Where there is a crisis, there is opportunity. We are reaching a tipping point in terms of our ability to support a growing world population in a sustainable way, and the world conference on sustainable development, Rio+20, is an opportunity to reverse the crises we are experiencing.
One of the areas being examined closely is climate change. As a scientist, I know that climate change has shaped our world over millions of years. Life forms and humans have been adapting to our climate since the beginning of time. But as an environmentalist, I’m concerned about the capacity of our communities – especially the poorest peoples of the world – to respond to climate change today and in the future.
It is clear we need more knowledge and evidence to address questions related to how we create a sustainable future.
There are many ways to approach this quest, and one effort I feel strongly about is the building of evidence around agricultural and tree biodiversity to find new opportunities for rural people in developing countries. The rural poor in these regions depend on the environment, plants and trees for their incomes, food and shelter. Through research, we know plant species and crop varieties have different properties, but we have documented they are disappearing. Some are going extinct. Because of their unique properties, many of these varieties and species – used in sustainable ways – are weapons against malnutrition, drought, flooding, and other problems we face. The loss is tremendous, but it can be halted.
Agricultural biodiversity is a tool that holds potential for millions of smallholder farmers, most of whom are women. Smallholder farmers produce 60 percent of the world’s food and are hugely important to our growing population.
I believe science is the key to our sustainable future. Bioversity International is leading agricultural and tree biodiversity research to improve the livelihoods for smallholder farmers and rural people in a sustainable way. Working with farmers, partners, other researchers and donors, scientists at Bioversity are coming up with new knowledge to deal with climate change, malnutrition and poverty. They are finding new options for agriculture and tree management in developing countries. Their quest for solutions to a growing population is equally balanced with concern for our land and the species growing on it.
This knowledge and understanding is exactly the approach needed at Rio+20, a conference that has special significance for me. 10 years ago, I was the chairman of the Subsidiary Body of Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The convention was founded in Rio two decades ago and over time has made tremendous progress, including the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol in 2010 at the 10th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. That same year, the United Nations declared 2011 to 2020 as the UN Decade of Biodiversity. Biodiversity is increasingly being recognized as a tool we need to protect and use. We need new approaches to sustainable development, including agricultural and tree biodiversity. The opportunity is in front of us to change the world for the better.
A scientist and an international authority on conservation biology and environmental policy, Cristián Samper is the Director of the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In August, Samper will be President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. He serves on the Board of Trustees of Bioversity International. Samper was the founding director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, the national biodiversity research institute of Colombia, and developed the national biodiversity policy. His devotion to Colombia’s ecological preservation earned him the country’s National Medal of the Environment in 2001.