Celebrating International Biodiversity Day: Nature’s solutions for poverty reduction

Today IUCN celebrates the International Day for Biological Diversity focusing on the links between biodiversity, human development and people’s livelihoods. This has special significance for every plant and animal on Earth, particularly during this International Year of Biodiversity, and comes at a time when world leaders are setting new targets to stop biodiversity loss.

Q’eqchí’-Maya girl helps to fill bags with soil in a large nursery in the Lachuá, Guatemala

This is a day to celebrate all that nature provides for our daily well-being. From the most basic things we need that many of us take for granted, like clean air and water, to sources of medicine and inspiration for science and technology, nature is a life source.

Healthy biodiversity and ecosystems underpin the long term resilience of social and economic development. The world is grappling with economic and climatic uncertainty, and the consequences this may have for food and water security and poverty reduction. By sustainably managing natural resources we secure and diversify our options for development.

Agriculture, fisheries, forestry, water and tourism contribute significantly to economic development and all depend on healthy biodiversity and productive ecosystems. At the same time, the choices a country makes over its economic development affect the state of its natural resources and their ability to continue to provide for human need.

The world’s poor, particularly in rural areas, depend on biological resources for as much as 90% of their daily needs, including food, fuel, medicine, shelter and transportation. Greater ecosystem, species and genetic diversity translates into a wider range of options to improve food security, health, and protection against natural disasters.

  • Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people depend on natural resources for their daily existence.
  • One billion people worldwide depend on drugs derived from forest plants for their medicinal needs.
  • One billion people in developing countries rely on fish as their main source of food, while an estimated 38 million people are employed directly by fishing and many more in the processing stages.
  • Coral reefs provide food, storm protection, jobs, recreation and other income sources for more than 500 million people worldwide yet 70 percent of coral reefs are threatened or destroyed.
  • 60 percent of key ecosystem services are being degraded or used unsustainably.
  • According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 22 percent of all known mammals, 30 percent of all known amphibians, 12 percent of all known birds, and 28 percent of reptiles, 37 percent of freshwater fish species, 70 percent of plants, 35 percent of invertebrates, assessed so far, are under threat.

“The poor were the first to be affected by the economic crisis and they will be the first to suffer from the crisis facing biological diversity,” says Stewart Maginnis, IUCN’s Director for Environment and Development. “If nature fails to support them, they are left with very few – if any – options to fall back on.”

Take mangrove forests. Vital to coastal communities, mangroves protect them from the impacts of storms and flooding, and serve as nurseries for fish and other species important for local livelihoods and food security. They also absorb significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and serve as both a source and repository for nutrients for coral reefs. At the same time, mangroves support jobs in tourism and fishing. And yet, due to coastal development, climate change, logging and agriculture, more than one in six mangrove species worldwide are in danger of extinction.

This is just one example of many species and ecosystems that are of great value for people’s livelihoods but that are in decline. More than half of the ecosystem services that we depend on have been degraded, raising major challenges and uncertainties for human well-being.

“With unprecedented changes occurring in the world and a great deal of uncertainty about the future, we can no longer ignore the fundamental role of biodiversity as a foundation of human well-being,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “The development choices we make must recognize that the economy, environment and human well-being are all interconnected.”

Helping people to manage their natural resources sustainably is one of the most accessible ways of supporting rural livelihoods, as well as helping people adapt to change.

In the Kapiri Mposhi region of Zambia, farmers are looking for new ways of coping with the impacts of climate change, such as increased droughts and floods which are disrupting their farming cycles. By diversifying and rotating the range of crops they grow and maintaining tree cover, these farmers can regenerate their soils, becoming more self-sufficient and resilient to climate change.

In Nigeria, by the waters of the Komadugu Yobe river basin, the lives of almost 15 million people depend on agriculture, livestock, forest use, tourism and fisheries. As inappropriate dam and irrigation systems have reduced water flow by 35%, people have recognized the importance of this natural infrastructure and are now working towards better development of water resources, to restore the degraded ecosystems, and eventually, the river’s water flow.

People depend on biodiversity every day of their lives, but today is the day when we must stress this more emphatically. Only when the inseparable link between people and nature is understood by everyone can we achieve effective solutions to today’s challenges. Global efforts to save biodiversity and reduce the world’s poverty must go hand in hand.

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