The ongoing covid-19 pandemic has restricted the field work for biologists and wildlife enthusiasts but their enthusiasm and energy was evident during the discussions in the first National Conference on Citizen Science for Biodiversity held earlier this month. The virtual conference was part of an ongoing series of webinars and discussion platforms the Biodiversity Collaborative has been organizing to create a preparatory ground for the upcoming National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Well-Being (NMBHW).
The Collaborative, a network of institutions and individuals promoting biodiversity science, conservation and sustainable development in India, will collate the outcome and learnings from these discussions and projects, which will help the mission to create the framework for promoting and engaging citizen science initiatives in the country.
To be rolled out by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, the mission has been pushed by a year. However, as part of the preparatory phase, the mission’s programs will be implemented in two pilot districts - west Sikkim and Raichur in Karnataka. In addition to this, an ongoing agriculture project in Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh has also been included in the preparatory phase since it aligns with the mission’s biodiversity and agriculture program.
"The planned field work has definitely been affected by the pandemic. We have managed to do only limited field work in west Sikkim and Mahasamund, and plan to initiate field work in Raichur. Until it becomes safe for travel and fieldwork, we will focus on working using online platforms and secondary data. We will start working with district officials, to share data and plan implementation of the projects when the mission launches," said Dr Ravi Chellam, director, secretariat of the National Mission on Biodiversity & Human Well-Being (Preparatory Phase Project) and CEO of Metastring Foundation.
To gain the interest and involvement of local communities, the NISARG Bharat project will also be introduced in these districts. Panchayat-level biodiversity management committees will create a "people's biodiversity register", which will document the flora, fauna and traditional knowledge of people about them. “We will be testing it in these two districts for now, before launching it full-fledged when the mission officially launches next year,” said Dr VB Mathur, chairperson of the National Biodiversity Authority, which will also be the nodal agency of the mission.
The Collaborative had big plans to test run the mission’s programs but it has had to adapt its strategy. Since mid-September, in collaboration with the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the government and the National Biodiversity Authority, the Collaborative has been conducting a series of webinars, which present NMBHW's various programs, where panelists discuss ideas, including implementation mechanisms. “We had to adapt and change our mode of functioning during the pandemic. We are conducting all our meetings and consultations with various stakeholders using online platforms to ensure that the preparatory work for the mission makes progress,” says Dr Chellam.
The decade-long mission is looking at an interdisciplinary and inclusive approach that is reflected in its seven programs - NISARG Bharat (National Initiative of sustained assessment of resource governance), biodiversity & ecosystem services, biodiversity & climate change and disaster risk, biodiversity & agriculture, onehealth & zoonosis, medicinal plants & health security, biodiversity & bio-economy, and biodiversity & capacity building and outreach. The idea is to bring attention and importance to biodiversity conservation in Indian science, policy and society. When the Mission begins, it will implement these programs in 117 aspirational districts (earlier termed as backward districts) identified by the Niti Aayog.
To encourage and support scientific projects, 64% of NMBHW’s proposed budget of ₹6,206.28 crore (for the first five years) will be reserved for research grants for scientists and students, Mathur added. “The mission wants to emphasise that we as humans are not isolated from nature. Development is good but we need to think of it through the frame of co-existence,” Dr Mathur explains.