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Billions of people depend on wild plant and animal species

According to a new report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), billions of people globally – most of them living in developing countries – depend on over 50,000 wild species for food, materials, medicine, energy, and many other vital contributions to human well-being that these animals, plants, fungi, and algae provide. However, the accelerating biodiversity crisis could soon push many of these species toward extinction, thus threatening the people who rely on them too. In order to avoid this situation, a large international team of experts has offered insights and tools for establishing more sustainable use of wild species around the world.

“With about 50,000 wild species used through different practices, including more than 10,000 wild species harvested directly for human food, rural people in developing countries are most at risk from unsustainable use, with lack of complementary alternatives often forcing them to further exploit wild species already at risk,” said Dr. Jean-Marc Fromentin, a researcher at IPBES who co-chaired the Assessment Report. 

“70 precent of the world’s poor are directly dependent on wild species,” added Dr. Marla Emery, another co-chair of the report and research geographer at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. “One in five people rely on wild plants, algae and fungi for their food and income; 2.4 billion rely on fuel wood for cooking; and about 90 percent of the 120 million people working in capture fisheries are supported by small-scale fishing. But the regular use of wild species is extremely important not only in the Global South. From the fish that we eat, to medicines, cosmetics, decoration and recreation, wild species’ use is much more prevalent than most people realize.”   

According to the scientists, drivers of biodiversity loss include land- and seascape changes, pollution, invasive species, climate change, and increases in illegal use and trade. In order to protect these vital species, the experts propose a variety of actions for the five categories of “practices” in the use of wild species that they identified (fishing, logging, gathering, terrestrial animal harvesting, and non-extractive practices). 

In the case of fishing, for example, such actions would include reducing illegal and unregulated fishing, supporting small-scale fisheries, adapting to changes in oceanic productivity due to climate change, proactively creating transboundary institutions, suppressing harmful financial subsidies, and fixing current inefficiencies. In logging practices, sustainable actions such as the management and certification of forests for multiple uses, technological innovations to reduce waste in manufacturing wood products, and political initiatives to recognize the rights of local communities are all essential for safeguarding the world’s forests.

The experts argued that, in most future scenarios that enable the sustainable use of wild species, transformative changes share several characteristics, such as the integration of plural value systems, changes in social values and cultural norms, equitable distribution of costs and benefits, and effective institutions and systems of governance.

“The sustainable use of wild species is vital for all people, in all communities – and this Report will help decision-makers around the world choose policies and actions that better support people and nature,” concluded Dr. Anne Lariguaderie, the Executive Secretary of IPBES.

A detailed summary for policymakers of the Assessment Report can be found here

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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