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Indian Biodiversity Congress Draws Up Roadmap to Make Food Security and Poverty Eradication Possible

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The third edition of the Indian Biodiversity Congress (IBC 2014), which concluded in in the South Indian city of Chennai, has observed that food security in India can be achieved only through upholding the spirit of “Swadeshi”.

According to the list of recommendations evolved at the forum, local level models for food security through biodiverse organic and ecological farming found successful in many parts of India should be adopted across India.

Further, livelihood security of farmers should be ensured by the government by expanding farming and afforestation activities in unused farm lands, revenue lands, and public places,  coupled with biodiversity based small-scale entrepreneurship development programmes, it said.

The IBC mooted the initiation of a massive farming and agro-forestry programme by the government involving the stakeholder communities and employing the massive student power of the country, specifically by linking the activities with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), scouts and guides, national service schemes, National Cadet Crops and National Green Corps.

The recommendations also included a call for completion of People’s Biodiversity Registers, as envisaged mandatory in the Biological Diversity Act of India, in all the villages of India with a time bound action plan. In order to achieve maximum benefits to the farmers, the agriculture research institutions in the country, should prioritize research on agro-biodiversity documentation at grass roots levels, genetic improvement of local crops, develop base-line data on nutritional status of local crops and products from livestock, documentation of genetic diversity, and food processing, marketing and quality improvement of by-products using the rich biodiversity of the country.

Further, these activities need to be integrated with documentation of traditional knowledge prevailing at grass roots, with proper planning for protection of traditional knowledge and access and benefit sharing.

IBC also recommended the extensive use of indigenous local breeds of cattle, as they sustain local economy, produces rich raw materials for ecological farming and ensures supply of highly nutritious A2 milk.

A network of biodiversity food baskets should be established throughout the country to sell and procure biodiversity products, in order to counter the influx of industrial farming and junk food into the country.

A community institutional platform for sustainable agriculture should be created towards sustainable methods of poverty eradication, it said. The conclave called upon the political parties in India to include biodiversity for food security as a political agenda for eradicating poverty and promotion of swadeshi spirit to achieve the same.

Among the other recommendations was the need to strengthen the Public Distribution System (PDS), which should be participatory rather than centralized. Organic agriculture and sustainable farming coupled with minimizing food wastages could help in overcoming poverty in India, it added.

Calling upon the government to provide farmers with a fixed monthly income and incorporating the minimum support price, it recommended that for the poorest of the poor households receiving micro-finance, interest rate needs to be reduced from the existing 18-48 per cent to a maximum of 4 per cent.

It also called for disbanding of the Public Distribution System except for food entitlements for the Antyodaya families. This needs to be replaced with Foodgrain Banks at the village level and also export of food grains should be allowed only when the country’s total population is adequately fed.

International trade, including Free Trade Agreements, should not be allowed to play havoc with domestic agriculture and food security, the IBC 2014 urged the government.

Dealing with Climate Change

IBC 2014 also urged the research institutions to work on drought tolerant and flood tolerant crops available indigenously and farming techniques that reduce release of carbon from soils by offering improvement and innovations in the traditional biodiverse farming methods. Further, in the long run, ensure trade, investment and development policies all have ‘climate-smart’ farming and food system as a central goal. Government should frame necessary policy with regard to this, it said.

The genetic diversity of agricultural crops should be better documented and the lesser known food crops of the country should be fully utilised to achieve food security. Community owned seed banks should be established at local levels for the conservation of genetic diversity.

IBC 2014 also recommended synergies between climate mitigation strategies and development policies in areas such as energy efficiency, fuel substitution, renewables, afforestation, and land and waste management. It also called for synergies between climate mitigation strategies and development policies in areas such as energy efficiency, fuel substitution, renewables, afforestation, and land and waste management.

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Protected Areas and Endangered Species

The IBC 2014 also stressed the need to increase the Protected Area Network in India. The marine and coastal protected areas as well as freshwater biodiversity hotspots are poorly represented in the country and therefore more areas should be brought under PA network, it said. Preventing the introduction of, and controlling or eradicating, alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species, should also be taken up.  A national strategy should be developed to prevent the introduction of invasive species, it said.

Biodiversity Education

There is an immediate need to implement nation-wide “Biodiversity Literacy Programme” in order to spread the message of biodiversity and its conservation. IBC demands for protection of cultural diversity and those actions should be taken to recognize and preserve cultural diversity and to blend traditional and modern knowledge systems, including science, technologies, practices, and wisdom.

Such efforts should also ensure that the quality, purity and adoption of such traditional knowledge be not compromised and devalued. Efforts should be made to document the intricate linguistic linkages of biodiversity and to document knowledge in regional languages.

The recommendations also called for implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 without any dilutions as it would enable the tribal communities of India to assert their rights over the forestland over which they were traditionally dependent.

Strict caution and vigil should be enforced in its implementation to ensure that the Act is not misused, it said. As suggested by the Minister for Environment and Forests, Government of India at the CBD Conference of Parties (COP), BIA (Biodiversity Impact Assessment) should be incorporated in clearing developmental projects.

Safety, security, well-being and conservation of life, life-forms and ecosystems, should be the paramount consideration of the Biodiversity Law, the IBC 2014 has urged. It also called for evaluating the working of the Biodiversity Act, every 10 years.

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