Milan, Italy - May 22 is the International Day of Biodiversity an opportunity to increase understanding and awareness of the Earth’s flora and fauna. This year’s theme is biodiversity for sustainable development.
Human health and livelihoods are linked to biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth. This diversity gives eaters important nutrients and vitamins, and also makes food delicious. Seventy percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend on biological diversity for food, income, and shelter. It is vital to value and conserve biodiversity for a sustainable future.
Yet, globally, nearly one-quarter of species are threatened or extinct, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). The loss of biodiversity, combined with habitat degradation, has threatened the lives of more than 1 billion people living in dry or humid regions of the planet, according to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).
Between 1900 and 2000, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates 75 percent of crop diversity was lost, and a recent study predicts as much as 22 percent of wild relatives of peanuts, potatoes, and beans will disappear by 2055 because of climate change. Additionally, more than one in five indigenous livestock breeds are at risk of extinction.
Women play a large role in preserving the planet’s richness and supporting sustainable development. According to CBD, nearly 80 percent of vegetables collected in 135 different subsistence-based societies are provided by women. Women also produce and save up to 90 percent of seeds and germplasm used in smallholder agriculture.
As part of the U.N. Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the Open Working Group proposed to protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of ecosystems; sustainably manage timberland; combat desertification; halt and reverse land degradation; and end the loss of biodiversity.
Many other individuals and organizations have taken the lead on preserving the variety of life on Earth. This week, Food Tank is highlighting 15 protectors of biodiversity.
African Biodiversity Network (ABN) was founded in 1996 in Kenya as a regional network of individuals and organizations in 12 African countries: Benin, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. ABN focuses on indigenous knowledge, protecting biodiversity, and improving agricultural policies and legislation.
AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center is improving the production and consumption of indigenous crops. Their research includes developing new crop varieties that are climate- and disease-resistant, as well as nutritious and adaptable. As the planet gets warmer, AVRDC is supporting farmers by developing heat-tolerant crops, such as tomatoes and sweet peppers.
Bioversity International’s research shows how agricultural biodiversity can help farming communities minimize effects of climate change. After hosting farmer field days and conducting trials on sorghum, cowpea, and pigeon pea crops, Bioversity International provided farmers with the best varieties for combating climate change and securing profitable yields.
Camino Verde is a United States-based nonprofit with locations in Concord, MA, and Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Camino Verde plants trees and encourages future planting through educational programs and public awareness. The initiative’s Living Seed Bank protects more than 250 tree species through preservation in a botanical garden.
Conservation International (CI) works to ensure a healthy, productive planet for everyone. Through science, partnerships, and fieldwork, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for the planet, human wellbeing, and global biodiversity.
Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) conducts independent research and analysis while collaborating with small farmers and social movements to support biodiverse community-controlled food systems. The majority of their work is centered in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where GRAIN highlights agricultural struggles, particularly focused on land grabs, food sovereignty, and biodiversity loss.
Native Seeds/SEARCH, based in Tucson, AZ, is dedicated to seed conservation in the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. The organization has more than 2,000 varieties of aridland-adapted seeds, and their seed bank houses varieties of traditional crops including corn, beans, and squash once used by the Apache, Havasupai, Hopi, Maricopa, Mayo, and many other tribes.
Navdanya is a research-based initiative founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva, a world-renowned scientist and environmentalist. Navdanya has collected roughly 5,000 crop varieties, primarily staples such as rice, wheat, millet, and kidney beans, as well as medicinal plants. Navdanya’s outreach program has established 111 additional seed banks in 17 Indian states. The program’s learning center offers courses on biodiversity protection, agroecological practices, water conservation, and more.
Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. SSE was founded 1975, in Decorah, IA, and its seed bank is now one of the largest in North America. SSE facilitates communication and exchange of seeds among its members, and sells more than 600 heirloom varieties.
Slow Food International emphasizes that rich biodiversity is crucial to food security. Through their publication, the Ark of Taste, an online catalogue of foods at risk of disappearing, Slow Food has drawn attention to these varieties and their global importance. The organization also produced a handbook on how to defend biodiversity.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault, founded by CGIAR and conservationist Cary Fowler in 2008, is also known as the “doomsday vault”—it rests approximately 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) south of the North Pole. Seeds are stored in permafrost conditions (approximately -18ºC) to ensure preservation. The Seed Vault can hold up to 2.25 billion seeds, or 500 seeds from each from up to 4.5 million crop varieties. The seed vault is managed by the Norwegian government, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center.
The Christensen Fund partners with indigenous communities, scholars, artists, and activists to support projects that promote the bio-cultural intersection of biodiversity and traditional cultures. In the American Southwest, the Fund awards grants to increase the availability, abundance, and diversity of beneficial, culturally-appropriate foods, seeds, fibers, livestock, and medicines; to strengthen indigenous philanthropy; and to promote native leadership.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust is an independent international organization working to guarantee the conservation of crop diversity. The Trust funds gene banks, pursues conservation, encourages use of wild breeds, and has developed information technologies to make crop diversity accessible.
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a member of CGIAR, reduces hunger and poverty through improved biodiversity and agricultural efficiency. Headquartered in western Colombia, CIAT conducts crop research with its extensive gene bank, which holds 65,000 crop samples from CIAT’s regional offices in Kenya, Vietnam, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
The Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) aims to conserve biological resources by improving the relationship between humans and the environment. MAB researches the effects that human activity and climate change have on the biosphere. The program has created more than 620 biosphere reserves categorized in 117 different countries.
And this year, on the International Day of Biodiversity, give thanks to the hard-working researchers, organizations, and farmers preserving the planet’s diversity and encourage more support from the funding and donor communities!