India is blessed with an extraordinary richness of life. Our nation has sections of 4 of the world’s 35 hotspots of biodiversity — areas that have a high concentration of species that do not occur anywhere else on earth and that are severely threatened with extinction. As one of the 17 megadiverse countries of the world, India has myriad unusual and exquisite species that occur in the varied ecosystems spread across our land, rivers and oceans. This rich fabric of biodiversity has, over the centuries, sustained a stunningly vibrant and colourful tapestry of peoples, cultures and traditions.
India’s biodiversity feeds its people, enhances their health security, and shields them from environmental disasters, including calamities associated with climate change. Biodiversity has also been a perpetual source of spiritual enrichment, intimately linked to our physical and mental well-being. As people, and as a nation, we owe our unique identity to our biocultural diversity.
With the unleashing of unprecedented economic, social and environmental changes, our biocultural heritage is now subject to increasing wear and tear. Global studies that document human ecological footprint, the decline in wildlife populations, and the conversion rates of natural ecosystems to other forms of land use, place India among the regions experiencing the highest rates of biodiversity loss. For example, over 20% of all freshwater fish species in the Ganga basin are threatened or close to extinction, and the ecologically and economically significant Hilsa fish has lost 65% of its range.
Unfortunately, we still have only the most basic understanding of how society interacts with biodiversity, how environmental degradation impacts food security and human health including zoonotic diseases, how various species interact to drive our ecosystems, and how these systems in turn maintain our soils, water, and breathable air, wild pollinators, the biota of soils, and the many enemies of agricultural pests. These and many other natural services valued at 128 trillion rupees/year from forests alone, underpin our agricultural productivity, mitigate climate change and would ultimately form the basis of a new model of economic and human development.
The Biodiversity Collaborative focuses on addressing these gaps in knowledge, understanding and implementation, which in turn would enable India to become a global leader in biodiversity management. Integrating various Indian initiatives under a wide spectrum of biodiversity related themes, ranging from traditional knowledge to health, livelihood and ecosystem services to address issues of conservation, sustainable development, resilience to climate change and overall human well-being.