Our solutions are in nature

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“Our Solutions are in Nature” – what an appropriate theme for this year’s International Day for Biodiversity! The Convention on Biological Diversity highlights that ‘our biodiversity remains the answer to a number of sustainable development challenges that we all face. From nature-based solutions to climate, to food and water security, and sustainable livelihoods, biodiversity remains the basis for a sustainable future’. The year 2020 can be deemed as a year of opportunity and solutions for biodiversity. It is the final leg for the existing 2011-2020 Strategic Plan on Biodiversity and its associated 20 Aichi Targets. It is also the end of the 2011-2020 United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. Looking ahead, this year will see the adoption of a post 2020 global biodiversity framework. Notably, the targets under this new framework will be in aligned with achieving the 2050 Vision of “Living in harmony with nature”.

Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is noteworthy to take notices of reports that indicate surprising changes in the environment under current world conditions. There have been reports of air pollution levels dropping and wildlife beginning to reappear in streams and rivers that were once heavily polluted. The reason is clear – it has been as a result of the decrease in economic activities and other day-to-day human activities that would have otherwise have had a negative impact on those environments. What conclusion can be drawn? Our actions affect the habitats and ecosystems of the world’s biodiversity.

The intimate link between people and the environment is a worldview strongly held by Indigenous peoples. Their unique culture and knowledge of living with biodiversity is being progressively recognized by conservationists, researchers and decision makers. Valuing such knowledge and combining it (where appropriate) with scientific approaches has seen many advantages in the field of biodiversity conservation, as well as climate change adaptation, medicine and agriculture.

In Guyana, the on-going Darwin Initiative Project, focused on traditional knowledge, is working closely with various governmental agencies and Indigenous communities to empower these local communities through the use of participatory video to document and share solutions that are aligned with their traditional knowledge and practices. The project is also facilitating a video-mediated dialogue between Indigenous communities associated with protected areas and decision-makers to build and promote greater appreciation and integration of traditional knowledge into best practices for the management of protected areas. In doing so, it is envisioned that there will be significant improvement in the successful management of Guyana’s protected areas through improved involvement and integration of Indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge.

Now, more than ever, it is important for us to thinking critically about how we can more proactively engage Indigenous peoples in finding solutions to the challenges facing biodiversity today. From species and ecosystem protection, to addressing the effects of climate change on agriculture, to creating and managing conservation areas, we stand to benefit from the knowledge of Indigenous peoples. There have been many examples where traditional/local knowledge, in tandem with science, has led to progress towards solving some of the troubles facing the world today. An example is research related to medicinal plants that have been traditionally utilized by Indigenous peoples. However, finding solutions cannot be a process of extracting knowledge, but needs to use decolonising methods to allow greater inclusion and participation of Indigenous peoples in the governance and benefits derived from biodiversity.

The pandemic lockdown has brought attention to food production, and there have been concerns about potential food shortages in the months ahead. It has also made us reflect on our sense of community. We have been forced to remember, and in some cases realize, the value and importance of traditional practices, being self-sufficient and caring for each other, values held by Indigenous peoples. We will do well to hold on to such principles and respect them – even when COVID-19 is no longer with us.

As the world observes the International Day for Biological Diversity 2020, one way to find solutions is to support greater inclusivity and involvement of the recognized stewards of the natural world – our Indigenous peoples.

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Deirdre Jafferally has 17 years’ experience working in community based wildlife management and conservation. Deirdre first started working at the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, Guyana in the area of environmental monitoring. Recently, Deirdre has focused her interest in community resource management and Indigenous knowledge in the pursuit of a PhD exploring the implications of socio-ecological changes on Indigenous knowledge and practices, and its impact on forest conservation. She holds a BSc in Biology and MES in Sustainable Development and Ecological Monitoring.