Main Streaming Biodiversity for Sustainable Health and Food Systems

In the recent past, the world has seen how the quick spread of pathogens from animals to humans has led to spreading of the global pandemic, Covid-19, which is now termed as an infectious disease. Looking back at history, all the pandemics and epidemics we have seen through generations i.e. Ebola, SARS, AIDS etc. have originated from our ecosystems. We have constantly been hit hard with the fact that, changing our environment to adapt has proven to be wrong. 

Man and nature have always been interconnected and it is deeply rooted in the past and has become more complex and nuanced over time. Numerous researches have been increasingly drawn toward understanding whether there is a link between the changing human–nature relationship and its impact on people’s health. Each should not be viewed as separate entities, but rather that they share commonalities in a sense that preservation of biodiversity is essential in the livelihoods of all beings. People’s health depends on the food they consume and the environment they are surrounded by, both of which are directly connected to biodiversity. Biodiversity at every level (genetic, species and ecosystem level) is a foundational pillar for food security, nutrition, and dietary quality. Hence, the wellbeing of the biodiversity guarantees overall human well being too.

Biodiversity mainstreaming is generally understood as ensuring that biodiversity, and the services it provides, are appropriately and adequately factored into the planning of projects, and this, whether individual, international organizations, businesses or governments lead the projects. Regardless, it should encompass the inclusion of biodiversity considerations into all human activities. 

According to the World Health Organization, it is access to healthy diets that is unaffordable to more than 3 billion people in the world than accessing food itself. Healthy diets are estimated to be, on average, five times more expensive than diets that meet only dietary energy needs. While this is still an ongoing debate, it would be right to conclude that, the nutritional status of the most vulnerable population groups is likely to deteriorate further due to the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.  A preliminary assessment suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020. The expected recovery in 2021 would bring the number of undernourished down but still above what was projected in a scenario without the pandemic. However, it is important to realize that, not all healthy diets are sustainable and not all diets designed for sustainability are always healthy. This important nuance is not well understood and is missing from ongoing discussions and debates.

It cannot be denied how we as individuals have disconnected from nature in the current times. It is now time to stop the “bad divorce” with nature and develop a positive and respectful relationship with it. We are most reliant on biodiversity yet each day we find bio-diversity being less and less accessible to us. We need a healthy biodiversity for producing healthy and nutritious food. But first, understanding the ecological impact of our consumption patterns is a pre requisite. The ecological impact comes with hefty price tags and the most vulnerable populations are usually hit hard. We have largely broken food systems and we can main stream biodiversity conservation to fix that. It is about time.

Experts suggest that, shifting to healthier dietary patterns can contribute to reducing health and climate-change costs by 2030. While some may, regard the Covid-19 phenomenon to be a stone block on attaining this goal, it can also be taken as an opportunity to flip the script. The adoption of healthy diets is projected to lead to a reduction of up to 97% in direct and indirect health costs and 41–74% in the social cost of GHG emissions in 2030. This could be a huge opportunity for the world leaders to set their agendas focusing on a right direction for overall wellbeing of livelihoods. It is more than simply building more than just equitable worlds. 

In a nutshell, the loss of biodiversity poses threat in accessing healthy agriculture eventually impacting healthy diets. As there is no cookie cutter formula to this and changes has to be made individually at the household level and also collectively at the national and global level. 

Let’s talk about solutions!

In each global meet, on various environmental frameworks, it is always about aiming high and the focus is usually on the outcome. However, at the end of the day it always comes down to how practical it is for countries to achieve them. Now, it is not wrong to aim high. While many countries have met their goals in a timely manner, many fail to do so and it is always a hammers wheel. In this context, it is vital to understand what is achievable for whom and to what degree. 

Harnessing agro biodiversity, especially in countries hit hard by climate change can be a beneficial solution which is also the core philosophy of Global Biodiversity Framework, 2020 that is still in progress. The free pass that agriculture has enjoyed over the past decades regarding agricultural productivity at any cost has come to a close with increasing public pressure for food production systems that contribute to environmental protection while supporting farming communities. There is a dire need for mainstreaming biodiversity with proper consolidated global policy to move forward post 2020 inclusive of youth, businesses, governments, indigenous communities, NGO’s, INGO’s, CSO’s etc. 

The talks about shifting our eating patterns has been a part of discussions for over a decade now, yet, everyday an international fast food chain is opening somewhere near us every now and then. A shift of eating pattern to a non-emission based food products could make significant positive impacts in the long run. Sustainable food consumption systems has been sidelined with the global food demand rising, however it is not unachievable with proper planning and resources set in order. Promotion of local and small scale farmers, pushing local food production and marketing locally produced food has always proven to be more efficient to neutralize food systems in a sustainable manner. This eventually comes down to our individual choices that we must choose to make.

Prioritizing indigenous solutions using their holistic approach to sustainable agro systems can also be one of the ways to mainstream biodiversity. Our scientific approach has forever been marinated in data and figures. While that is important, validating the indigenous approaches, opinions and suggestions have historically proven to be beneficial in the overall wellbeing of livelihoods. Therefore, they need to have a say in the food systems especially in food production, its policies and decisions. 

We require practical food systems not only in terms of productions but also in terms of consumptions. A practical, political and fundamental decision should be made on all areas contributing to the healthy dietary intake resulting in healthy life and wellbeing of all. It should not be looked as a “cost” but rather an “investment” for a more healthy and equitable food source. Additionally, factors like better technologies and systems, faster and better research and faster solutions have been deemed important more than ever today. 

Unfortunately, the current pandemic is considered the most significant and costly outcomes in the current situation of agriculture industry. Fortunately, we can still turn it around and fix this if we act on it now. We could absolutely halt the negative impact on bio diversity and food security and halt the adverse effects of ecological loss if sustainable approaches are adopted immediately along with formations of structural regulations that align with the overall benefit of communities. Placing biodiversity at the forefront in sustainable food and health systems could be a huge game changer going forward from where we are today. There is a possibility for a ripple effect in a sense that, main streaming biodiversity could create resilient economies by promoting carbon neutral world, it could provide for healthier more nutrition rich foods for communities resulting in sustainable health in a long run. 

Although, this sounds like a dream, we must not forget that dreams are what create reality!

About the author:

Arsheena Piya is a Nepali independent research consultant, currently working on issues related to women migrant workers and human rights. With a background on Sustainable Natural Resource Management, she is also an advocate for sustainable access and use of resources for all livelihoods. 

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