. Agenda item 3.9: Agricultural biological diversity, advisory statement
Agenda Item 3.9: Agricultural biological diversity
I. Importance of biological diversity to agriculture
1. The new challenge for agriculture in the expanding global economy is to achieve greater stability and productivity on a sustainable basis, by introducing technologies and management practices that would ensure a healthy environment, stability in production, economic efficiency, and equitable sharing of social benefits. Biological diversity conservation and sustainable use is a non-detachable part of the concept of sustainability.
2. An understanding of the dynamic evolutionary and environmental processes which shape and influence agricultural biodiversity is fundamental to improving sustainable management and conservation of agricultural ecosystems. Improved understanding of the impacts, either positive or negative, of agricultural practices, will depend upon the contributions of science and scientists, including traditional knowledge.
A. Socio-cultural Importance
(i) Food security and poverty alleviation
3. The conservation and sustainable utilization of agricultural biological diversity makes a key contribution to food security and poverty alleviation, through its application to improving agricultural productivity.
(ii) Farmers' knowledge
4. Actual and potential knowledge about local agricultural ecosystems generated by farmer communities is an important key to optimizing the management of those agricultural ecosystems. Much of the agricultural practices and knowledge are performed and maintained by women in local societies in many regions of the world. The role of women for maintaining those skills and knowledge is of fundamental importance.
B. Economic Importance
5. All domesticated crops and animals result from human management of biological diversity. The adaptation of agricultural biological diversity to different environments and uses has allowed farmers to respond to new challenges for maintaining and increasing productivity.
(ii) Biocontrol organisms
6. Biological diversity provides a reservoir of biological control organisms that can either naturally control pests or be used in integrated pest management, resulting in a reduction in the use of pesticides while maintaining high yields.
(iii) Genetic adaptation to biotic and abiotic stresses
7. Traditional landraces of crops and livestock and wild species of plants and animals are a source of genetic variability for the maintenance and recovery of resistant traits.
(iv) Insect pollinators
8. A large proportion of crops depend on pollination for good yield. It has been reported that one in every three mouthfuls of food we eat depends on pollination by insects and other animals to reach our kitchen tables.
(v) Soil biological diversity
9. The biological diversity of the soil ecosystem is a prerequisite and a vehicle for nutrient circulation within agricultural ecosystems. Related to this is a number of mutualistic interactions where soil biota are involved, e.g. earthworms and mycorrhizal functioning. The long-term productivity of the agricultural ecosystem is directly dependent upon the integrity and function of the soil's biological diversity. It should be noted, however, that the knowledge of the soil biota is very incomplete.
10. Soil organisms and micro-organisms respond to the maintenance of organic matter of decomposition, nutrient cycling, soil structure, water balance, and fertility of soils.
(vi) Market responsiveness
11. Diversified crops are a protection against uncertainties in the market, especially for less-capitalized growers.
12. Biological diversity is adding to the value and variation of cultivated crops and offering new opportunities to farmers.
(vii) New species of economic importance
13. New species are continuously being added to our list of economically cultivated crops.
C. Environmental Importance
(i) Natural cycles/Life support
14. Living organisms play an important role in the resilience of all natural processes (life support). They are essential agents for nitrogen, carbon, energy and water cycles, inter alia, and therefore the species composition and their relationship may affect functioning and yields of agricultural ecosystems.
(ii) Wildlife management
15. Farmers all over the world have managed a variety of wild species and habitats which benefit the sustainability of agricultural ecosystems.
(iv) Buffer against perturbation
16. A diverse environment offers a shield for agricultural ecosystems against perturbations, natural or manmade. The diversity of species and habitats confers alternative structures and functions, contributing to the resilience of agricultural ecosystems under environmental pressure.
II. THE IMPACTS OF AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
17. Agricultural production utilizes natural resources of diverse ecosystems worldwide and is the economic activity most representative as far as extension of land is concerned - nearly one-third of the world's land area is used for food production. As a consequence, many adverse effects may occur on biological diversity at on- and off-farm levels. Most of the world biological diversity on land is harboured by areas under exploitation by humans, so conserving biological diversity implies improving the ways agricultural ecosystems are managed.
18. Different agricultural practices lead to diverse impacts upon biological diversity. These impacts occur on ecosystem, species and genetic levels.
19. Unsustainable agricultural practices have resulted in the degradation of habitats by destruction of biotic and abiotic resources, as well as threats to the natural resource base to agriculture, and socio-economic problems created by destruction of the local resource basis.
20. Inappropriate reliance on monoculture, over-mechanization and misuse of agricultural chemicals diminish the diversity of fauna, flora and micro-organisms, including beneficial organisms. Those practices normally lead to a simplification of the components of the environment and to unstable production systems. In the same way, expansion of agriculture to frontier areas, including forest, savannas, wetlands, mountains, and aridlands, combined with overgrazing, and inadequate crop management and pest control strategies contribute to degradation of biological diversity, as well as to the loss of cultural diversity of traditional communities.
21. The world is changing rapidly in modern times, and agriculture along with it. The impacts of today's agricultural practices upon biological diversity are not all well known, neither in the present nor if they are extrapolated into the future. Agriculture has a history of over 10,000 years. The time perspectives for sustainability of agriculture ecosystems must be of a similar dimension.
22. Benefits to biological diversity have accrued from sustainable intensification of agriculture around the world. Hundreds of millions of hectares of land, often in fragile, biological diversity-rich environments, would have had to be ploughed were it not for the tremendous advances, often based on the use of genetic diversity. Agricultural fields can also have positive impacts in providing habitats for birds, insects and animals.
23. Agriculturalists have made strong efforts to preserve biological diversity important to agriculture, both in situ and ex situ. Currently, progress is being made in many regions of the world in implementing biological diversity-friendly agricultural practices in soil conservation, withdrawing production from marginal areas, mastering chemical and nutrient runoff, and breeding crop varieties which are genetically resistant to diseases, pests and abiotic stresses.
III. GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS
24. The field of agriculture offers a unique opportunity for the Convention on Biological Diversity to link concerns with biological diversity conservation and sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources with the mainstream economy.
25. The SBSTTA activities in this field should focus on the interface between agricultural sustainability and environmental issues. They should promote the integration of social, economic and environmental considerations and provide advice on common problems relating to agricultural biological diversity.
26. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties consider the contributions of conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biological diversity to sustainable agriculture as one of its key focal areas.
27. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties instruct the Secretariat to establish a process which may lead to the development of a work programme or activities in this field. There is a need to determine what issues are not being addressed in the activities and work programmes of other organizations.
28. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties take note of the willingness of FAO to continue serving countries in implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity in the area of agricultural biological diversity. It was noted that the representative of FAO recalled, in particular, the mandate of the FAO intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture as adopted in 1995 by FAO Council Resolution 1/110 which requested the Organization to "respond to requests from the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in the specific area of genetic resources of relevance to food and agriculture, including the provision of information and other services to the Conference of the Parties and its subsidiary bodies, especially in the areas of early warning systems, global assessment and clearing house facilities, in particular and as appropriate, through the Global System for the Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture."
29. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties encourage Parties to actively implement the Leipzig Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The SBSTTA further notes the important of the country-based FAO Global Strategy of the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources.
30. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties encourage Parties to evaluate and promote research and extension partnerships in research and development processes and in evaluation of research and development programmes for sustainable agriculture. To achieve this, countries should be encouraged to set up and maintain local-level forums for farmers, researchers, and extension workers to meet, discuss and debate in a partnership which creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and a free flow of information.
31. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties encourage:
(i) the transformation of unsustainable agricultural technological approaches into sustainable production practices adapted to local biotic and abiotic conditions.
(ii) the development, maintenance and mobilization of local knowledge of farmers and of farming communities, with special reference to gender roles in food production for sustainable development.
32. The SBSTTA recommends to the Conference of the Parties the need to study the positive and negative impacts on ecosystems and biomes of agricultural transformation resulting from intensification or extensification.
33. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties encourage at national and regional levels adequate and appropriate services to farmers and responsiveness of public research and extension services.
IV. SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS
34. The SBSTTA should conduct a gap analysis of the activities and instruments related to agricultural biological diversity in order to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the agricultural sector. The SBSTTA recommends that the Secretariat invite the FAO's collaboration in this task and consult other organizations as appropriate. The results should be reported back to the SBSTTA with the objective of developing a multi-year workplan. Other agencies would be invited to participate, as appropriate, when the SBSTTA has identified priority issues to address.
35. Issues to be considered during the gap analysis could include, inter alia:
1. Pollinators, including consideration of the monitoring of the loss of pollinators worldwide; the identification of the specific causes of pollinator decline; the estimation of the economic cost associated with reduced pollination of crops; the identification and promotion of best practices and technologies for more sustainable agriculture; and the identification and encouragement of the adoption of conservation practices to maintain pollinators or to promote their re-establishment;
2. Soil micro-organisms in agriculture, including consideration of: the measurement and monitoring of the worldwide loss of Symbiotic Soil Micro-organisms (SSM), in particular nitrogen-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi; the identification and promotion of the transfer of technologies for the detection of SSM and their use to enhance nitrogen fixation and phosphorous absorption; the estimation of the potential and actual economic gain associated with reduced use of chemical N and P fertilization of crops with enhanced use and conservation of SSM; the identification and promotion of best practices for more sustainable agriculture; and the identification and promotion of conservation measures to conserve SSM or to promote their re-establishment;
3. Biocontrol organisms;
4. Wild sources of food;
5. The relationship between biological diversity-friendly agricultural practices and market forces;
6. Integrated land and resource management;
7. Traditional knowledge;
8. Possibilities for restoring degraded landscapes;
9. Role of botanical gardens as regards to agricultural biological diversity;
10. Interrelationship between agriculture and wildlife.
36. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties draw the attention of international funding agencies, in particular the Global Environmental Facility, to the urgent need to support the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity important to agriculture and invite these agencies to provide information and feedback in this respect to the Conference of the Parties.
37. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties invite countries to share case study experiences addressing the variety of sustainable agricultural production systems and practices. These should be posted through the clearing-house mechanism of the Convention.
38. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties encourage relevant institutions to strengthen the culture of indigenous communities to encourage in-situ conservation (sustainable use and management) of biological diversity.
39. The SBSTTA should consider agricultural biological diversity in its work programme on indicators and methods of assessment in collaboration with other organization as appropriate.
40. The SBSTTA recommends to the Conference of the Parties that the development and transfer of technology relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biological diversity be promoted through the clearing-house mechanism by facilitating contacts among (i) groups needing solutions to specific problems, (ii) holders of technologies developed and maintained by many sources, including not only the private sector but also universities, Governments and farmers, (iii) technology-transfer brokers, and (iv) enabling agencies which fund technology transfer.
41. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties encourage Parties to develop integrated resource management (IRM) to achieve sustainable high-yielding agricultural ecosystems, for instance, Integrated Plant Nutrition Management and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with an emphasis on nutrient recirculation at the agricultural ecosystem level, including crop rotation and inter-cropping.
42. The SBSTTA recommends that the Conference of the Parties encourage Parties to:
1. Encourage the development of technologies/farming systems that not only increase productivity, but also arrest degradation as well as reclaim, rehabilitate, restore and enhance biological diversity. These could include, inter alia, organic farming, integrated pest management, biological control, no-till agriculture, multi-cropping, inter-cropping, crop rotation, agricultural forestry.
2. Encourage efforts to appraise and disseminate knowledge used or retained by indigenous and traditional communities, consistent with the Convention, in particular Articles 8(j) and 10(c).
3. Encourage ex ante and/or ex post evaluation of impacts to biological diversity from agricultural development projects, to assure the use of best practices to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
4. Encourage development and adoption of methods to assess and predict impacts on biological diversity of agricultural technologies, practices and production systems.
5. Identify key components of biological diversity in agricultural production systems responsible for maintaining natural processes and cycles, evaluating the effects of different agricultural practices and technologies on those components and encouraging the adoption of repairing practices to attain appropriate levels of biological diversity.