Some perspectives on international collaboration from the Global South

GBIC2 Attendee, 13 March 2019

An alliance for biodiversity knowledge needs to be broad-based and inclusive involving all geographical areas and all communities. The Global South is rich in biodiversity and relatively poorly represented in global databases. These areas also have large and dense human populations where development aspirations are altering ecosystems at an alarming pace.

While globally only 1.7 million species have been described, the latest estimates of the number of species on earth stand at more than 1 to 6 billion species. Most of these undescribed species will be from the microscopic world, the oceans and tropical world or the Global South.

Documenting biodiversity and making the data available to scientific, policy and citizen communities will be instrumental in enhancing the prospects for biodiversity conservation in these areas. The challenge of imbalances in biodiversity information and knowledge was identified as a key focus at the 2nd Global Biodiversity Informatics Conference (GBIC2) in July 2018.

Challenges to biodiversity informatics knowledge platform in the Global South

Many of the regions of the Global South are poor, underdeveloped and more culturally diverse. These societies and cultures interact with their natural environment for livelihoods and sustainability in often complex ways.

Integrating the knowledge, understanding and the biodiversity information needs of such societies and securing their participation will be valuable and important for building a truly open alliance for biodiversity knowledge. These perspectives may be very different from the information needs of scientists, researchers and others in the global community, as was articulated at GBIC2.

While there are rich benefits to be gained from incorporating traditional knowledge of diverse communities regarding their natural environment and its biodiversity, and from using their information needs as drivers for planning and implementation, there are significant challenges to be addressed.

In particular, these communities need to be empowered with the exposure, skills and capacity required to systematically document biodiversity; to participate in modern informatics solutions for such work; and to be partners in open sharing of biodiversity knowledge and information.

Finally, the Global South also encompasses areas where the policy priorities relate to accelerating the engine of economic growth to meet the aspirations of a growing population. These policies transform landscapes and irreversibly impact biodiversity conservation, as well as the resilience and long-term sustainability of such societies.

Documentation and building knowledge of biodiversity must been conceived as synergistic with the aspirations of local communities and integrated with the policies of local, regional and national governments.

Perspectives on an inclusive collaborative biodiversity knowledge platform from the Global South

A collaborative and participative biodiversity knowledge platform must democratize knowledge and empower local and regional communities to manage their data, information and knowledge to the benefit of local societies and communities. This would require a bottom-up approach, with emphasis on awareness and capacity building in biodiversity informatics.

Local capacity should be built across three broad areas:

  1. The scientific community, local experts and taxonomists who will focus on biodiversity informatics and help aggregate, organise and validate information
  2. The civil society, educational institutions, government ministries and institutions involved with implementation of conservation projects should be involved in generating and using biodiversity information
  3. The technological capacity to build and maintain tools required for biodiversity informatics and to participate in global open source biodiversity informatics projects

It is important to exchange ideas and discuss methods to document biodiversity and build global knowledge. A new peer-to-peer alliance for biodiversity knowledge will benefit both from truly global participation in national and international conferences and from presentation of projects, programs and views from the Global South. The biodiversity_next conference in October 2019, for example, will include a symposium focused on perspectives from the Global South.

Adequate support is needed from the global community as well as local governments to foster an environment conducive to documenting, building and sharing knowledge as a part of the global alliance. Initiatives like the grants of the JRS Biodiversity Foundation and GBIF’s capacity enhancement support programmes specifically emphasise capacity building as an essential component of all biodiversity informatics projects. This aligns with the vision for a new alliance for biodiversity knowledge articulated at GBIC2.

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