International Year of Biodiversity

World Environment Day was observed in a befitting manner. The day was declared as the International Year of Biodiversity with the theme “Many Species One Planet, One Future”. Dr Mahammed Ataur Rahman, Director, Centre for Global Environmental Culture of International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT), Uttara, Dhaka has strongly advocated for the importance of biodiversity saying as “The more species provide better scope for adaptation, survivability and food security in the changing climatic condition. He emphasized the needs for protection of species and varieties within the species which are developed after hundreds and thousands years of adaptation.

IUBAT has been declared as “Green Campus” and its College of Agricultural Sciences is doing many research works on sustainable agriculture, habit and behavioral study of plants and animals, sustainable waste management, biomass recycling and naturopathy through its program on Education for Sustainability. Some unique contributions are collection and propagation of underutilized plants, especially spices and medicinal plants with view to enrich crop diversification for improvement of Biodiversity. Lemon Tulsi, 4 varieties of sweet potato, perennial garlic, Tokma, spicy piper (Tonigok), yams, Gila, Kalomegh and many varieties of chilies etc. with a view to ensure maximum use of land, water and space with maximum productivity, Dr Rahman said.

Dr. Rahman, a Crop Climatologist, described the natural adaptations according to environmental conditions of different climatic regions of the world, the peculiarities of physiological adaptations in changing situation is a unique process of the living organisms of the world which ultimately maintain the food chain through biomass production trapping solar energy, succession, recycling and interdependence among the plants, animals and microbes. He also emphasized the importance of the habitats and the sustainability of species, their interactions with abiotic factors like light, temperature, air, water and minerals etc., of a specific region within the biosphere. Mentioning the climatic regions, viz. Equatorial and Tropical wet and dry, Monsoon, Mountains, Deserts, Alpines, Savannah, Mediterranean, Steppe, Tundra and Polar areas have again possess different adaptive situations like aquatic, terrestrial, spatial, shade, partial shade and sunny etc. the adaptations are absolutely different. There are still variations within the areas depending on geographical locations, availability of light and landscape etc, and adaptations depend on the habit and habitat and thus environment influences the heredity.

“Due to indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and biased cropping culture, we have already lost hundreds of thousand varieties and species of plants animals and microbes and the ecosystems are under a great threat” Dr Rahman told. Due to excessive exploitation of natural resources from the forests and mountains the habitats are being lost, landscape has been disturbed and hydrological cycles are beings disrupted in many areas. As a result, rainfall pattern changes and cropping culture has been affected seriously. Once the hilly regions of Sylhet, Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts were considered as the richest biodiversity zones but now, perhaps, are the very poor biodiversity zones.

Referring the failures of bee culture by the Khasia Headman in Magurcherra, Oil palm production in Satchari and Srimangal by the Forest Department and Coffee production in Jagcherra by James Finlay Plc, are the examples of absence of pollinating insects and bees etc. due to use of huge quantity pesticide in those areas. He also told that the abundance of birds and insects in the city areas leaving the countryside is also one of the reasons of migration and declining of birds and insects in the villages as they are not feeling safe there for increasing usages of pesticides now-a-days.

In the name of crop diversification and grow more food, many exotic crops, mainly hybrids and GMOs are being introduced every year but acclimatization, quarantine and susceptibility factors need immediate attention. We have already observed the severe attack of Mealy-bugs and associated fungi on papaya, guava, eggplant, sugarcane, jujube, beans and chili etc. As a result, their production has sharply declined but the uses of pesticides and preservatives have drastically increased. Therefore, he urged the appropriate authorities to look into the matters immediately. Moreover, he also urged to restore the seed production and preservation by the farmers for their own, without depending on seed traders. Traditionally, our farmers are more knowledgeable in keeping and preserving seeds; but short-term benefited crops supplied by the traders are making the farmers handicapped, but the farmers do not like it at all. Dr Rahman stressed upon a sustainable agriculture to protect biodiversity and for a healthy soil as saying: “Feed the soil, not the crop; healthy soil gives healthy plants and give more production in long run; soil is the ultimate chooser of the crop”.

Dr Rahman suggested that for a good biodiversity planning, it needs habit and habitat consideration. To enrich biodiversity, we should bring more species under cropping culture according to their growing habit and habitat and time. Trees, bamboos and palms and nuts are the natural protectors of strong winds, waves, currents, dusts and sound and also for erosion control. But they have distinct adaptations; some can tolerate salinity some cannot, some can grow under low humidity some cannot. Citing a few examples Dr Rahman told that Fish tail palms love high humidity, Gamar, Champa and Chapalish love partial shade and high humus soil and association of other forest plants for their growth at least in their early life but they are not suitable for sunny, low humus and isolated conditions and it is not possible to grow them without ensuring their habitat. The pollen grains of some plants like Teak and Champa cause lung diseases, irritation and eye itching and they should not be planted in the residential areas.

Aquatic environments especially rivers and water-bodies in and around the cities are deadly polluted due to industrial wastes, chemicals medications online and domestic garbage with plastic and polythene etc. Sometimes, City Rivers are so polluted that aquatic animals, plants and microbes can not survive and the water is not recyclable, nor usable even for irrigation or other uses. This polluted water is flowing downstream up to the Bay of Bengal traveling long way and the estuaries which are the main habitats of brackish, marine and fresh water fishes and others aquatic animals; and causing harm not only for living but also for migrating and breeding fishes. Thus the accumulated harmful wastes are destructing fresh, brackish and marine water biodiversity. The rivers like Sitalaska, Turag, Buriganga and Balu rivers are now dead and their discharges to the downstream are more dangerous. Many fishes, crabs and prawns, snails and oysters, turtles, frogs and amphibians, snakes and lizards, Black dolphins (Susuk) can hardly be seen in these rivers. The polluted water is degrading the downstream flora and fauna and the way water-bodies are deteriorating, our migratory national fish Hilsa will disappear soon. But why? Is it not possible to control some industrialists those who are polluting our water-bodies? Where is the DoE or other law enforcing agencies? How did those industries get their environment clearance certificates? We must realize the consequences of these bad activities and we should pay immediate attention to keep our water-bodies safe. Mare tree exhibition in the capital spending huge money and labor can not help us rather it is fueling in increasing track traffics in the city roads. Immediate measures are also needed to stop production and uses of polythene shopping bags, Dr Rahman quoted.

With the growing urbanization, urban agriculture and urban forests are getting more importance and there need provisions for keeping sufficient space around the buildings and along the roadsides and highways. They will provide great scope for utilization of huge biomass (green garbage), waste water recycling, sound absorption and pollution control. But again, plantations should be made keeping the safe distances from the structures, transmission lines, utility services and drains etc. and with proper spacing. Choosing right plants for right place, these plantations can be made sustainable, both for pleasing environment, biodiversity enrichment and food security. Dr Rahman cautioned that unplanned and indiscriminate plantation will cause disasters and sufferings. Referring the huge property damages during the recent disasters like Sidr and Aila compared to the earlier cyclones of 1970 and 1991 although human death was very less in the recent cyclones due to early awareness and quick rescue activity. Unplanned short-term benefited plantations without considering their natural habitat indiscriminate plantations and destruction of mangrove plantation for shrimp cultivation exaggerated the magnitude of the damages. He emphasized for disaster risk reduction by implementing right and long-term benefited plans. He also urged for a sustainable planning respecting the natural laws for utilization of Climate Change Adaptation funds.

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Director, CGEC International University of Business Agriculture and Technology Bangladesh

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