Life-giving Biodiversity

by Rolando A. Inciong

            Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth – from the smallest organisms to the largest mammals; the different species of plants, trees, fishes; and the places where they live which we call ecosystems.

            The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that fish provide 20 percent of animal protein to about three billion people. “Over 80 percent of the human diet is provided by plants. As many as 80 percent of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant‐based medicines for basic healthcare.”

            Aside from food, we continue to depend on nature, especially for our basic needs such as water, medicines, clothes, fuel, shelter, energy, construction materials, and defense against climate change and pollution.

            Unfortunately, Earth is losing its biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. The Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity said that the loss of biodiversity threatens all, including our health. Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66 percent of the marine environment have been significantly altered by irresponsible human activities. One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction.

            It has been proven that biodiversity loss could expand zoonoses — diseases transmitted from animals to humans. If we keep biodiversity intact, it offers excellent tools to fight against pandemics like those caused by coronaviruses.

            Given the importance of public education and awareness about the dangers of biodiversity loss, the UN is encouraging governments to promote understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.

            We need to learn about the importance of healthy species and their ecosystems and how we can protect and conserve them. While irresponsible human activities contribute to the problem of biodiversity loss, We, humans, are also the solution. Let us all be responsible and take care of our mother nature and its life-giving biodiversity.

Rainforests: Sustaining Life on Earth

by Rolando Inciong

Last June 22, the international community observed World Rainforest Day, an occasion to increase public awareness on rainforests and encourage people to protect them. The Rainforest Alliance Organization (RAO) defines a rainforest as a tropical woodland with an annual rainfall of at least 100 inches and marked by lofty broad-leaved evergreen trees forming a continuous canopy.

Rainforests cover less than 3 percent of the planet. They serve as home to more species of plants and animals than any other terrestrial ecosystem. They are essential to life on Earth as they provide air, water, medicine, food, and shelter to a multitude of living beings. Rainforests also protect humans against climate change as they absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

The RAO added that rainforests are also home to insects, spiders and ticks, worms, snakes and lizards, frogs and toads, parrots and toucans, and sloths and jaguars.

According EarthDay.Org, healthy forests are one of the most effective climate change mitigation tools for reducing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, regulating the water cycle, and producing oxygen. In addition to their function as a carbon sink, forests provide social, environmental, and economic benefits to many communities worldwide.

Now that we know how important rainforests are, it is time for citizens to act to save, conserve and protect this very important ecosystem.

Love Our Mother Earth

by Rolando A. Inciong

                You don’t need to be an environmentalist to love our Mother Earth. As an individual, you can do the following simple acts of kindness to nature:

  1. Volunteer at EARTHDAY.ORG and participate in many initiatives, both local and global, to Restore Our Earth.
  2. Support the Great Global Cleanup every September and pick up trash while enjoying your outdoor activities.
  3. Advocate for governments to make climate change and climate literacy a core feature of school curriculum.
  4. For students, add your voice to the campus climate projects and advocate for stronger environmental commitments from your college or university.
  5. Stop deforestation by supporting companies that take an active role against it.
  6. Conserve energy at home and office.
  7. Avoid using plastic bags. Plastic pollution is one of the most serious environmental problems that we face today.
  8. Fight food waste by composting.
  9. Change your paper bills to online billing. You’ll be saving trees and the fuel it takes to deliver your bills.
  10. Eat lots of vegetables instead of meat. Grow your own organic garden. Encourage your school or organization to serve more plant-based meal options and to educate students or employees about the impacts of animal agriculture on our food system.
  11. Convince your school or office to choose reusable utensils, trays, and dishes in the canteen.
  12. Help protect the butterflies, bees and other pollinators by pledging to go pesticide-free! We need pollinators to ensure the persistence of our crop yields and ensure healthy sustainable ecosystems now and in the future.
  13. Buy organic food to keep your body and the environment free of toxic pesticides. Support farmers and companies who use organic ingredients.
  14. Always read labels. Use environmentally-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products to avoid washing toxic chemicals do0n the drain.
  15. Last but most important, plant a tree.

           Why plant trees? According to the United Nations, a single mature tree can release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two human beings. A single mature tree can absorb 4.5 kg of air pollutants, including 1.8 kg of ozone and 1.4 kg of particulates. Trees store carbon and help slow human-caused climate change. Tree canopies and leaf litter protect the soil surface from the erosive power of rain. Trees purify our air and water. They provide food, timber and medicine. Forests provide outdoor recreation, education and eco-tourism. Over a 50-year lifetime, a tree generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion.

The importance of bees

by Rolando A. Inciong

When we talk about honey, we talk about bees. Most of us think that honey is the only important product that bees produce. Bees are pollinators. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), pollinators contribute $20 billion to the American agriculture industry. California, for example, produces over 80 percent of the world’s almond harvest from its 1.17 million acres. California’s almond farms ordinarily require 1.6 million domesticated bee colonies to pollinate the flowering trees and produce the almonds. The USDA reports that the global crop production pollinated by bees is valued at $577 billion.

Like in the US, bees play a very important role in pollinating the plants that we eat all over the world. The Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) reported that a single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers in one day. Approximately 75 percent of the world’s crops depend on pollinators.

Aside from plants, many animals depend on pollinators for their survival because their food such as fruits, seeds, berries, and nuts rely on insect pollination. Pollination also promotes the growth of flowers which provide habitats for animals, insects and birds.

The sad news? Bees and other pollinators are in danger of extinction. The USDA said that 45 percent of bee colonies have been lost in recent years. Threats to their survival are pesticides, climate change, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and colony collapse disorder. With the serious situation that the bees and other pollinators are facing, the world could soon be facing failure in food production. So, the next time bees bother you, don’t even attempt to swat them.

Biodiversity assures human health

by Rolando A. Inciong

            Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth – from the smallest organisms to the largest mammals; the different species of plants, trees, fishes; and the places where they live which we call ecosystems. Biodiversity provides us our basic needs – air, water, food, clothing materials, and the natural ingredients used in manufacturing medicines.

            The degradation of our biodiversity and ecosystems results in scarcity of food, clean water, and supply of natural ingredients for medicines; and air and water pollution. All these are threats to human health.

            Forest biodiversity offers a variety of plants and trees that provide us food, clean water and air. They provide materials for construction and many industries. Agricultural biodiversity provides us with rice and other grains, meats, fruits and vegetables. Marine biodiversity gives us all forms of fish and seafoods. Forest ecosystems provide water and purify our air; prevent soil erosion; trap carbon and other greenhouse gases; and help regulate climate. Losing such natural richness will bring harm to our health.

            According to the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, for thousands of years, humans have relied on biodiversity to cure our illnesses. In many poor countries, rural folks continue to rely on traditional medicine. India and China have incorporated traditional medicine with modern Western medicine as part of their health systems. Today, the huge pharmaceutical industry relies on biodiversity and ecosystems for natural ingredients of modern medicines.

            An example of medicine derived from nature is Ilosone, now marketed globally as Erythromycin. In 1949, the natural ingredient was discovered by a Filipino scientist, Abelardo Aguilar, who was then working for Eli Lilly Pharma Company as a researcher. Today, Erythromycin is used to prevent and treat infections, including respiratory tract infections, skin infections, diphtheria, and acute pelvic inflammatory disease, among others.

            Another example is Lagundi, which for a long time has been used as treatment for cough in the rural areas. Lagundi is now marketed in the Philippines in the form of syrup and capsule.

            Unfortunately, irresponsible human activities have degraded our biodiversity and ecosystems. These include unsustainable production and harvesting practices, illegal logging, air and water pollution that are contributing to climate change, conversion of lands and forests, irresponsible mining, illegal wildlife trading, uncontrolled use of pesticides and fertilizers, cutting of mangroves, dynamite fishing, deforestation, and many more.

            With the loss of biodiversity and degradation of our ecosystems, humanity is threatened with food shortage, poor air and water quality, and shortage of raw materials for medicine. All these are direct threats to human health.

            Today, the world faces a more urgent challenge: COVID 19. But it looks like the pandemic is a blessing in disguise as humans have slowed down in their activities, resulting in better air and water quality and a healthier biodiversity and ecosystems.

Forests and livelihood

by Rolando A. Inciong

            Forests, forest species and ecosystem services play a very important role in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people all over the world, particularly those of indigenous and local communities with linkages to forests.

The United Nations (UN) revealed that between 200 and 350 million people live within or adjacent to forested areas around the world. They rely on the various ecosystem services provided by forests and forest species for their livelihoods and to cover their basic needs such as food, shelter, medicines and energy.

The UN emphasized that indigenous peoples and local communities, including those in the Philippines, are frontliners in the symbiotic relationship between humans and forest, forest-dwelling wildlife species, and the ecosystem services that forests provide. Some 28 percent of the world’s land surface is currently managed by indigenous peoples. These areas are central to their economic and personal well-being, and their cultural identities.

Today, forests, forests species, and the livelihoods that depend on them are highly threatened by environmental and manmade crises such as climate change, pollution, illegal wildlife trade, irresponsible mining, land conversion, overexploitation, biodiversity loss, and the health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As such, we should promote forest and forest wildlife management models and practices that accommodate both human well-being and the long-term conservation of forests, forest-dwelling species of wild fauna and flora, and the ecosystems they sustain. We should also promote the values of traditional practices and knowledge that contribute to establishing a more sustainable relationship with these crucial natural systems.

Women and climate change

by Rolando A. Inciong

            One of the most important achievements for women all over the world is their participation in protecting our environment and their potential to make a difference. A report by Project Drawdown, a climate research organization, concluded that educating women and girls in developing countries ranked second among many solutions for reducing global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The report detailed that girls’ education and family planning would reduce carbon by 85 gigatons by 2050. This is quite a revelation on the role of women in mitigating climate change.

            The Report said that with access to education, family planning and birth control, women have the ability to choose how many children to have and when they have them. With such access, the Report explained, women would have less children resulting in slower population growth. In turn, slower population growth would lessen the stress on the environment by allowing ecosystems products and services to recover from overuse.

            Project Drawdown also explained that education increases the resilience of women and girls to climate disasters. Because of traditional gender roles, legal inequality and financial barriers, women face unique risks as climate change intensifies natural disasters and raises food and water prices.

            “When there are weather events like tsunamis and floods, women are not able to overcome those situations because they have to look after the children or the elderly; they don’t know how to swim, they don’t know how to climb the trees,” the Report said.

            One example given by the Report was when a tsunami devastated Southeast Asia in December 2004. About 75 percent of the people who died were women. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, women aren’t able to protect themselves.

            Today, there are a number of models showing how to expand the role of women in climate change and sustainable development. The Project Drawdown Report said the Population, Health, and Environment Model is providing reproductive education and contraception in developing countries which will lead to personal and financial independence for women, food and nutrition security for families, and less stress on the environment.

            The Agriculture, Nutrition-smart and Climate-smart Agriculture Model emphasizes the knowledge and legal rights of female farm owners to empower them, improve family health, and protect the future of our food.

            The Report said that the most important model is considering gender in all development projects. Through such model, the International Development Research Center adopted a four-step approach for projects to consider gender at all levels. Projects should aim to be gender-aware, including local women in their research; gender-sensitive, accounting for gender in the project design; gender-responsive, positively impacting local women; and gender-transformative, contributing to a more equal society.

Causes and impacts of biodiversity loss

by Rolando A. Inciong

The modern world is facing its greatest crisis: the COVID 19 pandemic. If we survive this greatest threat to humanity, we will be facing another crisis, which is ongoing but remains unnoticed; a crisis that does not attract media and public attention compared to COVID 19. This crisis is called biodiversity loss.

Biodiversity is the totality of all life on Earth, from the smallest insect to the biggest whale. Biodiversity is the “web of life” that includes ecosystems, the species living in them and the genetic variety of those species produced by nature or shaped by men.

The ASEAN region, including the Philippines, teems with rich biodiversity. The region occupies only three percent of the Earth’s total surface but its mountains, forest, rivers and oceans are home to over 20 percent of all known plant, animal and marine species.

Behind this natural affluence, the world, including the Philippines, is fast losing its biodiversity. We are facing a crisis which I call nature’s cancer. In the ASEAN region alone, 1,312 out of 64,800 plant and animal species are endangered.

Biodiversity loss threatens food security. Nature provides plants and animals for food production. But the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that out of more than 10,000 different plant species used for food by humans over the millennia, only 150 species remain under cultivation. Of these, only 12 species provide 80 percent of the world’s food needs. Only four – rice, wheat, corn and potatoes – provide more than half of human’s energy requirements. Losing our biodiversity means losing our source of food.

A healthy biodiversity is good for human health. Since the beginning of time, many species of plants and animals have served as sources of raw materials for our medicines. According to the FAO, some 80 percent of the world’s forest biodiversity have medicinal value. But the world is losing around 13 million hectares of forests annually. As such, we will be losing ingredients for medicines to cure existing and emerging illnesses.

Biodiversity sustains our economy as it is the source of livelihood for millions of poor. The economy of many communities relies on fishing and farming. Industries such as biotechnology, forestry, mining, pharmaceutical, clothing, cosmetics, power generation, agriculture and fisheries depend on biodiversity for their raw materials.

Together with biodiversity, nature has a wide range of ecosystem services such as contribution to climate stability, soil formation and protection, air and water purification, pollution control, and protection from climate change.

Clearly, biodiversity and their ecosystems provide clean water, fertile soil, flood protection, food and medicines, and livelihoods for the people. Therefore, the loss of biodiversity is beyond losing plants and animals. It’s definitely an issue of human survival, especially for over 800 million citizens of the ASEAN region.

Biodiversity loss is triggered by deforestation, land conversion, irresponsible mining, wildlife hunting, pollution, and other greedy human activities. As such, biodiversity loss does not recognize social, economic, cultural, political and geographical boundaries. What happens in one country affects another. This is the reason why the ASEAN Member States, including the Philippines, are signatories to many multilateral environmental agreements. These include the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, and the Convention on Wetlands, to name a few. The Philippines and ASEAN Member States, supported by the European Union, established the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) to coordinate regional efforts on biodiversity conservation. ACB is the only ASEAN center of excellence based in the Philippines.

But reducing biodiversity loss is not the sole responsibility of governments. Individuals, business, communities, schools, women, youth and all sectors must act individually while forming alliances to stage a common front against biodiversity loss. Individuals need to act.

MOTHER EARTH

by Rolando A. Inciong                  
Nature’s cancer

    The modern world is facing its greatest crisis: the COVID 19 pandemic. If we survive this greatest threat to human survival, we will still be facing another crisis, which is actually ongoing but remains unnoticed; a crisis that does not attract media and public attention compared to COVID 19. This crisis is called biodiversity loss.

    Biodiversity encompasses all life on Earth, from the smallest insect to the biggest whale. Biodiversity is the “web of life” that includes ecosystems, the species living in them, and the genetic variety of those species produced by nature or shaped by men.

    The ASEAN region, including the Philippines, is widely recognized as a treasure trove of biodiversity. The region occupies only three percent of the Earth’s total surface but its mountains, forests, rivers and oceans are home to over 20 percent of all known plant, animal and marine species.

    According to the World Conservation Union, the Philippines alone has 9,536 with some 6,000 species as endemic, meaning they can only be found in this part of the world. About 70 percent of the Philippines’ nearly 21,000 recorded insect species are found only in this country. About one-third of the 915 butterflies found here are endemic, and over 110 of the more than 130 species of tiger beetle are found nowhere else.

    The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said more than 500 of the world’s 700 coral species are found under the waters of the Philippines, which is a part of the Coral Triangle – a region in the Pacific Ocean. 

    There are at least 50 known seahorse species in the world. They inhabit temperate and tropical waters but most of them are concentrated in the warm coastal waters of the Philippines. 

    The world’s smallest commercial fish: Sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis) is found only in Lakes Bato and Buhi in Camarines Sur province.

    The DENR reported that Donsol, a fishing town in Sorsogon province, serves as a sanctuary to a group of 40 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), which are considered the largest fish in the world.  Locally known as “butanding”, whale sharks visit the waters of Donsol from November to May.  They travel across the oceans but nowhere else have they been sighted in a larger group than in the waters of Sorsogon.  

    These are some of the Philippines’ treasure trove of biodiversity, making our country “nature’s superpower”.

    However, the natural world is not the just the collection of magnificent and wonderful species and ecosystems. We depend on the vast biodiversity to supply our daily needs: food, air, water, medicine, shelter, and a host of services. Within the ASEAN region alone, these products and services from nature are estimated to be worth over 200 billion US dollars annually.

    But this well spring of life is highly threatened. According to the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, in Southeast Asia, over 1,000 out of 64,800 known species of plants, mammals and marine life forms are endangered, including the Philippine Eagle, the Visayan Wrinkled Hornbill, the Philippine Tarsier, and the Tamaraw, among others. The entire Philippines is endangered as it has been classified by Conservation International as a biodiversity hotspot.

    The world, including the Philippines, is losing its biodiversity at unprecedented rates. We are facing a crisis which I call nature’s cancer.

How rich is the Philippines?

by Rolando A. Inciong

The United States, Japan, China, Germany, England, France and Russia are the world’s military and economic superpowers. Would you believe that the Philippines is also a superpower? Yes, our country is a superpower with its rich and abundant natural resources, specifically biodiversity (biological diversity or the variety of plants, bird, fish and animal species). Yes, a tiny country like the Philippines possesses the world’s richest biodiversity.


Biodiversity encompasses all life on Earth, from the smallest insect to the biggest whale. Biodiversity is the “web of life” that includes various ecosystems, the species living in them, and the genetic variety of those species produced by nature or shaped by humans.


The Philippines and the nine other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are widely recognized as a treasure trove of biodiversity. The ASEAN region occupies only three percent of the Earth’s total surface but its mountains, forest, rivers and oceans are home to over 20 percent of all known plant, animal and marine species.


Records of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reveal that the Philippines has more than 9,000 plant species; over 6,000 are endemic, meaning they can only be found in the Philippines. Some 70 percent of the country’s nearly 21,000 recorded insect species are endemic. About one-third of the 915 butterfly species in the Philippines are endemic, and 110 of the country’s more than 130 species of tiger beetle are found nowhere else.


The ASEAN Biodiversity Outlook 1, a publication of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, says that 500 of the world’s 700 coral species are found under the waters of the Philippines, which is a part of the Coral Triangle in the Pacific.


There are at least 50 known seahorse species in the world. They inhabit temperate and tropical waters but most of them are concentrated in the warm coastal waters of the Philippines. The DENR reports that at least 47 nations and territories around the world are involved in buying and selling seahorses. The largest known importers are China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Among the largest exporters is the Philippines.
The world’s smallest commercial fish: Sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis) can be found only in Lakes Bato and Buhi in Camarines Sur. Sinarapan grows to an average length of 1.25 centimeters, only slightly longer than the dwarf goby.


Donsol, a fishing town in Sorsogon, serves as a sanctuary to whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), which are considered as the largest fish in the world. Locally known as “butanding”, they travel across the oceans but nowhere else have they been sighted in a larger group than in the waters of Sorsogon.


Dugongs or sea cows can be found in Busuanga and Culion in Palawan. Sea cows, the only herbivorous among marine mammals, can live more than 70 years.


The DENR added that in South of Palawan lies the Balabac Island, home of the world’s smallest hoofed mammal – the Philippine mouse deer. Locally known as Pilandok (Tragalus nigricans), this ruminant stands only about 40 centimeters at the shoulder level.  1996.


The tamaraw, a unique pygmy water buffalo (Bubalus mindorensis) endemic to Mindoro, is listed as one of the ten most endangered species in the world. From 10,000 heads in the 1900’s, population went down to 369 heads in the late 1980’s to as few as 20 heads roaming in the wild today.


One of the world’s rarest mammals lives in the dwindling forest of Panay Island: the Philippine spotted deer (Cervus alfredi), considered by many as the most endangered deer in the planet.


The Philippines is home to some of the world’s most exotic birds. Scientists have documented 577 bird species around the Philippine archipelago. Of this number, 185 species are endemic to the country. The Bird Life International listed 116 of them as “threatened” or “near-threatened”. 


An example is the monkey-eating eagle living in the rainforests of Isabela, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. It has similarities with Papua New Guinea’s Harpy Eagle (Harpyopsis novaeguinea). The eagle lives on large snakes, hornbills, civet cats, flying lemurs and monkeys – the reason why it is also called monkey-eating eagle.


Tridacna gigas, one of the world’s largest shells can be found under Philippine waters. The shell grows as large as one meter in length and weighs 600 pounds. A shell called glory of the sea (Connus gloriamaris) is also found in the Philippines and considered as one of the most expensive shells in the world.
Now, are you convinced that the Philippines is super rich?


Our Columnist Returns to Front Page. Rolando A. Inciong, an environmental advocate and a communication expert, returns to Front Page. His environmental advocacy started when he served as Communication Specialist with the United States Agency for International Development’s Environmental Cooperation Program for Asia and, later, as Director for Communication and Public Affairs of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity where he retired in 2016. He is currently Vice President and Member of the Board of Directors of the Academia de Ignacio de Loyola. He is a freelance consultant and mentor in development communication, human resource management, and corporate communication.


Rolly has carried out his passion for nature through his civic work with the Batangas Forum for Good Governance and Development Association, Inc. as a Member of the Board of Trustees and Secretary; the Apex Club of San Pablo City, the Rotary Club of San Pablo City Central, and with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) in San Pablo City, where he is a co-founder and Past President.


As a communicator, he was among the first graduates of B.S. Development Communication in the Philippines and was a recipient of the Most Outstanding Alumnus Award from the College of Development Communication, UP Los Banos. He studied peace journalism at the University of Sydney. Inciong’s column, entitled THE WEB OF LIFE, will appear twice a month and will focus on biodiversity and environmental conservation, climate change, business and environment, and sustainable development.