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  • Poor want biomass, not biodiversity, finds study

[LONDON] Preserving biodiversity may be the goal of conservationists and environmental activists, but preserving biomass is a more important priority for the poor, says a literature review.

The finding, which researchers said was unexpected, was the result of one of three reviews presented to a symposium this week (28-29 April).

"People just don't care about biodiversity," Craig Leisher, of the US-based Nature Conservancy, told SciDev.Net at the meeting, 'Linking biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction: what, why and how?' which was held at the UK's Zoological Society of London.

Leisher, who conducted the research with Neil Larsen, also from the Nature Conservancy,  gave the example of a poor fisherman, for whom the route out of poverty is to catch more fish — not more kinds of fish.

The findings were presented on the same day as a study was published in Science magazine, showing that the world has failed in its bid to halt the decline in biodiversity by 2010.

The Convention on Biological Diversity was agreed in 2002. Yet almost every species and every ecosystem in the world is in decline, according to the study, led by Stuart Butchart from the UN Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, UK, and BirdLife International. 

Leisher told SciDev.Net that his organisation has switched from publicising 'biodiversity' to talking about 'nature' because "biodiversity does not resonate as a term".

It now focuses on regenerating areas that are already degraded rather than conserving pristine ones.

"If you restore degraded lands, you will increase biomass and restore nature," Leisher said, adding that the result was a direct impact on poverty reduction.

Jayant Sarnaik — deputy director of the Applied Environmental Research Foundation, India, said that a problem dogging studies of biodiversity and poverty is that the former is defined in various ways.

"The biggest financial institutes like the World Bank ... say that biodiversity is non-renewable biomass. So how can we expect that communities will not [use up resources]? They need biomass for a number of reasons.

"We are always trying to understand things from our perspective, we are not trying to look at how [local communities] perceive biodiversity."

But Matt Walpole, head of the UN Environment Programme's Ecosystem Assessment Programme, and an author of the Science study, warned that the finding that biomass was more important than biodiversity was context-specific.

"If one thinks in terms of consumptive use then amount is important," he said. But in agriculture, for example, biodiversity is important.

"Variability allows adaptability to variations in the ecosystem ... if you've got variation then you are more resistant to shocks."

Link to full report in Science [2.1MB]

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