Chapter 4 Review of Implementation of the Convention

AN IN-DEPTH CASE: AGRICULTURAL BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

Decisions III/11 and IV/6 of the Conference of Parties called for Parties and others to provide the Executive Secretary with case studies on activities and instruments relating to agricultural biological diversity at international and national levels to help inform discussions at the fifth meeting of SBSTTA. There have also been a number of international workshops that have brought Parties together to discuss these issues.

A comparatively large amount of information is available about the status and trends of agricultural biodiversity at the national level, and about measures taken by Parties to promote its conservation and sustainable use. It is thus possible to present a synthesis of available information in greater depth than is possible in the case of other areas of implementation.

Agricultural biodiversity is a broad term that is taken to include all components of biological diversity of relevance to food and agriculture. For the purposes of the assessment carried out by the Executive Secretary, the following dimensions of agricultural biodiversity were identified:

  • genetic resources for food and agriculture (species, breeds and varieties, their wild relatives, harvested wild foods), including:
  • components of agricultural biodiversity that provide ecological services. These mainly fall under the heading `associated agricultural biodiversity' and include:
  • abiotic factors, which have a determining effect on these aspects of agricultural biodiversity and, in line with decision III/11, were also addressed in the assessment;
  • socio-economic and cultural dimensions, which were also considered, as cross-cutting issues, since agricultural biodiversity is largely shaped by human activities and management practices.

Identification, monitoring and assessment

Comprehensive data and information systems exist for the main genetic resources components (farm animals, crop plants, aquaculture, tree species, and some microbial species) and for the different abiotic resources that provide the basis for agriculture (water, land and use, climatic). Much of this information is compiled and managed by international rather than national organizations, although some countries have well developed information systems. Information on under-utilized crops and some locally or regionally important staples (such as yams, bambara groundnut and cassava), as well as wild species of interest for food and agriculture, is scarce compared with major crops. (Though of course it is not scarce to the cultivators, highlighting again the importance of traditional knowledge to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as to local and regional food security.) There is also much less information available generally on in-situ resources in comparison with ex-situ collections. It is clear therefore that there are major gaps or shortcomings in information systems.

Many countries have identified gaps in baseline data on animal genetic resources, in particular on wild/endemic and indigenous animal genetic resources. A global, country-driven assessment of the state of the world's farm animal genetic resources is planned under the guidance of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Many countries in different regions have identified large gaps in baseline data on microbial genetic resources such as viruses, fungi and soil bacteria. Assessment of micro-organisms is generally limited to very few species of direct relevance to food additives, fixation of nitrogen and other nutrients, and plant and animal health.

Despite increasing scientific knowledge and understanding of the ecological functions of biodiversity and of the importance of sustainable functioning ecosystems, comprehensive monitoring and assessment systems are not yet available. Some relevant databases and information systems exist, but these are insufficient for assessing ecosystem function.

Species that provide essential services to agriculture such as pollinators, predators and soil biota, and a vast array of microbial species that contribute indirectly to food and agriculture, are inadequately assessed. Ecological functions of agricultural systems that contribute environmental benefits, such as wildlife habitats, watershed protection, landscape value, water quality need also to be incorporated in monitoring and assessment processes. Once identified and valued, these can provide the basis for agri-environmental policies that encourage productivity and sustainability.

Very little is being done systematically to bring together the data, information and associated tools required to address agricultural policy and management issues at the national, regional and global levels. There is an urgent need to promote the further development and application of indicators and assessment methodologies for the assessment of the status and trends of agricultural biodiversity and for the identification of biodiversity-friendly agricultural practice.

Research, best practices and technologies

Many initiatives have been launched in recent years concerning on-farm management and improvement of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Initiatives reported by Parties include surveying farmers with a view to integrating on-farm conservation into the national conservation strategy and developing on-farm conservation programmes, with the support of FAO, IPGRI, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The CGIAR now supports many participatory plant breeding activities.

It has been widely recognized that the most efficient and feasible strategy for the conservation of forest genetic resources is conservation in situ, conserving targeted species, populations and genetic resources as parts of the ecosystems in which they occur. Most countries, in all regions, mention conservation of genetic resources through protected areas in their reports. A number of countries have supplemented this with very successful community forestry programmes.

A wide range of best practices and technologies in the area of agricultural ecosystem function are already available. These activities include identifying establishing demonstration sites, carrying out on-farm experiments, and promoting awareness and training. There are also examples of national efforts to conserve soil resources in the cerrados of Brazil, farmer-organized minimum tillage programmes have resulted in the rehabilitation of previously damaged soils, leading to increased productivity. Many traditional integrated production systems, such as home gardens, agro-forestry systems, rice-aquaculture systems, and the use of features such as hedgerows as ecological corridors along watercourses and roads, etc., can provide for high levels of diversity at the landscape level with mosaics of land-use types.

National initiatives include the development of the sustainable agricultural village concept in China for maintaining and restoring environmental conservation functions and natural ecosystems and landscapes, development of environmental farm plans in Canada, integrated farming systems in Thailand, and comparative analysis of different farming methods in Western and Central Europe.

Many countries have identified the lack of public awareness of agricultural biodiversity as a key constraint to improvement in this area. Public awareness campaigns could help to demonstrate the inter-relationships between the conservation of biological diversity and the management of agricultural systems, as well as the ecosystem service value of agricultural biodiversity. The organic agricultural movement has helped substantially to promote ecologically sound approaches. Guidelines for organic agriculture have been developed to promote its adoption, and incentives are provided through consumer demand.

In many cases, a wide range of case studies are already available on best practices and lessons learned from past experiences and experiments. These valuable experiences, both positive and negative, should be learned from and taken into account for future research initiatives. However, more understanding is needed of the multiple functions of biodiversity in production systems. A greater focus on the ecosystem approach is needed, including coordinated research in different agro-ecosystems, and under different management practices, to quantify the direct and indirect contributions of agricultural biodiversity.

Strategies, programmes and action plans

While most Parties have developed NBSAPs, only a few countries have reported the development of comprehensive strategies and action plans for the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. These include, for example, Bhutan, Canada, Hungary, India, and some countries in Western Europe. Overall more attention is given in the plans to the main animal and plant genetic resources components of agricultural biodiversity, and less attention is paid to the biological support system and the different production systems and agro-ecosystems.

There are examples in each region of ongoing GEF-funded programmes and projects on agricultural biodiversity, however the number of approved projects and funding volume for agricultural biodiversity has remained low in comparison to other thematic areas. The GEF has been taking steps to ensure that there are more opportunities to formulate and present relevant projects.

Countries have reported much progress in the area of strengthening of national programmes on crop genetic resources in particular, despite reductions in funding to national agricultural research systems. Several countries have held national workshops, which have helped further define national priorities, and stimulate the formation of national committees. At the same time, countries also report a wider involvement of stakeholder groups.

A number of countries have developed programmes to promote sustainable agriculture that could provide the basis for promoting the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. In some cases, biological diversity issues are also being integrated into land-use planning and sectoral agriculture, forestry and fisheries programmes (e.g. Bhutan, Mozambique and several countries in Western Europe).

A concerted and coordinated effort that addresses the various components of agricultural biodiversity depends upon a coherent framework to guide national strategies and actions for the conservation and sustainable use on agricultural biodiversity. Integration of agricultural biodiversity considerations in national agricultural strategies and action plans, including forestry and fisheries, is necessary, as well as into environmental programmes, such as national environmental action plans (NEAPs) and environmental strategies and policies addressing specific resources such as forest and wildlife resource.

The agricultural sector is very complex and there are many different stakeholders that need to be involved in the planning and development process. These include producers (farmers, foresters, fishers), community leaders, the technicians and policy makers in diverse sectors including agri-business and development agencies; as well as the consumers that influence market demand. Coordinating mechanisms and transparent consultative processes are required to allow exchanges, negotiation and conflict resolution between different stakeholders, and to provide effective feedback mechanisms between producers and the technical and policy levels. This is crucial in the identification of issues and priorities, the design of appropriate strategies and actions, and the monitoring and evaluation of the performance and impacts (cost effectiveness and impact) of programmes and actions.

Policies and legislation

The extent to which specific national policies and legislation on agricultural biodiversity have been developed varies greatly between countries. For example, most countries have legislation concerning seed certification and variety release, but few have legislation specific to microbial genetic resources. However this is an area of rapid change as understanding of the importance of genetic resources increases, and many countries are reporting changes in the last five years in legislation on matters such as plant breeders' rights and other relevant intellectual property rights, and access legislation.

Many countries have national legislation on factors affecting ecosystem functions and services, such as the reduction of chemical inputs, conservation farming practices and introduction of alien species. Legal arrangements that address the landscape and ecosystem level have been addressed most substantially within the European region, in part led by the European Commission.

Several countries have identified the need for policies and legislation that encourage sustainability through incentive measures and benefit-sharing arrangements. Land tenure issues and appropriate land-use policies are cited as important issues for conservation and sustainable use to reduce excess exploitation and unregulated access to biological resources.

There is a clear need to develop further coherence at national, regional and international levels between policies and legislation developed to address the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity, including access and benefit-sharing, and between these and other policies and legislation that have an impact in these areas.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme