Biodiversity, Economy & Trade, Environment, Green Economy, Latin America & the Caribbean

Peru – Megadiverse, and Biodiversity-Aware

Members of the Asociación Bosque del Futuro Ojos de Agua, which defends a 2,400- hectare forested area in the northern Peruvian province of San Martín. Credit. Milagros Salazar/IPS

Members of the Asociación Bosque del Futuro Ojos de Agua, which defends a 2,400- hectare forested area in the northern Peruvian province of San Martín. Credit. Milagros Salazar/IPS

LIMA, May 25 2012 (IPS) - One of every two Peruvians knows what “biodiversity” means, and most would stop buying products that are not socially or environmentally responsible, according to an international survey that for the first time included this megadiverse South American country.

The Biodiversity Barometer, published annually over the past four years by the Switzerland-based Union for Ethical Biotrade (UEBT), measures awareness of biodiversity and related aspects like conservation and sustainable development among consumers, companies and the media.

This year’s study, conducted by the global research company Ipsos and launched on Apr. 12 in Paris, surveyed 8,000 consumers in Brazil, France, Germany, India, Switzerland, the UK, the United States, and Peru, which is considered one of the 15 most megadiverse countries in the world.

In Peru, Ipsos interviewed 1,000 people in Lima and the cities of Arequipa (in the south) and Trujillo and Chiclayo (in the northwest).

Just over half (52 percent) of the respondents said they had heard of biological diversity and knew what the term meant. That puts this South American country in the middle of the report’s biodiversity awareness list, just behind the United States (53 percent), and ahead of Germany (42 percent) and India (19 percent).

However, the proportion is low compared to that of Brazil, which heads the list with 97 percent awareness.

“There is a certain level of biodiversity awareness in Peru,” said UEBT representative in Brazil, Cristiane de Moraes, who was in Lima for the local presentation of the report in Spanish on Wednesday May 23. “The only thing needed is more awareness-raising work, in which governments, companies and civil society organisations play an important role.

Rio Plus What?

A mere four percent of respondents in Peru had heard of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to be held in June in Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil, 59 percent had heard of the conference, which will mark two decades after the 1992 Earth Summit, but only 24 percent really understood what it was about. In Peru, that proportion was just one percent.
“This kind of study is needed to find out what is going on with consumers, if they are truly informed, if they are aware of what biodiversity is and how it can be sourced in a socially and environmentally ethical and responsible manner,” de Moraes told IPS.

In the case of Peru, 90 percent of those surveyed said they had heard of species loss and deforestation, which hurt biodiversity. And their main sources of information on biodiversity were TV ads (44 percent), TV programmes and documentaries (43 percent), and school and university (42 percent).

The study also gauged consumer interest in buying natural food and cosmetic products, which directly tap into local biodiversity.

On this point, 88 percent of Peruvian respondents said they preferred cosmetic products with natural ingredients, while 89 percent said they paid close attention to environmental or ethical labels – such as organic or fair trade – in general, and 78 percent said they did so when they bought cosmetics.

Respondents in Peru thus exhibited greater interest in buying such products than the consumers interviewed in the United States, Germany or the UK.

“There is interest in this kind of product, but perhaps the population needs to understand that these natural ingredients come from biodiversity, which means it is necessary to guarantee ethical supplies and best practices,” the UEBT representative said.

The sustainable and responsible use of natural ingredients, and a supply chain in which all participants share in the benefits and are paid a fair wage, form the basis of ethical biotrade.

The UEBT, which promotes these practices, sees the Barometer as a way of fostering public debate on the issue among authorities, companies and society.

The Environment Ministry, which took part in the local launch of the report, says Peru is the world’s fourth most megadiverse country, and requires sustainable management of its resources.

Consumers are increasingly interested in bioethical products, the Barometer says. In Peru, 80 percent of those surveyed said they would stop buying a food product if the company was not sourcing from biodiversity in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Another 78 percent said they would do the same with beauty products and cosmetics.

And over 90 percent said they would like food and cosmetic companies to provide more and better information on how they obtain natural ingredients.

This indicates a clear need for more information, said de Moraes.

But who do Peruvians see as primarily responsible for guaranteeing the sustainable use of these resources? Fifty-two percent said the government, 31 percent said consumers, and just 17 percent said companies.

There are a growing number of associations and companies interested in participating in ethical biotrade and implementing these practices, said Fernando Mendive, head of the Takiwasi laboratory, which produces medicines and cosmetics using plants and natural ingredients from the Amazon rainforest in the northern region of San Martín.

“Today there is more awareness that, to guarantee sustainability, as well as benefits for everyone, environmental and social questions must be respected,” he told IPS.

But “it’s important not to throw companies that only try to present an environmental facade into the same bag with those that do want to work responsibly in biotrade,” said Mendive.

He added that the information demanded by consumers about sourcing is important, because it will make the production chain more transparent and foster ethical biotrade.

Takiwasi works with 400 Quechua indigenous families in the jungles of San Martín, in the cultivation and harvesting of plants. The organisation forms part of the Biodiverse Peru project – a UEBT partner – and works with companies and the government to guarantee that local producers benefit from the success of these businesses.

The UEBT has 45 affiliated food and cosmetics companies. To maintain affiliation, a list of standards must be gradually met. (END)

 
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