Preserving biodiversity in Oman

Omanenvironment

The National Plant Agrobiodiversity Conservation Strategy is an ambitious stride towards understanding the value of agrobiodiversity and its importance in contributing to the overall development of ecosystem, environment and food security in Oman.

Oman has a fascinating wealth of agrobiodiversity, with a dazzling variety and variability of plants, animals and micro-organisms. They include over 1,200 plant species, out of which 485 are medicinal plants. Their effective maintenance and sustainable utilising are essential to conserve them for the posterity.

But, unfortunately 78 of those plant species are identified as endemic species while 11 of them are assessed as endangered or critically endangered. According to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, almost 55 per cent of Omani species are subject to threats from overgrazing, climate change, habitat fragmentation, poaching and urban crawling. The threat posed by climate change has yet to be fully quantified. Overgrazing has taken its toll on plant diversity and vegetation cover particularly in the southern mountains of Jebel Samhan, Jebel Qamar and Jebel Qara. It caused soil erosion and compaction which increased runoff and decreased the level of groundwater aquifer.

National Strategy

Oman adopted in 2001 the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), as a reference document in order to underpin commitments accepted with the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, as in many countries there is a gap between biodiversity and agrobiodiversity implementation. In addition, there are very few studies to investigate the actual economic value and potential use of agrobiodiversity. And therefore the ‘National Plant Agrobiodiversity Conservation Strategy for the Sultanate of Oman’ has been produced with the overall goal of developing a ‘road map’ for this.

The National Plant Agrobiodiversity Conservation Strategy is an ambitious stride towards understanding the value of agrobiodiversity and its importance in contributing to the overall development of ecosystem, environment and food security in Oman. The strategy seeks to improve the livelihood of the people by promoting policies and viable programmes for the conservation and the enhanced use of plant diversity.

Leading Omani and international scientists gathered recently for a two-day workshop to give final touches to the National Plant Agrobiodiversity Conservation Strategy. Organised by the Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Centre (OAPGRC), the workshop covered themes like Oman’s plant agro biodiversity, local plant species on IUCN’s red list, use of plant genetic resources, conservation strategies for crop landraces, crop wild relatives and medicinal plants; and the impact of climate change on plant genetic resources. In addition to OAPGRC, the two-day workshop was also attended by representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs; Ministry of Heritage and Culture; Sultan Qaboos University; Oman Botanic Garden; National Field Research Centre for Environment Conservation; and Royal Court Affairs.

Says Dr Nadiya Al Saady, executive director of Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Centre (OAPGRC):  “The rate at which we are losing agrobiodiversity is alarming.  Fortunately, Oman has been blessed with a rich abundance of biodiversity of which our plant agrobiodiversity is a significant and vital part. But conserving them is an imperative. Oman’s agricultural landscape is part of our natural capital and, as it underpins our food chain, is essential not just to the well-being of those whose livelihoods are connected to the land, but to every single one of us and the generations that come after us.”

Dr Ali Hussein Al Lawati, OAPGRC’s plant genetic resources expert, corroborates saying: “Population growth, climate change, globalisation, migration, pollution and changing consumer expectations for cheap, all-year-round food are all threatening agrobiodiversity.  In simple terms, these factors are leading to the loss of genetic diversity in domesticated plants and animals. And these losses matter and affect everyone. At a time when Agrobiodiversity is important to the economic and social well-being of Oman, the on-going research is instrumental in tackling the challenges, conserving local crops and livestock and preventing further agrobiodiversity loss”.

The workshop theme also included expert presentations, brainstorming and consensus building.  The recommendations were circulated to stakeholders for consideration and follow-up action. The two-day session identified ways to effectively share timely information about Oman’s agrobiodiversity with decision-makers, and developed the draft National Plant Agrobiodiversity Conservation Strategy.

Adds Dr Nadiya: “The two-day workshop, and the development of this hugely important strategy, is the result of information and knowledge that have been built from experience and input from different national stakeholders and international experience. We are deeply grateful to all the stakeholders that have contributed so much time and effort to get the strategy in place.”

Bridging the knowledge gap

Dr Nigel Maxted, senior lecturer in genetic conservation at the University of Birmingham and a globally recognised genetic conservation expert, is the strategy advisor for the strategy. Nigel has recently been involved in developing a strategic options paper for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Says Dr Nigel: “Maintaining plant diversity as a major component of natural resources is of high importance for sustainable development in Oman.” He adds: “There is an important knowledge gap in how the wild plants are linked to the livelihoods of local communities. Therefore, systematic and robust studies that examine the linkages between, are required. Once we know where they are, we can much effectively plan their conservation. When they are secured and conserved, we can effectively use them.”

The National Plant Agrobiodiversity Conservation Strategy will provide a blueprint to ensure the conservation of the genetic diversity with a particular emphasis on crop landraces, crop wild relatives, medical plant and wild harvested species of socioeconomic importance at national and regional level.

The strategy is expected to integrate national environmental strategies like NBSAP and NSAD and bridge the gaps in conservation programmes. It will also support cooperation between national institutes through relevant sectorial or cross-sectorial plans, programmes and policies for best management of wild plants growing in Oman.


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