritized, priority invasive alien species are controlled or eradicated, and management responses are prepared and implemented to prevent their introduction and establishment’.
This recommendation runs parallel to the (earlier) Aichi Biodiversity Target 9 which had recommended that ‘By 2020, Invasive Alien Species and the pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled and eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment’.
The concern at the global platform reflects the urgency in which the subject matter on invasive alien species impacting local biodiversity and leading to a series of other related issues including the decline in native plant and fish species of food value, and consequently inducing food insecurity as well as in contributing to GHG emission from the accumulation of large volume of degraded vegetation matter, is becoming a leading topic in global environmental deliberation.
Manipur presently is seeing an uncontrolled increase in the (intentional) introduction of imported ornamental and commercial fish species such as the Northern African Sharptooth Catfish Claria gariepinus (native to North Africa), Blue Panchax Aplocheilus panchax (native to southern Asia), Amazon Sailfin Catfish Pterygoplichthys pardalis (native to the Amazon River Basin in Brazil and Peru), Red-bellied Pacu Piaractus brachypomus (native to South America particularly the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, and which is related to the Red-bellied Piranha).
The prospect of these introduced fish species ultimately becoming invasive alien fishes in the waters of the Manipur River Basin can become an additional headache to the already confusing matter in hand with the existing invasive plant and fish species that are reportedly influencing the decline of native plant and fish species of food value. Quarantine units are not in place to check such undesired introductions and there is apparently a lack of serious concern on the matter by relevant Government agencies.
This is where the round-table conference on Invasive Alien Species initiated by the Directorate of Environment last week becomes critical for the State to prevent further inroad and expansion of the invasive plant, fish, animal, and insect species to prevent biodiversity loss on the one hand while addressing livelihoods, health and climate-related concerns on the other hand. Experts attending the conference unanimously addressed the concern of having a responsible authority of the State which can tackle the issue on the ground both from the scientific and empirical perspectives.