INBio: the next leap forward - Rodrigo Gámez-Lobo-
Since I received the MIDORI Prize 2012, Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio) has equally received other recognitions, and the institution is receiving more attention, nationally and internationally. It is common that local people don´t see or appreciate the significance of the accomplishments of local entities because that is what they see everyday and also because they don´t have points of comparison. Biodiversity is much broadly understood and appreciated in the country, and that what we pretended with our institutional mission.
After 25 years since its establishment, INBio is entering a new and second period. Many things have changed politically, financially and environmentally speaking. International financial collaboration, of which INBio depended, has been drastically reduced. From the financial perspective INBio is no longer in a position to support its huge biological collections which are now being transferred to the National Museum. Its theme park, INBiopark, is being assumed by the Ministry of the Environment to maintain its recreational and educational activities. Based on its expertise and towards the future, INBio will strategically center its activities on knowledge and information management, to confront the new challenges presented by global and particularly climate change.
The challenges confronted by biodiversity now make it necessary to focus on conservation of ecosystem services, that is, the basic services provided by biodiversity, basic to our survival. Experts from all over the world are emphasizing the need of this approach. As an example, we need to change the form we do agriculture, because we must turn agriculture into the main driver of land use and global change. To do agriculture is not optional, we need to produce food, but we need to do it in a more environmentally friendly way. Biodiversity conservation and agriculture need to be integrated in an intelligent way. Most likely agriculture will have to be diversified in order to reduce its vulnerability in the face of climate change. We need to make agriculture more resilient, mimicking natural resilient ecosystems. New approaches in the way we produce food will thus be necessary, like diversifying food production, or using multiple cropping systems, among others.
Water is a basic, central element in the necessary new approach of adaptation to climate change, something that people understand very well. It is a fundamental ecosystem service. Consequently we will need to manage biodiversity in the field with a territorial perspective, making sure that aquifers and watersheds are in a position to guarantee water availability for human consumption, food production or power generation; that agricultural practices take into account water as a limited resource and introduce practices adequate to the purpose. In the tropics we will need to restore degraded and less productive lands as part of the measures to assure water availability. In that part of the world we are moving to extremes of draught and flooding. Central America is unfortunately a hot spot for climate change and these extremes in precipitation are already occurring. Adequate management of ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems is fundamental now. And an institution like INBio is in a good position to provide information and assist Government and the agricultural sector in the efforts to adapt to climate change through intelligent management of biodiversity.
For all of these efforts of understanding global and climate change and the need of adaptation, the topic of education is central and of singular and increasing importance. We need to make our society more bio-literate and consequently there is a need to expand our educational activities.
As part of the new topics of adaptation to climate change, we need to find new and intelligent ways to use biodiversity in the wide sense of the word: plants adapted to low water availability, new ways to control pests and diseases, new and more nutritional species, etc.
One of the big challenges related to global change is the integration of agriculture and conservation. As we said, agriculture needs to become more environmentally friendly and wild biodiversity conservation somehow has to be integrated into the agricultural landscape. In Costa Rica many of our protected areas are too small to survive climate change, and how to preserve the species they protect will have to address the integration of conservation practices with the agricultural surroundings, through biological corridors or other measures of similar nature. That is why we need to start thinking differently, seeing land use and territorial management from a different perspective, from the country level to the regional level and the farm level. INBio again could be a facilitator of these processes, generating the information necessary to make the required decisions.
Among the changes brought by the new trends in international cooperation, derived from the global economic crisis, the institution was no longer in a position to continue with the operation of its biodiversity theme park, called INBiopark. This park has played a most important role in biodiversity education and recreation. Nearly 1.500.000 people, the equivalent of a quarter of the population of the country, have visited the park. One of the reasons for its success is that it brings people in contact with nature in a friendly way; nature is interpreted to the visitor who begins to see things in nature he or she had not seen before. The Costa Rican Government already acquired the property and the Ministry of the Environment will reformulate its educational programs and operation. INBio has acquired a most valuable experience with INBiopark, particularly from the educational point of view, as a tool to promote “bioliteracy” a topic we dealt with in a previous occasion. The park received visitation of people and schools from all over the country. This was encouraging in a way but showed us the need to develop similar thematic parks, or encourage protected areas to develop initiatives using educational experiences such as ours, so that we would have “INBioparks” or biodiversity education programs all over the country. This would be one of the different ways in which INBio will continue to increase bioliteracy in our population. We are also advancing in the promotion of citizen science and the use of biodiversity information systems, as another way to bring people closer to nature.
It could possibly be one of the factors that have put the country in these positions. The diversity of life in the planet, and in tropical countries like ours, certainly is a most beautiful example of how it is possible for individuals of the most diverse characteristics to coexist, interact and thrive, in spite of their differences. It would be nice to be able to demonstrate that diversity of life in particular constitutes a clue to lead us to a sustainable and happy world.
*INBio where Dr. Rodrigo Gámez-Lobo serves as the President won the 2014 Blue Planet Prize, and Dr. Gámez-Lobo visited Tokyo for the award ceremony and the commemorative lectures in November 2014.
(Rodrigo Gámez-Lobo, President, Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio), The MIDORI Prize 2012 Winner)