Sustainable Use of Wild Species is Key to Achieve Sustainable Development - IPBES

In our increasingly developed, tech-focused and industrialized world, it may be a surprise to learn that billions of people globally still rely on wild species for their nutrition, health and well-being. Wild species provide half of the world’s seafood and a significant proportion of timber and energy, particularly in developing countries. They remain a major source of protein and provide fiber and medicines for many communities in both developing and developed countries. Use of wild species is particularly important to vulnerable people – both on a daily basis and in times of crisis. In a world that is striving to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, poor and vulnerable groups are also most likely to benefit from sustainable forms of use that can be used as pathways to development.


At the same time,  the 2019 Global Assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) identified over-exploitation of wild species as one of the main drivers of current biodiversity loss. It is thus essential to protect wild species from the types of use that drive extinction and decline. This conundrum should focus our attention on important questions related to the use of wild species: can we stop the use of wild species and how would this affect the species in question and the people who currently use them? Are there other ways to achieve improved outcomes for people and wild species and how can the sustainable use of wild species contribute to these outcomes? What can we learn from past successes and failures involving the use of wild species?


For many Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, the use of wild species is inextricably entwined in culture and identity. Even more broadly in society, the use of wild species provides non-material contributions, by enriching people’s physical and psychological experiences, including their religious and ceremonial lives. This means that the use of wild species fulfills many different human needs and that policies and decisions relating to such use will have consequences affecting health, food security, poverty alleviation and general well-being.


Human uses of wild species are not always and everywhere destructive and there are many examples where wild species have depended on human use for their survival. This is becoming more apparent as we recognize that landscapes have been managed by people over thousands of years, even in areas we sometime perceive as wilderness. A good example is the decline of camas bulbs (Camassia spp) in North America after the ending of indigenous uses. There are also noteworthy examples of successes in maintaining and restoring populations for long-term use, as well as instances where the use of wild species has prevented their habitats from being destroyed. For instance, women in Madagascar who depend for their household’s livelihood on collecting oysters and cockles, are also the most directly concerned with the preservation of the mangroves in which these resources are grown. For a long time, they conserved certain sites and developed customary rules that have maintained sustainable use of mangroves, such as the implementation of harvesting seasons and the delimitation of zones shared between lineages and neighborhoods and sacred places that are prohibited for use.


These examples highlight that human societies have grappled with the use of wild species for millennia and many customs and practices still ensure sustainable use of key resources. However, the world is changing and these changes to the environment, society and economy may require novel responses and approaches.


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