BioNET-INTERNATIONAL

Don Pittis (Press Officer) D.PITTIS-CABI at CGNET.COM
Mon Mar 14 15:28:00 CST 1994


What follows is a short introduction BioNET-INTERNATIONAL, co-ordinated out
of the International Intstitute of Entomology. It's not really written for
scientists but if you haven't heard of the project, it's a good
introduction. I'd be pleased if you could pass it on to anyone you thing
might be able to help. I'd also like to hear suggestions of what other lists
might be interested in hearing about it.
Don Pittis
CAB INTERNATIONAL
Wallingford, Oxon OX10 8DE
UK
Tel: 0491 832111
d.pittis-cabi at cgnet.com

                                                    BioNET-INTERNATIONAL
                        Biodiversity or development: Avoiding imposed
solutions

     As became clear at the Rio Earth Summit, the cause of biodiversity is
often seen in
the countries of the underdeveloped South as a frivolous imposition by rich
Europeans and
Americans. Now a project aimed at preserving biodiversity in the developing
world,
coordinated from London, will use the developing world's own scientists to
identify their
biological resources. The project has been given a boost by the founding of
CARINET in
the Caribbean, the project's first regional operation.

     "It was a concept everybody loved but it had never been implemented,"
said
Professor Tecwyn Jones, the project's founding director. "Now it exists as a
reality."
The scheme Professor Jones is talking about is something called BioNET-
INTERNATIONAL, a revolutionary scientific project to do what some have
called
impossible: to allow scientists from the developing world to identify and
begin to
understand their own biological wealth.

     Professor Jones sowed the first seeds of the plan in 1991, but the need
for the
project became even more obvious during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro.
There, delegates faced the fact that the genetic diversity of the world's
plants and animals
was a resource of both intrinsic and economic value.

     Despite the recognition that these biological resources were being
squandered,
doing something about it was hindered by the fact that no one knew exactly
what those
resources were, except they were huge and precious. Not only were 95 per
cent of the
world's organisms unidentified, (scientists even argue over whether there
are closer to 6
million or 30 million different kinds of insect) but the majority of those
plants and
creatures were in the less developed countries of the South where scientific
resources
were weakest.

     The revolutionary part of Professor Jones's plan came from his belief
that the
scientific capabilities did exist in the developing world. He was convinced
that by creating
an international network, to allow scientists to pool their expertise, to
mobilize existing
resources, to co-ordinate training and funding, and with the assistance of
modern
electronic information sharing, the people best able to classify their own
organisms were
the scientists of the developing world themselves.

     Professor Jones is well placed to know the truth of the matter. As
Director of CAB
INTERNATIONAL'S International Institute of Entomology (IIE) he heads one of
the
world's most advanced centres for the identification, classification and
understanding of
insects, using what scientists call biosystematics.
CAB INTERNATIONAL, a non-profit intergovernmental organization, is itself a
leader in
the use of electronic databases to share much-needed information in the
agricultural and
biological sciences, especially in the developing world. As well as its
information division,
CABI has two other biosystematics institutes specializing in parasitology
and mycology,
and one institute specializing in the control of pests using natural
enemies.

          "The significance of the founding of CARINET is hard to
overstate," says Professor
Jones. "The Caribbean is proud of it, but more important it stands as an
excellent example
for the others who are currently working to establish their own LOOPs
(locally organized
and operated partnerships)." The structure of BioNET-INTERNATIONAL is as
logical as
the science of biosystematics itself. At the centre is the Technical
Secretariat, based at the
IIE in London. The Technical Secretariat is linked to the network
co-ordinating institute
of each LOOP to which it provides information and scientific services.  The
co-ordinating
institutes then perform a similar function for the countries within their
respective areas.
CAB INTERNATIONAL's Caribbean Regional Centre is the hub of CARINET.

     Now that CARINET is in place, it can begin the important work of
attracting
funding for regional training in biosystematics. Money to pay for the
feasibility studies has
come from international funding agencies such as the European Community's
CTA, from
the British Government through the Overseas Development Agency and from CAB
INTERNATIONAL itself. Donors for the first LOOP Formulation Workshop in the
Caribbean included UNESCO and the United Nations Development Program.
Professor
Jones expects funding organizations and governments to continue to look
favourably on
the project because it is practical, clearly delineated and environmentally
sound. It is also a
development project in that it is adding in a concrete way to the knowledge
base in the
countries of the poorer South.

     Traditionally, biosystematics services in the developing world have
been supplied
by scientists and institutions of the developed world. Increasingly, hiring
scientists from
the rich countries to do the work--at high northern salaries--has become
prohibitively
expensive. Especially considering the need to expand biosystematics work,
Professor
Jones reasoned that money would be better spent in the developing world.
"Scientists
within developing countries understand one another's problems, such as the
scarcity of
money," he says. "It's a system of co-operation. Through the connections of
BioNET-
INTERNATIONAL a scientist in Nairobi who specializes in a certain kind of
insect will
provide his services to the entire LOOP. But in return for that he will gain
the services of
an expert in Kampala  who knows all about beetles."

     Already CAB INTERNATIONAL has a funding commitment from the British
Government under the Darwin Initiative for the advanced biosystematics
training of more
than 20 regional specialists from developing countries. The first four
candidates, or
Darwin Fellows, from Barbados, India, Thailand and Uganda arrived in
January.  The
Darwin Fellows will be based at CAB INTERNATIONAL's biosystematics
institutes: the
International Mycological Institute; International Institute of Parasitology
and Professor
Jones's own IIE. As well as developing their skills in identification and
classification of
organisms within their speciality, Darwin Fellows will become lynch pins in
the LOOPs of
BioNET.

     The symbol for BioNET-INTERNATIONAL is shaped like a flower, with the
petals representing the LOOPs. The flower is growing. Using the UN
designation that
divides the world into "regions" like Africa, the LOOPs are being formed on
the basis of
"sub-regions" where species and climate ranges will tend to be similar.
Professor Jones
expects East Africa and Southeast Asia to be the next two sub-regions to
form LOOPs,
with the South Pacific and Southern Africa to follow soon.

     Asked whether he thought the scope of the plan was overly ambitious,
Professor
Jones admits the task is a large one. His plan is to take a pragmatic
approach and begin
work on the planet's most important species, those that act as key members
in nature's
web, and concentrate on pests and beneficial organisms. In order to monitor
the
environment and biodiversity of natural habitats, BioNET-INTERNATIONAL
scientists
will select a manageable number of bio-indicator species. In the world of
biodiversity,
most of the cute and cuddly animals have already been found and classified.
"We will
concentrate on insects and spiders, plant- and animal-parasitic worms, as
well as the
bacteria and fungi which attack--or help--plants. That's because of their
sheer numbers and
hence their dominance in any natural habitat. There are six times as many
fungi as there
are flowering plants while parasitic worms greatly outnumber the fungi. And
the number
of different bacteria exceeds that of all the other organisms put together!"
says Jones.

     "There is a biosystematics crisis in the developing world. If it is not
solved, the
developed world has no capability to support programmes for environmental
sustainability
and protection in the developing world, or to support the preservation of
biological
diversity. There must be a mechanism for establishing biosystematic
capability in the
developing world before it's too late," says Professor Jones. He believes
the establishment
of CARINET is an indication that BioNET-INTERNATIONAL can contribute to that

solution.


Don Pittis works for CAB INTERNATIONAL a non-profit intergovernmental
organization providing services worldwide to agriculture, forestry, human
health and the
conservation of natural resources. Scientists are welcome to use this
information or pass it
on to others. If used in full please credit the author.




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