International Day for Biological Diversity – 22 May


The Importance of Island Biodiversity for Community Health

10 Key Messages on Linking Nature, Knowledge & Practices of Small Island Developing States

“Islands and their surrounding near-shore marine areas constitute unique ecosystems often comprising many plant and animal species that are endemic—found nowhere else on Earth. The legacy of a unique evolutionary history these ecosystems are irreplaceable treasures. They are also key to the livelihood, economy, well-being and cultural identity of 600 million islanders—one-tenth of the world’s population. The theme Island Biodiversity was chosen to coincide with the designation by the United Nations General Assembly of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States. In addition, the theme was chosen to correspond with the timing of COP decision XI/15 paragraph 1(a) “to strengthen the implementation of the Programme of Work on Island Biodiversity”.”(Source:

On the occasion of the International Day of Biodiversity we would like to draw focus on a the importance of healthy island ecosystems and biodiversity as sources of various goods and services that nurture life on Earth and enhance human well-being.

ImageSustainable human development depends on healthy people who can contribute to economic, social and environmental well-being. Health and nutritional securities of people at diverse socio-cultural levels is important to conserve ecosystems. At the same time, ecosystems and biodiversity contribute immensely to local health and nutritional securities. This link needs to be better articulated, applied and used. Contributions made by biological resources to rural and urban health care and the opportunities research into integrated medical and health care systems demonstrate that protecting these resources and ecosystems where they occur is critical for not only sustaining traditional medical practices but also for advancing modern medicine. The relevance of focusing on nature based approaches to securing health is more important for Island States whose unique diversity and traditional medical practices be seen as insurance against changing climate and decreasing biodiversity.

Case study –The role of island agricultural biodiversity for community health and well-being at large

Over the last four decades, Bioversity International – a partner of the Biodiversity and Community Health (BaCH) Initiative – has been emphasising the need to revise the role agricultural biodiversity can play in improving dietary diversity and health outcomes in a world where 868 million people are undernourished, 195 million children under the age of five are stunted and over 1 billion people are overweight and obese.

Currently, Bioversity International jointly with support from the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is coordinating the Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project a multi-partner initiative led by Brazil, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). One case study in Diversifying Food and Diets” – a book published as part of the Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project – highlights the severe negative impacts on health, food security agricultural biodiversity loss and well-being at large caused by neglecting traditional food systems throughout the Pacific Islands. The case study shows how the Island Food Community of Pohnpei (IFCP), a NGO that was formed to coordinate activities, successfully mobilises agricultural biodiversity. It sheds light upon how food system-based approaches that use local agricultural biodiversity can effectively address diet-related health problems. Read more about the innovative approach here.

On the International Day for Biological Diversity, the Biodiversity and Community Health (BaCH) Initiative would like to put forward the following 10 key messages :


(1)  Use medicinal resources in a sustainable manner

Sustainable use of medicinal resources provide multiple benefits, to biodiversity, livelihoods and human health, latter, in particular, relating to their affordability, accessibility and cultural acceptability. There is a need for joint action to promote assessment of use, trade and threat status of medicinal resources and to establish participatory community-based models of conservation both in-situ and ex-situ.


(2)  Mobilise complementary knowledge resources

Traditional health approaches have been tested over time empirically albeit without adequate documentation. Thus, a major challenge that needs to be addressed is to document such experiences and thereby foster a participatory learning process to identify and supplement current practices in a culturally sensitive way.

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(3)  Valorise human resources

Traditional medical knowledge holders or traditional health practitioners are widely dispersed ranging from highly institutionalized practitioners to those who practice occasionally. To valorise existing human resources and good health practices it is required to promote self-regulatory associations for health practitioners and accreditation systems but also link them to biomedical professionals and referral systems and ensure intergenerational knowledge transfer.


(4)  Promote dietary diversity, nutrition and health

The evidence base for the contribution of biodiversity to enhanced dietary diversity, nutrition and health needs to be strengthened, including assessments of the nutritional value of biodiversity in select ecosystems and agricultural landscapes. There is also the need to develop appropriate information management tools on local foods and their nutritional properties for use by decision-makers, researchers, development practitioners, community development and health workers.


(5)  Improve equity and livelihoods

Traditional knowledge and resources from an ecosystem are often parts of supply chains of products (e.g., medicinal products, raw materials) and services (e.g., health care, nutrition). When income is generated and distributed equitably from such activities, it can provide an incentive to conserve such knowledge and resources, while also resulting in better health and nutrition outcomes. Hence, it is required to promote community-based enterprises that utilize traditional medicinal resources and products and streamline relevant policies related to access to resources and equitable sharing of benefits arising from its utilization (ABS).

(6)  Foster interculturality, integration and institutionalization

Traditional knowledge has been characterized as non-dualistic, dynamic, informal, secret and sacred, spiritual, time related and non-linear in nature. If actors external to traditional knowledge systems want to validate such knowledge it is required to develop and promote better academic methodologies for research on, and integration of, traditional knowledge systems alongside methodologies for intra- and intercultural dialogue.


(7)  Promote transformative and reflexive learning

Since most of the traditional environmental and medical knowledge among communities is oral in nature, culturally and locally relevant educational practices need to be enabled through processes such as social learning and transformative or reflexive learning. Besides, there is need for developing of transdisciplinary methodologies to studying nuances of traditional knowledge, in addition to generation of evidence, development of skill assessment methods and mechanisms for collaboration and peer review.

8) Engender rights-based approaches for community knowledge

Traditional knowledge exists in diverse categories e.g. oral knowledge, which is held by individuals or closed groups or even shared in parallel by communities in similar ecological systems. The importance of traditional knowledge can also be outside the community currently holding it. Hence, it is essential to promote community knowledge registers or Bio-cultural Protocols to ensure social equity, and where agreeable to traditional knowledge holders, link that knowledge with national databases for protection.

(9)  Recognise socio-cultural landscapes

Survival and vitality of knowledge and resources depend on the socio-cultural contexts such as culturally important landscapes. These landscapes contribute immensely to health and well-being, therefore necessitating a close inquiry into the functional interlinkages of biological diversity and cultural diversity within such systems, and maintenance of their dynamism.


(10) Build partnerships and networks

Strong networks are needed between local civil society organizations, communities, educational institutions and other relevant stakeholders including scientific establishments utilizing ecosystems and resources. Supporting such linkages is vital to sustain any initiative on the ground. These also help to assure basic safety and quality standards of products and services.


Linking Biodiversity and Community Health through a Global Multi-Stakeholder Initiative

The Biodiversity and Community Health (BaCH) Initiative is a partnership among different leading governmental and non-governmental organisations working on related dimensions of the biodiversity-health nexus to impact poverty reduction and related issues of sustainability. It was launched as a global multi-stakeholder initiative in 2012 during the COP-11 of the CBD in Hyderabad, India. Our vision is to develop and mainstream community health approaches synergising bio-resources and traditional knowledge. Building on experiences made and lessons learned by our partners working on issues around biodiversity and community health worldwide, the we are addressing following six core issues:

  1. Linking conservation and community health
  2. Integrating traditional medicinal practices into mainstream health systems
  3. Promoting sustainable enterprise development and livelihoods
  4. Developing capacities for self-reliant health care 
  5. Promoting knowledge integration and protection
  6. Biodiversity for Food, Nutrition and Health

Support us

We consider partnerships with bi- and multilateral donors and development agencies as well as NGOs, foundations, universities and research institutes worldwide. Such partnerships are established with a view to ensuring complementarities and synergies in biodiversity and community health capacity development as well as to promote donor harmonisation and aid effectiveness in the long term. Read more about our work here and in the announcement of the CBD Secretariat (SCBD) in the meeting documents for the Eighteenth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-18) in Montreal in June 2014.

For further questions contact our team using the contact sheet here: