Putting ecology back in economy: the naturenomics™ civilization
Every second, we lose one hectare of tropical forest to deforestation or degradation, globally. Since the 1960s, we have destroyed over half of the world’s tropical forests and the consequences for the future survival of our planet are devastating.
Tropical forests are home to nearly 80% of the world’s biodiversity and the ecosystems services provided by these forests are estimated to contribute billions to the global economy, if not more, through crucial services in maintaining water, oxygen and carbon cycles, as well as providing natural habitats for key pollinator species.
As forests and habitats disappear globally, we see dramatic shifts in our global biodiversity with serious consequences. Insect populations are falling rapidly and pollinator species are increasingly at risk, over disappearing forestland. Smallholder farmers, who supply 80% of the world’s food, depend strongly on these forests for support: 52% of all land used for food production relies on forests for soil regeneration and for the prevention of soil erosion. Over 1.6 billion people globally depend on forests for their livelihoods, through forest based produce. Of these, 350 million people, many of them part of the world’s indigenous communities, are estimated to live within forests, depending completely on them for their survival.
The future of the world’s forests, their rich biodiversity and forest-dependent people depends heavily on action taken within the next decade.
The value generated by forests that flow through our global economy is poorly accounted for. An estimate by Costanza et al. in 1997 indicated that the total economic value of forest goods and services was $4.7 trillion annually. The complexities of measuring ecosystems services and computing them in economic terms make arriving at a conclusive figure difficult. However, the need to account for these invisible value flows — their natural capital value — is ever more important, both in making a strong economic case for preserving our forests for the future and in determining how to best invest in their preservation for the future.
A vital part of this effort to restore the world’s forests lies in putting ecology back in economy — what we call the NaturenomicsTM perspective. Turning this invisible economic value into tangible natural capital values will enable forest-dependent communities around the world to build adaptive capacities and a sustainable income and value base to deliver access to universal basic assets such as education, healthcare, energy access and water & food security, thus eliminating the primary drivers of deforestation among local communities.
We, at the Balipara Foundation, launched the Rural Futures programme in 2017 to restore decimate forests across the Eastern Himalayan region — home to 3 of 34 global biodiversity hotspots, a quarter of India’s forests and charismatic species such as the Asian Elephant and the one-horned Rhino — by creating a positively reinforcing income cycle, where communities earn on habitat restoration efforts. By bringing local communities on board and making them the primary stakeholders in habitat restoration, both through decision making processes and through income-based incentives, habitat restoration becomes a sustainable process, with greater likelihood of continuation post-exit.
The future of the world’s forests, their rich biodiversity and forest-dependent people depends heavily on action taken within the next decade. Poverty and biodiversity preservation do not need to be a zero-sum game of competing needs if we invest in rebuilding our world’s natural capital and pursuing a human-centric vision for conservation. We look forward to meeting you at the Paris Peace Forum this year to debate the potential of human-centric conservation for biodiversity conservation, by interlinking human growth and biodiversity growth through economy in a NaturenomicsTM Civilization for a sustainable future.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Ranjit Barthakur, President & Founder, the Balipara Foundation
Ranjit Barthakur is a social entrepreneur, with over 40 years of experience in both the public and private sectors in the areas of IT, hospitality, FMCGs, sports and mainstreaming sustainability practices in organizations. He is committed to pursuing social change through innovative cutting edge proprietary concepts such as Naturenomics TM and Rural Futures, driving community-based conservation and livelihoods in the Eastern Himalayas through his organization, the Balipara Foundation.