A Savings Account For Biodiversity

At a time of endless arguments about trade deficits, recession and gross domestic product, it is certainly a pleasant relief to come across a ‘savings account for biodiversity’. I was probably not the only one wanting to find out more. The Italian Federation of Natural Parks and Reserves recently entered into an agreement with the Operations Center for the Protection and Recovery of the Environment (CODRA) to set up a rather special bank, the Bank of Italian Parks and Protected Areas. This is an organization dedicated to conserving the biodiversity heritage in Italian Parks and will develop within the CODRA Germplasm Bank at Pignola, in the province of Potenza, the largest bank of this type in Europe.

It is a commendable initiative. In examining the wealth of our parks it does not limit itself to defending them from the smog, neglect and assaults committed by humans, but is particularly concerned to understand, maintain and respect local ecosystems, which are composed of plant varieties created over millions of years of evolution. It is not just that every day around the world we are losing extraordinary plant and fruit varieties; in recent years native flora has begun to decrease at an alarming rate. There are 40,000 plant species at risk of extinction in the next 50 years, equal to a quarter of the biological diversity on our planet. And this is the great chunk of biodiversity which is not of commercial importance: as a consequence it is often forgotten and left to itself. Creating a bank to conserve these varieties is something of basic importance for more than one reason.

It is a unique opportunity to map, study and protect thousands of varieties in situ in the extensive area covered by our parks, and these varieties are not necessarily well known even to experts. The member associations contained in the Federation of Natural Parks manage almost three hundred parks and protected areas around Italy, with an area of over 2,500,000 hectares. During the coming months, each of these parks will open an “account” at the germplasm bank, helping to create a single, secure physical record of the biodiversity present in Italy. This will make it possible to meet present and future requirements for environmental recovery or reforestation without resorting to imports of non-native variants, which might be cheaper but damaging from an ecological perspective. So the agreement will enable the conservation of endangered seeds of various natural species to be extended – species such as Pinus leucodermis, typical of the Pollino National Park, or many ancient local fruit varieties found in our natural reserves to meet the ever growing public interest for quality production. There is another benefit: extending the CODRA Germplasm Bank to cover Italian parks will also create a thousand jobs for technical staff collecting data and samples for conservation and reproduction.

There is expected to be a boom in reforestation – according to CODRA it could create 40,000 jobs over the next twenty years. These are significant numbers and indicate a real opportunity for future generations to be directly involved in efforts to protect biodiversity. But it all depends on increased political awareness of these issues and on Italy being able to make proper investments in this area. Virtuous defense of the land certainly needs the active and conscious involvement of all the public but it can’t manage without courageous political decisions. Investing in the quality of the environment, promoting and defending native varieties as well as quality agriculture is a winning approach for the country with the richest biodiversity in Europe.

First printed in La Stampa on December 7 2003

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