Biodiversity for food and agriculture includes the components of biological diversity which are essential for feeding human populations and improving the quality of life. It includes the variety and variability of ecosystems, animals, plants and micro-organisms, at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, which are necessary to sustain human life as well as the key functions of ecosystems.
Biodiversity and Agricultural Genetic Resources
Biodiversity refers to the abundant wealth of flora and fauna including soil micro-flora and micro-fauna and constitutes the genetic wealth for farmers’ livelihood security and welfare. The aim should be to conserve as well as enhance these natural resources, to provide equitable access and lead to sustainable use with equitable sharing of benefits.
But, degradations and erosions are rampant in our biodiversity, forests and agro-ecological production systems. The loss of land races, wild species and local breeds have greatly enhanced genetic vulnerability of our major crops, livestock and fish, besides losing invaluable gene pools. Synergy and congruence is also missing between the two newly created biodiversity related national bodies, namely, National Biodiversity Board and Plant Variety Protection and Farmers’ Rights Authority.
Forests form the basic resource for maintaining the soil/water regimes and ecological services, hence optimizing productivity of forest means augmenting resilience of soil, water and agriculture, which are the pillars of rural livelihood security. Green cover is indicator of resilience of the natural resources and a primary requirement for sustainable agriculture production. Thus forest cover needs to be recognized as the “Natural Resource Infrastructure for agriculture / primary production / rural economic growth”. Thus investment in forest estate is an investment for growth.
India is one of the 17 mega diversity countries in the world having vast variety of flora and fauna, supporting 16 major forest types, comprising from Himalayan Alpine pasture and temperate forest, sub-tropical forest, tropical evergreen to mangroves in the coastal areas. India also has two biodiversity hot spots in the northeastern states and the Western Ghats.
Per capita forest area is only 0.064 ha - one-tenth of the world average. Under the heavy pressures of human and animal populations, about 41 per cent of forest cover of the country is degraded. Dense forests are losing their crown density and productivity continuously, the current productivity being one-third of that of the world average. The use of forests beyond their carrying capacity, compounded with the loss of nearly 4.5 m ha to agriculture and other uses since 1950 and nearly 10 m ha of forest area being subjected to shifting cultivation, is the main cause of continuous degradation of forests.
Demand of Forest Resources
Among the many demands placed on the forest resource of India the most important, both in terms of value and volume are timber, fuel and fodder. Of these, while timber is required by all sections of society, demand of fuel and fodder basically comes from rural areas and that too from the underprivileged section of the society. Thus, these two demands receive added significance.
As regards fuel wood, these constitute an important basic need of about 40 per cent of the population of India. The fact remains that India may have sufficient food to eat but not sufficient fuel wood to cook it. Demand of fuel, which basically comes from rural areas, depends on various factors such as availability of other fuels, climate, living standards, size of the family, food habits, etc. It has been estimated that average annual per capita fuel wood consumption in the country works out to about 0.35 tones. The domestic supply through normal means generally meets hardly 50% of the demand, mostly through over exploitation of forests beyond their productive capacities leading to degradation of growing stock.
Regarding fodder, forests meet about one-third of the requirement in India. The forests form a major source of fodder supply and it increases during drought years when the crops fail and therefore natural forests remain the only source of fodder. Grasslands are biomass wise among the most productive ecosystems of the world. In an agrarian nation so dependent upon range grazing of its moving stock, they are the most important component of country’s animal husbandry.
Livestock sub-sector, with its annual outputs (milk, meat, egg and wool) valued at nearly Rs. 170,000 crore - about 27 per cent of the agricultural GDP and engaging over 90 million people, is a highly strategic and vital sub-sector for agrarian economy of the country. Unlike the ownership of land, the ownership of livestock is positively egalitarian, especially in the arid, semi-arid and other non-congenial rain fed settings, and is a critical component of livelihood security.
Possessing the world’s largest livestock population, India ranks first in milk production, fifth in egg production and seventh in meat production. Total livestock output has been growing at a much faster rate of 3.6 percent per annum against only 1.1 percent registered for the crops sub-sector during the past decade.
Productivity of our animals is almost one-third of that of the world’s average and far lesser when compared with that in the developed countries. On the other hand, India has about 20 percent of the world’s animal population, but good grazing lands are practically non-existent, thus exerting enormous pressure on the limited and shrinking land and water resources.
Fisheries, including aquaculture, contribute significantly to food, nutrition, economic and employment securities, and fortunately are one of the fastest growing agricultural sub-sectors during the last three decades. Currently, fisheries contribute 4.6 percent of the agricultural GDP, provide employment security to about 11 million people and annually earn foreign exchange worth Rs. 7,300 crore - about one-fifth of the value of the national agricultural export. Of the current total production of 6.4 million tones (m t) of fish, marine fish production contributed about 3.0 m t and inland fisheries contributed 3.4 m t – 53 percent of the total production. While the marine fish production has been growing at 2.2 percent per annum, the inland production has annually been growing at 6.6 percent, resulting in an overall annual growth rate of 4.12 percent during the nineties.