Research evidence vital for developing pro-poor biodiversity plans

Jyotiraj Patra and Madhav Karki
May 20, 2016

To mark International Biodiversity Day on 22 May 2016 - which has "sustaining people and their livelihoods" as its central theme - ESPA's Regional Evidence Advisor Jyotiraj Patra joins forces with Madhav Karki to give their joint perspective on how nature can be best nurtured to enhance human wellbeing. 

Karki is Co-Chair, IPBES Regional Assessment of Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services in Asia Pacific, and South Asia Chair of the IUCN/Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM). Patra is also an active member of the same group.

Key summary:

  • Growing demand for food, water, energy and other activities that use natural resources mean that biodiversity and ecosystem services need to be integral to policy and planning processes.
  • Effective use of research evidence like that produced by ESPA will help ensure biodiversity action plans and investment decisions are pro-poor, inclusive and sustainable.
  • New forms of partnerships and collaboration among researchers, policy-makers and practitioners are required, and must include the private sector.
  • The opportunities to foster and facilitate such partnerships, and in turn alleviate poverty through sustainable biodiversity, are ones that we cannot afford to miss.


The theme for this years’ International Day of Biodiversity:  Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods reflects the urgency, as well as the opportunity, to better integrate biodiversity and ecosystems services in livelihood security and poverty alleviation plans. Unsustainable development choices and resource consumption patterns have posed significant threats of biodiversity loss and ecosystem services degradation. Growing demand for food, water, energy and other natural resources have resulted in unsustainable and inequitable resource extraction and use. More and more natural resource-dependent communities, many of whom are poor and marginalised, are further pushed in to poverty and deprivation due to technology driven resource exploitation.

Well designed and better integrated pro-poor biodiversity management action plans can help protect biodiversity and manage ecosystems to bring about positive and sustainable  change in the lives of the people dependent on these goods and services. Such holistic action plans and policies need to be informed by robust scientific and evidence based research that provides contextual learning and situation specific solutions. We argue that enhancing the production and use of such research evidence is critical to meet the biodiversity and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets governments are committed to.

Such efforts of governments, businesses and communities are informed and influenced by variety of factors, but primarily strong political will, requisite institutional capacities, and integrated knowledge to enable, facilitate and monitor the process. These underlying drivers of progress and success are in turn linked to ways key decision makers and development planners access, analyse and use knowledge and evidence on nature’s benefit to people. Our engagement with stakeholders through an international and interdisciplinary research programme like ESPA, and an intergovernmental platform such as  IPBES and IUCN, highlight the  opportunities to support and facilitate the use of research evidence through coherent and collaborative approaches. This is all the more important when governments, civil society and businesses have unequivocally recognised the contribution of biodiversity, ecosystem services and natural capital to the growth and sustenance of their national economies, social well being and business services.

So far 185 out of 196 national governments have developed and submitted their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) as part of the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) actions at the national level. Private businesses and civil society organizations - both individually and collectively - have been contributing to the process through initiatives such as  the Global Business and Biodiversity Platform, IUCN and Citizen’s Science Programme.

One of the key challenges for research funders, researchers and knowledge translators, and outreach agencies is how to build on this momentum and further strengthen the use and uptake of research evidence on biodiversity and ecosystem services. The traditional approach to, and reliance on, knowledge production-utilisation equation is grossly inadequate in this present context of greater public scrutiny, competing demands for scarce financial resources, and uncertainties in both the global market and the environment. The need for new forms of knowledge- to-policy partnerships to ensure coherence in approach and continuity in engagement has been widely recognised – and more so at the sub-national and local levels where key decisions and plans are implemented and chances of integrating  communities’ voices and knowledge  in to the processes are more.

For example, the Government of India’s on-going Smart Cities Mission, which aims to build 100 smart cities, has decentralised the whole planning and decision making process to city and sub-national governments. Similarly, a number of Asian governments are devolving water and forest management to communities. Therefore the scope for use of research evidence on biodiversity and ecosystem services in planning and design of such Smart Cities and empowered communities is immense at the local  level.

The ongoing post-earthquake reconstruction process in the mountain country of Nepal, coordinated by the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), is an opportune moment to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem-services based approaches to build resilient livelihoods and  reducing exposure of infrastructure and communities to future disaster and climate risks. The Bangladesh Deltas 2100 Plan, led by the Planning Commission, has been engaging with the wider community of researchers and practitioners to better design and implement an integrated framework which takes into account delta ecology and ecosystem services.

Insights and experience from these national and sub-national plans/processes could also help support broader policies in biodiversity and ecosystem conservation at a regional level in South Asia. Bilateral and transboundary cooperation in evidence based research on biodiversity and ecosystem services could also be an effective entry points for strategic engagement on many common biodiversity resources and issues, like the Sundarbans across India and Bangladesh and Himalayas across the Himalaya. In addition, these research-based engagements could further strengthen South-South Cooperation on cross-learning and exchange.

We hope that the researchers and community of practice would use these platforms to pro-actively engage with a wide range of stakeholders and help develop participatory processes for the better use of research evidence to create  pro-poor biodiversity action plans at all levels, in South Asia and beyond.

Enhancing interfaces between science and policy through will ensure sustainable conservation and management of biodiversity and ecosystem services in South Asia.