22 May 2019

South Africa: Environmental Affairs Celebrates International Day for Biological Diversity

press release

South Africa today, 22 May 2019, joins the world in celebrating 26 years of action for biodiversity during the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB).

The theme of 2019 International Day for Biological Diversity is "Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health".

The International Day for Biological Diversity is celebrated every year on 22 May to increase the understanding and awareness of biodiversity and nature's contribution to people.

Biodiversity is the foundation of life. It underpins peoples' livelihoods and sustainable development in all areas including agriculture, water provisioning, forestry, fisheries and tourism. The United Nations Secretary General, in his message for the day, indicates that the quality of the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe, all depend on keeping the natural world in good health.

We therefore need healthy ecosystems to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Such goals include climate change mitigation and adaptation, ecosystem restoration, cleaner water and zero hunger.

Biodiversity and ecosystems are under threat. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, in the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers' fields. Half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost, and all of the world's 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at, or above, their sustainable limits.

Locally-varied food production systems are under threat, including related indigenous, traditional and local knowledge. With this decline, agrobiodiversity is disappearing, and also essential knowledge of traditional medicine and local foods.

The loss of diverse diets is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition, and has a direct impact on the availability of traditional medicines. Globally, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are disappearing. This loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change.

It can be argued that, by halting the loss of biodiversity, an investment is being made in people, their lives and their well-being. More and more people realise that the variety of life on the planet, its ecosystems and their impacts form the basis for shared wealth, health and well-being of all.

The 2019 theme aims to leverage knowledge and spread awareness of the dependency of our food systems, nutrition, and health on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. The theme also celebrates the diversity provided by natural systems for human existence and well-being on Earth.

On an international scale, the cross-cutting significance of biodiversity received recognition at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity's (UNCBD) with major decisions focusing on Mainstreaming of Biodiversity into production sectors that are responsible for land use change.

South Africa is endowed with rich biodiversity and is globally recognised as one of the mega diverse countries in the world. Our approach to manage this biodiversity is one of conservation, sustainable utilisation and to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits associated with biodiversity.

The sustainable use of South Africa's natural resources therefore contributes to poverty reduction and economic growth. It is estimated that 80% of the South Africa's population uses traditional medicines as their primary source for curing ailments. The indigenous knowledge on biological resources also vital in the pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical industries.

South Africa has recognised the importance of joining the global community in highlighting the vital links between biodiversity and food and health. This approach is articulated in the Biodiversity economy strategy that outlines plans to promote biodiversity based businesses through diversifying our food systems and promoting more sustainable production and consumption patterns, improve national health, increase food security and strengthen resilience to climate change.

Biodiversity-based products are making important contributions to the health and well-being sectors. South Africa has developed a global commercial market in bitter aloe, or Aloe ferox, Pelargonium sidoides, buchu, baobab, rooibos, honey bush, Devil's Claw and crocodile fat and oil. These indigenous biological resources are predominantly used in the manufacturing of herbal medicines, cosmetics and food flavours and fragrances.

Our Biodiversity is Our Food and Our Health. All South Africans are therefore called upon to do their good green deed by looking after nature so that nature can continue to look after us.

Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs

South Africa

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