3. Biodiversity – Natural Resource Management in South Asia




South Asia’s civilization, its diverse dietary habits and its means of livelihood are inextricably linked with its biodiversity. The landmass, rivers and the surrounding ocean contain myriad flora and fauna. The innumerable life forms in its ecosystems provide food, fodder, fuel, fibre and aromatic and medicinal herbs. South Asia’s natural resources have ensured our survival through the ages. Unless we conserve it we just cannot go on.

‘Biological diversity is the sum total of life on Earth, the wealth of species, ecosystems, and ecological processes that, after all is said and done, makes our living planet what it is …’1 The problem facing us in South Asia is species extinction, and the seriousness of this issue is something that we have yet to fathom. Once any species becomes extinct, no science can revive it. Till now we do not know much about the economic and environmental value of all the species that inhabit this region. Therefore, of all the major environmental problems such as climate change, land and water pollution, and toxic-waste generation, the one that threatens our survival the most is destruction of biodiversity.

A biologically diverse environment offers greater options for sustainable economic activity, better health and welfare. Loss of biodiversity has incalculable social, economic and environmental cost for any community. It is for this reason that our ancestors had created ‘deity forests’ or Dev Van and elaborate rituals that protected ecosystems. In South Asia, all life forms were seen as part of the living earth.

The experiences of the past two decades of fast-paced industrialization and urbanization clearly show the stress upon biodiversity, and its destruction. This is in spite of the fact that conservation is ingrained in local cultures. It implies that our cultural ethos have been so eroded as to turn us indifferent towards the unfolding crisis. This raises some serious questions, the most basic being: Can we sustain our respective national societies in the post-oil world given the rate of species extinction and ecosystem destruction?

Our traditional activities such as farming and gardening are also putting tremendous pressure on biodiversity. Since the introduction of Green Revolution technologies, use of hybrid seeds, extensive use of chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides), and excessive extraction of ground water for irrigation have stressed most ecosystems. Many farmers have lost the traditional skills of conserving seeds. This has had the unfortunate effect of loss of agro-biodiversity. For example, South Asia had about 200,000 rice varieties; today no more than 50 types are grown. Approximately80,000 edible plants were present at one time or another in human history, of which only about 150 are now cultivated on a large scale. Out of the 4,000 types of potatoes grown worldwide in the mid-nineteenth century, only four are grown today. Mere 10 to 20 species provide 80 to 90 per cent food requirements of the world.2 This is a staggering loss of biodiversity, and South Asia is most vulnerable in this regard.

Box 3.1: The Unseen Biodiversity

A cup of healthy soil contains the following life forms:

Microbes: Bacteria 200 billion
Fungi (100,000 metres)
Microfauna: Protozoa 20 million
Nematodes 100,000
Meso and macrofauna: Anthropods 50,000
Earthworm (< 1)

The reduction in crop diversity is spinning out of control with the introduction of genetically engineered (GE) seeds without any biological safety assessment. It is now confirmed that GE seeds contaminate natural ones through cross pollination. If natural seeds are contaminated, biodiversity shall be destroyed in perpetuity. Genetically engineered fishes, cows, pigs, lambs, and other fauna will similarly destroy the genetic diversity that nature gave us. Genetic engineering dismantles species barrier and the engineered geno-types can get transmutated in unpredictable ways in the open environment. This biological pollution is the greatest threat to biodiversity and sustainability of ecosystems and needs to be stopped immediately.3

Farmers have lost the skill of maintaining soil nutrient balance that has forced them to depend more and more on regular application of ‘imported’ nutrients in the form of various chemicals, a practice that has upset the natural nutrient balance. Thoughtless use of lethal pesticides has turned millions of acres of lands virtually devoid of soil biodiversity, which is the main driver of sustainable development (see Box 3.1). Continuous use of pesticides, many illegal and banned yet stealthily marketed in South Asia by multinational corporations, are known to affect human health, birds and bees, and the soil biota.


The Community Trophy Hunting Programme, initiated in 1999 with only five trophies, has now been increased to 12 in the northern areas of Pakistan. It has mobilized the community for their self-regulation of the conservancies simply because the community-based organization receives 80 per cent of the net income for spending on their welfare projects. This has led to very strict community watch and awards resulting in increase in the number of wildlife, and encouraged their free movement on roadside without fear of being poached.

Biodiversity supports ecosystem and the goods and services provided by healthy ecosystems, in turn, ensure human well-being. These ecosystem services not only deliver the basic raw materials for survival, like production of oxygen and water, but also strengthen other aspects of life, including health and freedom of choice. Degraded ecosystems invariably force the poor to adopt unsustainable livelihood strategies that further damage the ecosystems, which, in turn, lead to social tension and security threats.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment examined the state of 24 services that contribute to human well-being (see Box 3.3). It concludes that 15 out of 24 are in decline, including provision of fresh water, marine fishery production, the number and quality of places of spiritual and religious value, the ability of the atmosphere to cleanse itself of pollutants, natural hazard regulation, pollination, and the capacity of agricultural ecosystems to provide pest control. Disruption of ecosystems is turning South Asia more vulnerable to shocks and disturbances, less resilient, and less able to supply its population with needed services. The damage to coastal communities from tidal surge and storms, for example, can be substantially greater where protective wetland habitats have been lost or degraded.4

Food, fodder, fibre and fuel Spiritual and religious values
Genetic resource Knowledge systems
Biochemicals Education
Fresh water Recreation and aesthetics
Invasion resistance Primary production
Herbivory Habitat provisioning
Pollination Nutrient cycling
Seed dispersal Soil formation and retention
Climate regulation Production of atmospheric oxygen
Pest regulation Water cycling
Disease regulation
Natural hazard protection
Erosion regulation
Water purification


Source: Global Biodiversity Outlook 2, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 2007; www.biodiv.org/GBO2



The initiatives of the Deccan Development Society (DDS) at Zaheerabad (AP, India) are worth mentioning. DDS has organized 72 villages into a federation. The villages have a seed bank, usually managed by women. Each domestic or community seed bank has all the conceivable seeds required for their food and fodder; they have 57 types of millets. Every one is well fed in a region that was once part of degraded semi-arid Deccan plateau.


The consequences of biodiversity loss and ecosystem disruption are often the harshest for the rural poor, who depend most immediately upon local ecosystem services for their survival and who are often the least able to access or afford substitutes when these become degraded. In fact, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has confirmed that biodiversity loss poses a significant barrier to meeting the needs of the poorest, as set out in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.


As per Dr Netra Timsina, in Nepal the National Agricultural Research Council (NARC) has established a gene bank to preserve the genetic diversity of the country. However, the questions of how the community will have access and ownership over the genetic resources remain crucial. The mechanism to prevent theft by multinational corporations need to be in place before establishing such gene banks.


Over-exploitation of Forest Resources

Over-exploitation of forest resources by forest departments and forest dwellers alike is the second most important pressure. Whilst forest departments are destroying forests and planting commercial timber crops, the people in the forested areas, including the sensitive Himalayan region, are responsible for over-exploitation of non-timber forest produce including medicinal and aromatic herbs. The total forest area in Bangladesh in the year 1980 was 1,230 ha, in 1990 it was 1,054 ha and in 1995 it was 1,010 ha. For the same periods, the total forest area in Pakistan was 2,735 ha, 2,023 ha and 1,748 ha, respectively. These statistics in case of India are 58, 222 ha (in 1980), 64, 969 ha (in 1990) and 65, 005 ha (in 1995).5

It should be noted that natural forests provide food and fodder that are essential for the survival of rural communities. In the mountain areas, provision of fodder from ecosystem services is critical for survival. However, it is being jeopardized by plantation forest. The total area of forest plantation in India in the year 1990 was 1,954 ha (which was 3.1 per cent of its total forest area), in 2000 it was 2,805 ha (4.2 per cent of its total forest area) and in 2005 it was 3,226 ha (4.8 per cent of its total forest area). For the same periods, the figures for Bangladesh are 239 ha (27.1 per cent of its total forest area), 276 ha (31.2 per cent of its total forest area) and 279 ha (32 per cent of its total forest area).6


Indian government has approved cultivation of four Bt cotton crops and allowed open field trials in respect of 151 crop variety. It has also offered subsidy for genetically engineered horticulture. This will destroy South Asia’s biodiversity.

Ecosystem Destruction

Governments continue to approve ‘development’ activities that are environmentally destructive. Nearly all river-valley projects have been executed with utter disregard for ecosystems. This has affected the livelihoods of as many people indirectly as it has affected directly by way of displacement. When people lose their livelihoods that depended upon ecosystem services, they adopt survival options like wood cutting and over-exploitation of NTFP, speeding up the destructive cycle (indicators given in Chapter 4).

Habitat destruction due to expansion in farm land, industrial activities and human habitation are the main pressures on biodiversity. Fragmentation of large contiguous ecosystems into isolated, small and scattered ones has turned many species vulnerable to inbreeding, high mortality, and in the long run, possibly to extinction. The stupendous growth of monkey population and destruction of farmlands by grazing wildlife is because of destruction of natural habitat and biodiversity.

Genetically Engineered Food and Feed Crops and Forests

Whilst biodiversity loss due to chemical pollution has been documented, the medium- to long-term impact from biological pollution induced by genetically engineered species is yet to be assessed. Information from the USA and Canada, where GE species have been extensively used (corn, soy, canola, cotton and all sorts of vegetables), indicates destruction of natural seeds and extensive horizontal contamination. Traces of engineered genes have been found in aquatic life, bees and, through ingestion of GM foods, in human gut bacteria.


It is estimated that, since 1947, India alone has destroyed 4,696 million hectares of forestland for non-forestry purposes. While 0.07 million ha of forest land has been illegally encroached upon, 4.37 million ha has been subjected to cultivation, 0.52 million ha given to river valley projects, 0.14 million ha to industries and townships, 0.06 million ha for transmission lines and roads; and the rest for miscellaneous purposes.

Source: MoEF, Government of India, 1999


The introduction of GE trees will cause major loss of biodiversity and biopollution. GE trees may have a life of 25–50 years or more. Every season these trees will flower and their seeds will be blown for miles. How these ‘Franken forests’ will destroy natural biodiversity is not known.

Convergence of Weaknesses

Convergence of weaknesses in economic policy, institutional, and governance systems is responsible for destruction. Among others, these include:

  1. Management of ecosystem development programmes with limited or no participation of local community and without adequate capacity building of functionaries;
  2. Poor training and motivation of forest department functionaries, antiquated rules of working, arbitrary use of power, misuse of official position by senior offcers and harassment of lower level functionaries;
  3. Poor implementation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 as amended in 1991 and lax administration of Park Areas Act. For example, the Parbati Hydroelectric project (2200Mw) is partially located within the Great Himalayan National Park. The environment clearance for the mega-project was given by the same ministry that had created the Park; and
  4. Manipulation of forest data preventing effective and timely action.

It may be noted that some of the most destructive projects are energy and tourism related. For instance, given the potential of the Himalayas, strong regulatory regime with community participation is required because local communities are trustees of natural resources.

Undervaluation of Biodiversity

Undervaluation of biodiversity, that is, poor knowledge of the magnitude, patterns, causes, and rates of deforestation and biodiversity loss also impedes conservation. Poaching and trade in wildlife species are among the most important concerns in the management of protected areas today but information on poaching, trade volume and trade routes is sketchy. Enforcement measures are inadequate, ineffcient and prone to corruption. Societal concerns are tenuous and responses diffdent.

Protected Area Network

Protected area network includes national parks and sanctuaries, which covers a mere 6.24 per cent of the South Asian land area. Fragile ecosystems such as wetlands, mangroves and grasslands lie outside such protected areas. The protected areas themselves are susceptible to denotification and further reduction due to extraneous pressures from powerful industrial, commercial and political interests.


The definition of a protected area, as adopted by IUCN, is: An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means. Although all protected areas meet the general purposes contained in this definition, in practice the precise purposes for which protected areas are managed differ greatly.


Thus, major direct threats to biodiversity arise from the following:

  1. Habitat destruction
  2. Extension of agriculture and introduction of GE crops
  3. Conversion of rich biodiversity site for energy, mining and tourism projects including filling up of wetlands
  4. Destruction of coastal areas for industrial and tourism development, and
  5. Uncontrolled expropriation of lands for human habitation and industries

Major problems with biodiversity conservation are as listed below:

  1. Low priority for conservation of living natural resources
  2. Exploitation of living natural resources for monetary gain
  3. Inadequate knowledge of value of species and ecosystem
  4. Unplanned urbanization and uncontrolled industrialization

Biodiversity of South Asia

The biodiversity of South Asia can be discussed as follows:

  1. India has been ranked among the world’s 12 mega-diverse countries. Sri Lanka is also among the most biologically diverse countries in the world.
  2. Fourteen per cent of the world’s remaining mangrove habitation is in South Asia, in addition to the highest percentage of threatened wetlands, 82 of which are in Bangladesh. Sundarbans delta is among the world’s most significant mangrove forests being eroded because of pressure from human settlements and shrimp farming.
  3. Himalayas are an important ecosystem. For example, the Hindukush Himalayan region is home to some 25,000 major plant species, comprising 10 per cent of the world’s flora.
  4. The highest percentage of threatened plants is reported in Sri Lanka.
  5. The highest percentage of threatened birds is found in Bangladesh.
  6. The highest percentage of threatened mammals is reported in India.

Threatened Biodiversity in South Asia

Threatened Biodiversity in South Asia   A total of 38 different species are threatened in Afghanistan. These include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes and plants. India has this figure at 569, whereas in Sri Lanka this figure stands at 459. Pakistan has a total of 86 threatened species while Maldives has 15.7

Threatened Species of Animals in Different Countries   In India, a total of 42 different varieties of animals are critically endangered, 92 varieties are endangered and 188 varieties are vulnerable. For Sri Lanka, these figures are 59, 74 and 46 respectively. In Bangladesh, 11 varieties are critically endangered, 31 varieties are endangered and 57 varieties are vulnerable.8

Threatened Species of Plants in Different Countries   In Sri Lanka, 78 species of plants are critically endangered, 73 species endangered and 129 species of plants are vulnerable. Similarly, in India 45 species of plants are critically endangered, 113 species of plants are endangered and 89 species of plants are vulnerable.9

Extinct or Threatened Animal Classes and Order   In South Asia, a total of 736 varieties of all animal classes and order are either extinct or extinct in the wild, and a total of 7,723 varieties are critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.10

Extinct or Threatened Plant Classes and Order   In South Asia, a total of 112 varieties of all plant classes and order are either extinct or extinct in the wild, and a total of 8,390 varieties are critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.11

Changes in Numbers of Species in the Threatened Categories (1996–2006)   In the case of mammals, the total number of critically endangered species has changed from 169 species in 1996/98 to 162 species in 2006. This figure in the endangered category has changed from 315 species in 1996/98 to 348 species in 2006. In the vulnerable category, there has been a change from 612 different species in 1996/98 to 583 species in 2006. With regards to plants, 909 species were critically endangered in 1996/98 as against 1,541 in 2006; 1,197 were endangered in 1996/98 as against 2,258 in 2006 and 3,222 different species in 1996/98 were vulnerable as against 4,591 species in 2006.12

Indirect Pressure

Climate Change Due to Atmospheric Pollution

Climate change is occurring because of both global warming and global dimming. CO2 emission from extensive use of burning fossil and biomass fuels responsible for trapping sunlight causes warming. The spewed SPMs and jet trails of flying aircrafts act as giant mirrors, reflecting sunlight back into space and causing global dimming. Together they constitute a double-whammy. Scientists (Dr Gerald Stanhill, UK; Dr Beate Liepert, Germany, and others) have estimated that during 1950 to 1990, total amount of sunlight reaching land dropped by 9 per cent in Antarctic, 10 per cent in the USA, 30 per cent in Russia and 16 per cent in the British Isles. Overall, there has been 22 per cent reduction in sunlight reaching the earth, causing global dimming. Professor Veerbhadran Ramnathan of the University of California brought out the serious issue of discovery of nearly three kilometres of hick haze over India. He says all human activities produce visible pollution and these pollutants turn clouds into giant mirrors that reflect sunlight back into space, seriously affecting weather patterns. Scientists have demonstrated that changes in rainfall patterns due to dimming resulted in long years of drought in Africa. The haze emanating from Europe caused successive crop failure and led to the deaths of over a million people in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s. Human activities causing warming and dimming can turn fertile plains into deserts in two to three decades. Therefore, because dimming slows the warming process, while mitigation of warming is essential it is equally critical to reduce emissions that cause dimming. Threats to biodiversity loss are shown in Figure 3.1. It should be noted that the impact of global dimming is not explained by Figure 3.1.


Figure 3.1 Major Components of Biodiversity Involved in the Linkages and ∗∗Major Services Impacted by Biodiversity Losses

Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment


Cultural Factors

Faith can cause immense damage to ecosystems. Nearly all centres of pilgrimage in the Himalayas are now subject to severe pressure that is destroying local ecosystem. Gangotri is nearly denuded of bhoj trees because pilgrims carry a bhoj pole as memento. Similarly, the trade in 300 marine ornamental fish in Sri Lanka, because people demand unique species for their aquarium world-wide, has threatened the marine biodiversity.

Lack of Community Involvement

Governments tend to avoid involving local communities in decisions that impact ecosystems management. This is a function of unwillingness to share power and a culture of authoritarianism within mandated agencies. There is also a false belief that offcials armed with university degrees are better qualified than people with centuries of inherited native wisdom in formulating rules for conservation. This hiatus creates disrespect and suspicion instead of mutual trust.


State of the Forests

Annual Percentage Change in Forest Area (Trend)   Forests are about trees. Trees support life forms and give us oxygen. Trees are also the only living beings that cannot walk, fly or swim to obtain food. Therefore, nature created the most predatory living organ: the root system. If we join the root hairs created in one day, it would be 16 miles long because roots get nutrition from soil. The living world and the minerals in the soil provide that nutrition.

Biodiversity-rich Areas (Trend)

Apart from the numerous biosphere reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, three biodiversity hotspots have been identified in South Asia. Hotspots are areas that are extremely rich in species diversity, have high endemism and are under threat. These areas are particularly rich not only in flowering plants but also in reptiles, amphibians and some mammals. In addition, for conservation of wetlands, which provide refuge to a large number of migratory birds and local species, a list of wetlands of international importance have been identified and protected under the Ramsar Convention.

For conservation of marine biodiversity, marine protected areas have been identified, which are biodiversity rich and serve as breeding grounds for marine animals and essentially are critical for the well-being of marine ecosystems.

The three biodiversity hotspots in South Asia are as follows:

  1. The Western Ghats of south-western India and the highlands of southwestern Sri Lanka
  2. The Indo-Burma hotspot13
  3. The Himalayan hotspot14

Marine Protected Areas

The South Asian region was ranked the lowest in the world in terms of declared Marine and Coastal Protected Areas (MCPAs) in the 2003 United Nations List of Protected Areas, making the Indian Ocean with its wealth of coral reefs, sea grasses, and mangrove forest, perhaps the most poorly protected coastline/ocean. As a result, the degradation of coastal and marine resources continues at an unprecedented rate, and despite current protection measures, one-third to half of the coral reefs of South Asia are now effectively dead, and a further 30 per cent threatened.

Protected Areas

Protected areas encompass an area of roughly 211,000 km2 in South Asia. The percentage of protected area coverage varies greatly among countries with, for example, Bhutan having designated over 20 per cent of its territory as protected, and Pakistan and India approximately 4 per cent each.

Decline in Forest Cover

According to a United Nations Report,

The lowest per capita forest cover is found in the South Asian sub-region where it is around 0.08 hectares per person, which is also substantially lower than the regional figure of 0.21 hectares per capita. It was estimated in 1989 that, at the current levels of consumption of forest produce and of forest productivity, every Indian citizen would require at least 0.47 hectares of forest to meet their basic needs.15

The sub-region has apparently been successful in lowering the rate of deforestation in the past decade even though it suffers from pressures like scarcity of forest land, poverty and high population levels. The major concern is humaninduced degradation of forests and other natural resources that ultimately threatens the sustainability of life, livelihoods and long-term development. The countries of the sub-region are working hard to lower population growth and to achieve higher rates of economic growth to provide additional employment and income.

Threatened Species

The total number of threatened birds and mammal species has increased over the years in all regions of South Asia, despite an increase in protected areas. This could be attributed to increase in illegal trade of animals, illegal hunting, degradation and fragmentation of habitat resulting from increasing urbanization, and consumerism pressures due to rapidly increasing population. Although the population growth rate has declined, population still shows an upward trend, which may be due to increase in longevity because of better health care facilities.

However, number of threatened plant species has decreased, which can be attributed to increase in protected areas and forest cover.

Another factor contributing to decline of biodiversity, particularly the marine diversity of the region, is degradation of marine habitat owing to climate change, coral bleaching and over-exploitation of resources, as well as environmentally hazardous techniques of fishing contributing to degradation of the entire ecosystem.


The term biopiracy can be used to suggest a breach of a contractual agreement on the access and use of traditional knowledge to the detriment of the provider and bio-prospecting without the consent of the local communities. The number of cases of biopiracy affecting South Asia is growing steadily. For instance, India’s basmati rice (Oryza Sativa) (US patent numbers 563484 and 4522838), turmeric (Curcuma Longa) (US patent numbers 5401504, 5135796 and 5047100) and Neem (Azadirachta Indica) (several US patents including numbers 5420318, 5391779 and 5371254) have the US as the bio-prospector. Similarly, Pakistan’s basmati rice (Oryza Sativa) also has the US as the bio-prospector (US patent numbers 6274183 and 5663484). Sri Lanka’s Kothala himbutu have both the US and Japan as the bio-prospectors.

Biopiracy takes everything and returns nothing or very little. The only ‘value’ added to native knowledge is a mere confirmation by Western scientists of the properties of the resource, often known to the community for years. Unlike the social system in which this knowledge evolves, in the commercial system, from the origin to the end product, each ‘value-adder’ seeks a profit-oriented monopoly. And more often than not it is the pharmaceutical or agri-chemical companies marketing the finished product that secure patents, irrespective of the fact that the product may have had its origin in traditional knowledge. So the ‘first-to-file’ gets legally protected rights rather than the ‘first-to-invent’; rights that ironically the former can use to prevent the original ‘inventor’ from exercising any control over the resource in question. So the issue of protection of traditional knowledge is also that of preventing unauthorized persons from obtaining protection to the detriment of the real innovators.


Loss of biodiversity would directly impact the ecosystem services upon which human survival is dependent, both directly as well as indirectly. Ecosystem services are the benefits obtained by people from ecosystems. These include the following:

  1. Provisioning services such as food, clean water, timber, fibre, and genetic resources;
  2. Regulating services such as the regulation of climate, floods, disease, water quality, and pollination;
  3. Cultural services such as recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits;
  4. Supporting services such as soil formation, and nutrient cycling (see Box 3.3).



International Level   South Asian countries (singly or collectively) are parties to many treaties and conventions such as Cancun (India), Convention on Biodiversity, etc.

Nature Conservation Sites in South Asia   The following regions were declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites (2007): The Sunderbans in Bangladesh (1997); Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India (1985); Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India (1985); Manas Wildlife sanctuary, Assam, India (1985); Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttaranchal, India (1988, 2005); Sunderbans National Park, West Bengal, India (1987); The Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal (1979) Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal (1984); and Sri Lanka Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka (1988).

Ramsar Sites   The scope of Ramsar Convention, originally meant to protect waterbird habitats, has broadened to include the protection of all wetland biodiversity and the ‘wise use’ of all wetlands, which include both coastal and forest wetlands. Under the convention the number of sites was as follows: India (25 sites, 677,131 ha), Nepal (4 sites, 23,488 ha), Pakistan (19 sites, 1,343,627 ha) and Sri Lanka (3 sites, 8,522 ha).16

South Asian Regional Protected Areas   In recent years, nations concerned with environmental security are paying greater attention to trans-boundary conservation. Trans-boundary protected area is important because of many areas of high biodiversity located along the international borders where illegal harvest is also acute. In the Himalayan region, efforts have recently been initiated for the conservation of unique biodiversity. Trans-boundary parks and reserves are home to large number of people who share a common cultural heritage. However, due to remote mountainous landscape and high-altitude environments, these people are some of the poorest in the world. Reconciling the needs of local communities with conserving ecosystems is a major challenge. However, strategic interests often override such concerns. A major example of failure is the militarization of the sensitive Siachen glacier, construction of large energy projects on Satluj river (Indo-Chinese border) and international rivers like Ravi and Chenab (affecting flows to Pakistan). The size of protected areas in Sri Lanka has increased from 14,905 km2 in the year 1990 to 16, 546 km2 in 2005. India saw a rise from 168, 828 km2 in 1990 to 188,629 km2 in 2005. Similarly, in Pakistan this figure was 74, 268 km2 in 1990 and 75, 331 km2 in 2005 (see Table 3.1).


Table 3.1 Protected Areas

Notes: Total area in percentage
          ∗∗ Total area in km2

Source: Millennium Development Goals Indicators 2007; Mdgs.Un.Org/Unsd/Mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2007/Unsd_Mdg_Report_2007e.Pdf (last accessed o 23 December 2009)


National Level   The general perception of the people is that forest departments specifically and other government departments in general are insensitive towards conservation, and that their main focus of interest is to control lands, forests and wildlife to the exclusion of the people. To some extent, these perceptions are confirmed by inability of administrative functionaries to address their concerns, create viable linkages at community level and open canvassing for private sector projects. Hence, offcial plans, programmes and projects are often viewed as attempts to control resources by devious means. This a major cause why people refuse to proactively participate in conservation measures.

Most countries have come up with National Biodiversity Action Plans (NBAPs) identifying threats to biodiversity and the required conservation measures. Bangladesh is preparing an action plan that is expected to help assess biodiversity and formulate plan for sustainable development based on biodiversity resources. Maldives is also working on preparing and implementing a national biodiversity strategy and action plan. Nepal is in the process of preparing a National Biodiversity Action Plan under the GEF-funded Biodiversity Conservation Project. India’s biosphere programme is operational at 12 sites. Such plans seek to identify sites of high biodiversity significance for conservation, tourism and sustainable development opportunities. They provide a basis for coordinated efforts by all stakeholders related to forestry, wildlife, agriculture and tourism sectors, as well as communities.

A programme of ‘eco-development’ for in situ conservation of biological diversity involving local communities has been initiated in India. The concept integrates the ecological and economic parameters for sustained conservation of ecosystems by involving the local communities with the maintenance of earmarked regions surrounding protected areas. The economic needs of the local communities are factored in this programme through provision of alternative sources of income and a steady availability of forest and related produce. Again, as remarked earlier, addressing needs and effective participation of local communities is yet to be seen.

Stakeholder Involvement   The case of India in respect of Biodiversity Act (see Box 3.9) clearly shows that government is not concerned about stakeholder involvement although this term is repeated in nearly every policy document. Local communities are being progressively barred from accessing these resources, and at the same time these acts are imposing all sorts of responsibility without any clarity on regular funding for fulfilling imposed responsibilities.

Institution Building and Strengthening   Major organizational restructuring has not been attempted in any South Asian country. It is resisted because restructuring invariably redistributes political power within the organization as well as the society. That is being resisted. Consequently, the issues raised in the State are seldom responded to effectively.

Response to Biopiracy   Although governments are realizing the commercial value of genetic resources, they tend to expend more control over them. Where resources are under the control of the government, access to these resources are restricted. The Kani tribe in India till now has trouble accessing a plant (Trichopus zeylanicus), used in the preparation of the herbal medicine ‘Jeevani’, which is grown under the shade of the natural forest canopy. Although the government does not contribute in the collection of this herb, some state forest department guards on the field have been reported instead to demand (from those attempting to collect the plant) a ‘share’ of the supposed license fee and royalties.

They are aware that the local tribes are entitled to the plants. Legally, the people of the local tribes cannot access the plant and sell it to the institute that developed the drug, since collection for commercial purposes is not allowed. The forest department justifies the restrictions on collection on grounds of conservation of an endemic species, which may run the risk of over-exploitation.


The Government of India passed the said Act with the purpose of documenting, use, and research and conservation purpose. Under the Act, a national authority (Biodiversity Management Board or BMB) has been created with states having their own boards. At villagelevel there is provision for Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) which will operate under village panchayats. But the Act effectively dis-empowers local communities. The BMC have been given some role to prepare biodiversity register but the BMB has the exclusive right to disclose the knowledge and to grant permission to anyone for exploiting the resource. In case BMC has any objection to the ruling of BMB, it will have to file an appeal in a high court, which is well nigh impossible for a small village council. Rule 14.4 of the said Act says, ‘…on being satisfied with (merit of the request), the Authority may grant approval for access to biological resources and associated knowledge subject to terms and conditions as it may deem fit to impose.’ And further, ‘…five percent of the assessed benefit shall be earmarked for the Authority or board as the case may be towards administrative charges and service charges.’ Effectively, there is no provision for benefit sharing but all powers of access are concentrated in the hand of the board or the Authority.

Taxus baccata is a medicinal plant that almost became extinct in Himachal Pradesh because it contains anti-cancer ingredients, was saved due to community action. Similarly, Barbaris asiatica is now a protected species because of mass protest against over-exploitation.

It is this sort of legal manipulations that is hurting biodiversity conservation in India. When people resist the exploitative acts of the state, they are harassed. Most importantly, these acts are seldom properly read and analysed by MPs. These are sometimes made into law under existing administrative mandate without ratification by Parliament.

Source: MoEF, Government of India, 2002


The importance of the conservation of wild plant resources is offcially recognized by most countries within the region. Bhutan is not a party to any international convention concerned with protecting natural areas; neither does it participate in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme. But at the national level, Bhutan has maintained a strict conservation policy and places great emphasis on maintaining at least 60 per cent of its land area under closed forests in order to sustain climatic equilibrium and to prevent soil erosion. Within the region, Bhutan has the distinction of being the only country with 70 per cent forest cover and nearly 22 per cent of its land under protection.

Future Responses

Future responses need to be built around the following:

Community Stake in Forest Management

Unless the rural poor who are dependent on ecosystem services are made a powerful stakeholder, conservation measure cannot succeed. This implies (a) sensitization of functionaries in administrative departments to respond to genuine needs and concerns of forest-dependent communities, (b) a system of quantifiable effciency measurement that includes accountability of senior functionaries to the people, (c) shared responsibility for ecosystem restoration and conservation and (d) transparency in all public dealings.

It is absolutely crucial that we reappraise our legal system and create a class of Saxon rights for the communities. Under Angle jurisprudence, individual and corporate rights have primacy over community rights. That must change. Even rights of the state should be subservient to community rights. That will ensure ownership and stake in conserving biodiversity.

Classification of Forests in Pakistan

Biodiversity in Pakistan   Pakistan is rich in terms of biodiversity. Out of a total of about 75, 000 species of plants in the world, it is home to about 6,000 different species. There are also about 666 different types of birds and 525 different species of fishes in Pakistan.17

Forest Area by Legal Classification and Province   In the case of state forest, in the Sindh province of Pakistan there is a total of about 292, 000 ha of reserved forest, 726, 000 ha of protected forest and about 25, 000 ha of un-classed forests. In the Punjab province, there is 337, 000 ha of reserved forests, 2, 747 ha of protected forest and 115, 000 ha of un-classed forest. In the case of private forests, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has about 550, 000 ha of guzara forests and about 159, 000 ha of private plantations.18

Forest Land Under Government Jurisdiction by Province   About 131,000 ha of coniferous forest is under government jurisdiction in the Balochistan province, and about 1,105,000 ha in the NWFP. Similarly, about 340,000 ha of scrub forest is under government jurisdiction in the Punjab province and about 115,000 ha in the NWFP.19

Forestry Sector Master Plan (Fsmp) Estimates of Forest Area   The NWFP has as much as 75,000 ha of dense, and 865,000 ha of sparse, coniferous forests. Correspondingly, the Sindh province has 85,000 ha of dense and 27,000 ha of sparse riverine forests. The Balochistan province also has 23,000 ha of farmland trees while the Northern Areas (NA) have 6,000 ha farmland trees.20


The rich biodiversity of South Asia is under pressure from ecosystem destruction as a direct consequence of population growth, industrialization and urbanization. Adding to the pressure is the almost certain biological pollution of flora and fauna from genetically engineered food crops.