50,000 Wild Species Feed Billions Worldwide

    AgricultureAgriculture policy50,000 Wild Species Feed Billions Worldwide
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    50,000 Wild Species Feed Billions Worldwide

    One in five people across the planet rely on wild species for income and food. More than 10,000 wild species are harvested for human food consumption and 2.4 billion people or one in every three people on planet depend on fuel wood for cooking.

    Billions of people, in developed and developing nations, benefit daily from the use of wild species for food, energy, materials, medicine, recreation, inspiration and many other vital contributions to human well-being. The accelerating global biodiversity crisis, with a million species of plants and animals facing extinction, threatens these contributions to people.

    A new report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) offers insights, analysis and tools to establish more sustainable use of wild species of plants, animals, fungi and algae around the world. Sustainable use is when biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are maintained while contributing to human well-being.

    The IPBES Assessment report on the Sustainable Use of Wild Species is the result of four years of work by 85 leading experts from the natural and social sciences, and holders of indigenous and local knowledge, as well as 200 contributing authors, drawing on more than 6,200 sources. The summary of the report was approved this week by representatives of the 139 member States of IPBES in Bonn, Germany.

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    Source of food and income

    “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 of France who co-chaired the Assessment with Dr. Marla R. Emery of the USA/Norway and Prof. John Donaldson of South Africa.

    “70 per cent of the world’s poor are directly dependent on wild species. 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 per cent of the 120 million people working in capture fisheries are supported by small-scale fishing,” said Dr. Emery.

    “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 realise.”

    The use of wild species is an important source of income for millions of people worldwide. Wild tree species account for two thirds of global industrial roundwood; trade in wild plants, algae and fungi is a billion-dollar industry; and even non-extractive uses of wild species are big business. Tourism, based on observing wild species, is one of the main reasons that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, protected areas globally received 8 billion visitors and generated US$600 billion every year.


    The report identifies five broad categories of ‘practices’ in the use of wild species: fishing; gathering; logging; terrestrial animal harvesting (including hunting); and non-extractive practices, such as observing. For each practice, it then examines specific ‘uses’ such as for food and feed; materials; medicine, energy; recreation; ceremony; learning and decoration – providing a detailed analysis of the trends in each, over the past 20 years.

    In most cases, use of wild species, or uncultivated foods, has increased, but sustainability of use has varied, such as in gathering for medicine and logging for materials and energy.

    Speaking specifically about fishing as an example, Dr. Fromentin said: “Recent global estimates confirm that about 34 per cent of marine wild fish stocks are overfished and 66 per cent are fished within biologically sustainable levels – but within this global picture there are significant local and contextual variations.

    Countries with robust fisheries management have seen stocks increasing in abundance. The Atlantic bluefin tuna population, for instance, has been rebuilt and is now fished within sustainable levels. For countries and regions with low intensity fisheries management measures, however, the status of stocks is often poorly known, but generally believed to be below the abundance that would maximise sustainable food production,” he said.

    “Many small-scale fisheries are unsustainable or only partially sustainable, especially in Africa for both inland and marine fisheries, and in Asia, Latin America and Europe for coastal fisheries.”

    Wild tree species threatened

    “Overexploitation is one of the main threats to the survival of many land-based and aquatic species in the wild”, said Prof. Donaldson. “Addressing the causes of unsustainable use and, wherever possible reversing these trends, will result in better outcomes for wild species and the people who depend on them.”

    The survival of an estimated 12 per cent of wild tree species is threatened by unsustainable logging; unsustainable gathering is one of the main threats for several plant groups, notably cacti, cycads and orchids, and unsustainable hunting has been identified as a threat for 1,341 wild mammal species – with declines in large-bodied species that have low natural rates of increase also linked to hunting pressure.

    Illegal trade in timber and fish

    The report identifies drivers such as land- and seascape changes; climate change; pollution and invasive alien species that impact the abundance and distribution of wild species, and can increase stress and challenges among the human communities that use them. Global trade in wild species has expanded substantially in volume, value and trade networks over the past four decades.

    While trade in wild species provides important income for exporting countries, offers higher incomes for harvesters, and can diversify sources of supply to allow pressure to be redirected from species being unsustainably used, it also decouples the consumption of wild species from their places of origin. The report finds that without effective regulation across supply chains – from local to global – global trade of wild species generally increases pressures on wild species, leading to unsustainable use and sometimes to wild population collapses (e.g., shark fin trade).

    Illegal use and illegal trade in wild species are also addressed in the report – as this occurs across all of the practices and often leads to unsustainable use. The authors find that illegal trade in wild species represents the third largest class of all illegal trade – with estimated annual values of up to US$199 billion. Timber and fish make up the largest volumes and value of illegal trade in wild species.

    Robust institutions

    The use of wild species by indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as their extensive knowledge, practices and beliefs about such uses, are also explored in the report. Indigenous peoples manage fishing, gathering, terrestrial animal harvesting and other uses of wild species on more than 38 million km2 of land, equivalent to about 40% of terrestrial conserved areas, in 87 countries. The report finds that policies supporting secure tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries and forests, as well as poverty alleviation, create enabling conditions for  sustainable use of wild species.

    “Indigenous stewardship of biodiversity is often embedded in local knowledge, practices and spirituality,” said Dr. Emery. “The sustainable use of wild species is central to the identity and existence of many indigenous peoples and local communities. These practices and cultures are diverse, but there are common values including the obligation to engage nature with respect, reciprocate for what is taken, avoid waste, manage harvests and ensure the fair and equitable distribution of benefits from wild species for community well-being. Globally, deforestation is generally lower on indigenous territories, in particular where there is security of land tenure, continuity of knowledge and languages, and alternative livelihoods. Bringing scientists and indigenous peoples together to learn from each other will strengthen the sustainable use of wild species. This is especially important because most national frameworks and international agreements largely continue to emphasize ecological and some social considerations, including economic and governance issues – while cultural contexts receive little attention.”

    Constant negotiation, adaptive management

    The report concludes by examining a range of possible future scenarios for the use of wild species, confirming that climate change, increasing demand and technological advances -making many extractive practices more efficient – are likely to present significant challenges to sustainable use in the future. Actions are identified for each practice that would help to address these challenges. In fishing, this would include fixing current inefficiencies; reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; suppressing harmful financial subsidies; supporting small-scale fisheries; adapting to changes in oceanic productivity due to climate change; and proactively creating effective transboundary institutions. In logging this would entail management and certification of forests for multiple uses; technological innovations to reduce waste in manufacturing of wood products; and economic and political initiatives that recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, including land tenure.

    In most future scenarios that enable the sustainable use of wild species, the authors find that transformative changes share common characteristics – such as integration of plural value systems; equitable distribution of costs and benefits; changes in social values, cultural norms and preferences; and effective institutions and governance systems. Ambitious goals are found to be necessary but not sufficient to drive transformative change. The report also notes that the world is dynamic, and that sustainable use of wild species requires constant negotiation and adaptive management. It also requires a common vision of sustainable use and transformative change in human-nature relationships.

    CITES to inform decisions

    Speaking about the importance of the report, Dr. Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of IPBES said: “This Assessment was specifically requested by, among others, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and will inform decisions about trade in wild species at the 19th World Wildlife Conference in Panama in November. It also has immediate relevance to the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity to forge a new global biodiversity framework for the next decade – not least because of the findings about the untapped potential of the sustainable use of wild species to contribute even more to many of the Sustainable Development Goals, including those on poverty, hunger, good health and well-being, education, gender equity, clean water and sanitation, affordable energy, as well as industry and innovation. We thank and congratulate all the authors and experts for their tireless work – especially throughout the COVID pandemic. 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.”

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