Writes: Dani Rivera
On May 22, 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity was approved, an international agreement promoted by the United Nations Organization that constitutes an international instrument for «the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair participation and equitable in the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. On May 22, 25 years have passed since the approval of this agreement, which to date has been ratified by 196 countries, including Peru.
According to this agreement, biodiversity is understood as “the variability of living organisms from any source [animals, plants, fungi, algae, etc.], the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they form part; it also includes the diversity within each species and ecosystems ”. That is, it includes all the varieties of organisms that exist on earth, but also the complex systems of which these organisms are part.
The latter is a point of utmost importance, as it means that biological diversity is also the link that unites organisms in interdependent ecosystems in which each one of them has a specific role. The loss of some of its components can mean irreversible changes in the quality of ecosystems, in their provision of services or even their disappearance.
But what does that have to do with us? This question is very relevant in a country as rich as ours. Peru is the sixth most diverse country in the world, home to about 20% of all bird species and about 10% of all mammalian species in the world (Butler 2016). This is due in part to the fact that Peru is located in one of the most diverse points on Earth (Hotspot), known as the Tropical Andes. But it also responds to the fact that we have been able to largely maintain the integrity of most of our ecosystems. For example, either through the establishment of protected natural areas, or through the adequate and sustainable management of natural resources, a large part of our Amazon still enjoys a relatively good state of conservation.
The Peruvian State recognizes the immense contribution of the territories of indigenous peoples (Native Communities) to the conservation of biological diversity, ecosystems and the environmental services they provide. That is why, in recent years and within the framework of international agreements with developed countries such as Norway and Germany, compensation programs for conservation have been implemented, aimed at native communities. An example of this is the National Forest Conservation Program that compensates communities that still have large areas of intact forests, in areas of the country threatened by deforestation, with ten soles per year per hectare conserved, in exchange for this money is invested in the implementation of community plans for sustainable development.
For us, this recognition on the part of the Peruvian State is very important, considering that the primary task of the Center for the Development of the Amazonian Indigenous - CEDIA has been the recognition of the territorial right to the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon, through the titling of native communities and that we are convinced that one hectare entitled to a strengthened community is one hectare won for conservation. Throughout its 35 years, CEDIA has contributed to the recognition and titling of more than 300 native communities, which represents around 30% of the total titled native communities in the country and around 40% of surface area. We are still working in this effort to close the gap in communities that still do not have this right. Also, hand in hand with these communities, indigenous organizations and other civil society organizations, we have participated in the establishment of 9 Protected Natural Areas (around 3.5 million hectares) in the most biodiverse areas of the country, such as the Southeast of Loreto , Güeppí north of Loreto and the Vilcabamba mountain range in Cusco.
On the other hand, we must not lose sight of the close relationship that exists between biological diversity and the immense cultural diversity of our country. In Peru there are more than 50 ethnic groups with their own culture and language, which have known how to make a particular and appropriate use of natural resources and have thus contributed to enriching the biological diversity of our country. The best known example is the large number of potato varieties that exist in our country. It is estimated that there are more than three thousand potato varieties, each with different characteristics, but also with different capacities to withstand adverse conditions and climates. Varieties that are capable of withstanding frost, intense rains, droughts and that can grow in different altitudinal floors. Our ancestors developed the knowledge and ability to intelligently domesticate and use each of these varieties according to their needs, but they were even smarter when they understood that this great diversity makes us more resilient *. Thanks to this, much of this diversity has been preserved to this day.
The potato is not the only example of how diversity not only makes us richer, but more resilient. The indigenous peoples of the Amazon have developed a great variety of crops adapted to their environment and their ways of life, varieties of corn, sacha papa, yucca and beans, to give a few examples, which are unknown to the vast majority of Peruvians, but that the Amazonian indigenous peoples have known how to cultivate. Many of these varieties are the ones that now allow them to adapt to a changing climate. Currently, CEDIA is working hand in hand with various Ashaninka and Machiguenga communities in the Apurímac river valley, to rescue these varieties, which suffered the risk of being replaced by market demands, but which have proven to adapt much better to adverse conditions. The implementation of integral farms with these native varieties has proven to be an excellent adaptation strategy to climate change.
This discussion on the importance of biological diversity and its crucial role in the adaptation of rural populations to climate change, takes on greater relevance in light of recent news. The unfortunate decision of the President of the United States of America to withdraw his country from the Paris climate agreement makes it necessary to reassess the role of biological diversity in adapting to climate change. Above all, considering that South America, and in particular Peru, is one of the countries that suffers the most from the negative consequences of climate change.
* Resilience: Ability to face diversity / Ability to adapt to change.