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Biodiversity report faces the challenge of integrating regional data with global, and traditional knowledge with scientific

Detail of a forest fragment, north of the city of Manaus

Léo Ramos Detail of a forest fragment, north of the city of ManausLéo Ramos

The recently created Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is looking for ways to engage researchers and scientific institutions worldwide – including those from least-developed nations – in producing regional diagnoses to build the platform’s first global report on biodiversity. Officially launched in 2012 after almost 10 years of negotiations, the platform was designed to organize the available scientific knowledge on biodiversity and use it to support policy decisions – an approach similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “Latin America and the Caribbean are rich in biological and cultural diversity, so they can play an important role in defining the path to be followed by IPBES,” says Malaysian scientist Zakri Abdul Hamid, the platform’s first chair, in a regional meeting of IPBES hosted by FAPESP on July 11, 2013.

Data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) outlines the challenges that the platform will be tackling. About 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost over the past century. “One of the factors responsible for this loss was that farmers around the globe were cultivating genetically uniform and high-yield varieties of crops and abandoning many local varieties,” explains Hamid. “There are 30,000 species of plants, but only 30 crops account for 95% of the food energy consumed by human beings; the majority (60%) comes from rice, wheat, corn, millet and sorghum,” he says. Approximately 22% of the world’s bovine breeds are at risk of extinction, mainly because they do not live up to the economic expectations of livestock farmers. Many of these breeds carry important genetic material for breeding programs. They are also a means of subsistence in very poor regions, as they are easier to handle than exotic breeds.

The IPBES also wants to make sure that traditional knowledge does not go to waste. Anthropologist Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, professor at the University of Chicago and a participant of the event hosted by FAPESP, sees this as an innovative approach. “A scientific model can exist alongside a traditional one. It is possible to establish dialogues with people whose world views are completely different from ours.” According to BIOTA-FAPESP Program coordinator Carlos Joly, investing in training is also an innovative goal of the IPBES. According to Joly, who is also a director of the IPBES Multidisciplinary Expert Panel, it is essential for the platform to go beyond diagnostics. It should also train people and institutions to produce reliable information about biodiversity, identify the gaps in the existing knowledge, and work out how to handle problems. “These are the roles that set IPBES apart from IPCC,” he explained. Early this year, the IPBES posted a set of documents on its website (, in which it describes the platform’s targets and proposes a work program. The stated goals of the platform include investments in training human resources to handle biodiversity-related topics around the globe, particularly when it comes to interfacing between scientists and decision-makers in order to support the effective implementation of policies. A new round of discussions is scheduled to take place in December 2013, in Turkey.