Mainstreaming Biodiversity – Sustaining People and their Livelihoods
By Omardath Maharaj, Agriultural Economist
The United Nations has proclaimed May 22nd as The International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.
In his 2016 message, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that “biodiversity and the ecosystem services it supports are the foundations for life on Earth and the livelihoods and well-being of people everywhere. Protecting biodiversity and preventing further losses is an essential investment in our collective future. Biodiversity is an important cross-cutting issue in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 15 explicitly recognizes the importance of halting biodiversity loss, and other Goals recognize the importance of biological diversity for eradicating poverty, providing food and fresh-water, and improving life in cities. It is critical that we make progress in mainstreaming biodiversity and transforming how societies value and manage it.”
Biodiversity therefore underpins peoples’ livelihoods and sustainable development in all areas of activity, including economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, among others. By halting biodiversity loss, we are investing in people, their lives and their well-being.
Interestingly, 2016 is also classified as the International Year of Pulses. Until the invention of synthetic ammonia about a century ago, farmers relied on legumes, along with manure, crop residue and guano (excrement of bird in general) as sources of nitrogen for their crops.
Ken Giller, Professor of Plant Production Systems in the Netherlands, notes that “beans can be seen as free protein from the air. In countries such as Rwanda, where farmers have little livestock, the ability of beans to capture nitrogen from the air and fix it into nutritious protein presents a key opportunity to address the food security of the poor.”
As the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, visits for discussions with the Government we must note that like Venezuela:
- T&T is dependent on the revenues of its energy sector. With prices crashing to its lowest in over a decade, we will struggle to grow;
- T&T faces depreciating foreign exchange rates, which will continue to prompt a demand for limited reserves of US dollars not only for speculative purposes but to support an import-dependent nation;
- T&T shares different views on issues, given a Westminster political system, regarding its stability and public debt. With a change in government in 2015, citizens expect prudent, transparent management and reporting of national affairs and economic performance as well as inclusive policy planning and action.
According to the International Trade Centre calculations based on UN COMTRADE statistics, between 2013-2015 Trinidad and Tobago would have imported over TT$ 115 million or 33, 461 tons in some peas and beans (dried forms) alone.
HS 071310 Peas (dried) – US$ 7, 674, 000
HS 071320 Chickpeas – US$ 7, 557, 000
HS 071333 Kidney beans – US$ 4, 763, 000
HS 071340 Lentils (dried) – US$ 3, 945, 000
Within a home-gardening scenario, several peas and beans have proven to be successful. Though not originating in T&T, expanded local production of these can bring about greater local biological diversity while allowing consumers to retain their tastes and preferences through creative import substitution strategies. Acknowledging that further feasibility studies are needed, it remains a fact that a large percentage of the T&T diet is dedicated to legumes or pulses. We must encourage greater local content to preserve food and nutrition security so that healthy and affordable food is available to the population at all times.
Though T&T is not at crisis level with our food supply, having an estimated annual food import bill of approximately TT$ 6 billion, we must focus on our food sovereignty sooner than later. In addition to agriculture sector policy and targets, greater emphasis must be placed on actions that citizens can take for themselves, at home or in public spaces, which brings the greatest return within our environment – both economical and ecological.