GBF 15: Report on Agricultural Biodiversity Workshop

15th Global Biodiversity Forum: Workshop 3

Agricultural Biodiversity and Sustainable Livelihoods: the case of Drylands Ecosystems

Drylands are not wastelands.

  • They are one of the most biodiverse areas of the world in terms of species per square metre;
  • They provide local and national food security; large, sometimes the majority, production of key food items, such as meat; and a significant proportion of GDP;
  • They provide livelihoods and food security for large numbers of people.

Biodiversity policy is often silent on drylands - this COP should change that!

Our workshop concluded that there was a need for a major strategic shift required by decision makers on the development and transformation of subsistence and traditional agriculture. This sector, which already contributes significantly to national food security in most countries and is a dominant land use especially in drylands, should be developed on its own terms by seeking ways of integrating it into the market in ways which secure the livelihoods and aspirations of small-scale food producers. This sector draws on the knowledge, innovations and practices of billions of female and male farmers, herders and fisherfolk, and provides the underpinning of the food security of the whole world. It should not be subjected to unfettered challenge and transfer of technologies and systems from industrial, globalised agriculture.

This industrial agriculture, while productive in the short term, is turning prime land and water resources into biological diversity wastelands and polluted lagoons. In particular, key northern-based financial instruments are proving highly destructive of biological diversity and unsupportive of sustainable agriculture, such as the Common Agriculture Policy of the European Union, and should be reviewed urgently. Policy should, rather, transform the negative practices and impacts of industrial agriculture, range management, forestry and fisheries towards practices of a sustainable agriculture, and strengthen the positive attributes of smaller-scale food production systems, as noted in Decision III/11 of this Convention.


The Workshop came to 3 main conclusions:

1.Agricultural Biodiversity has to be a major area for action by the Parties in implementing this Convention. Agricultural Biodiversity must form a key dimension of any sustainable agriculture strategy and policy. Agriculture is the largest user of biodiversity and its components and farmers are the main ecosystem managers. Farming is based on agricultural biodiversity and it forms a large part of terrestrial biodiversity, not least in drylands. Agricultural biodiversity provides sustainable production of food, biological support to production, and ecosystem services. Therefore COP 5 needs to adopt strong operative programmes of work on agricultural biodiversity and drylands and seek productive collaboration with key implementing agencies such as FAO and Convention to Combat Desertification.

Agricultural biodiversity is under immediate threat. Around 1.6 billion people depend on farm-saved seed, yet up to 75 per cent of varieties of some key crops have already been lost this century. The rate of loss may well increase as global trade rules, intellectual property rights regimes, the concentration of agricultural research and development on inappropriate technological 'solutions', and now the introduction and promotion of genetically engineered products, all combine to erode local resources from the fields of smallholder farmers.

The Workshop urges the COP to reinforce its concerns over the development of Varietal Genetic Use restriction Technologies (V-GURTs or Terminator Technologies) as measures for limiting access to germplasm and to raise serious questions over the ethical, moral, economic and environmental impacts of T-GURTs (Trait specific). Furthermore it should call for a balancing on research into modern biotechnology, in favour of a redirection of research and development resources into sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies that sustain poor people's livelihoods, agricultural biodiversity and agro-ecosystem functions.

In this context the workshop recognised the importance of farmer-derived Agricultural Biodiversity that includes the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms which are necessary to maintain the structure, processes and key functions of the agricultural ecosystem for, and in support of, food production and food security.

2.The two Programmes of Work on Agricultural Biodiversity and Dry and Sub-Humid Lands must be farmer-centred. COP must stress that in the implementation of these programmes, Parties ensure continuity of farmers' guardian role for a major part of global biodiversity. Thus, the Convention and its Parties should give full support to actions by farmers that conserve and sustainably use / maintain agricultural biodiversity and reflect such actions in their National Reports. The empowerment of farmers is crucial in counteracting the spread of unsustainable agriculture technologies and practices, that pose a major threat to agricultural biodiversity, by an increasingly powerful trans-national 'Life Industry' that is making multi-billion investments in technologies and inputs including genetic modification. Parties should work with the private sector to promote farmer-driven research and development. This Convention must actively collaborate with farming communities and their institutions as key partners, in the further development of the programmes of work.

The Parties to the Convention must send a strong message to FAO to rapidly complete the harmonisation of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources with this Convention to include forceful Articles on Farmers' Rights; a multilateral system of Access, outlawing proprietary ownership through patents and Plant Variety Protection of all designated materials and their derivatives; and Benefit Sharing related to end use i.e. food security.

The Workshop recognised that dryland ecosystems are under increasing pressure to support a growing population and that agriculture is dependent on water availability. Farmers in drylands have developed mechanisms for coping with water stress through migration with their livestock (nomadism and transhumance) and the use of drought-resistant crops and varieties and technologies for conserving rainwater. The Workshop emphasised the need to balance agricultural water requirements with those of ecosystems at water catchment levels in order to maintain the totality of biodiversity.

3.The Parties to the Convention should support actions to raise consumer awareness to support sustainable farming, agricultural biodiversity and localised food systems in all ecosystems particularly in drylands. By the promotion of improved markets, which add value locally, consumers can increase the transfer of resources to producers: e.g. support for niche markets, organic farming; increased access to national and international markets. The COP should recognise and facilitate this.

There follow some specific recommendations on Textual changes to the COP Draft Decisions, by the Global Biodiversity Forum to COP 5 on its Decisions on Agricultural Biodiversity and Dry and Sub-Humid Lands Ecosystems.

Agricultural Biodiversity

The draft Decision supports the implementation of the four elements of the Programme of Work. The COP should develop these programme elements to reflect the need for the Programme of Work to be farmer-centred, if it is to be effective, as follows:

Requests the Secretariat to carry out an assessment of farmer knowledge, innovations and practices in sustaining agricultural biodiversity and agroecosytem functions for, and in support of, food production and food security and report to COP 6. Major inputs should be solicited from local farmers and their communities.

2.Adaptive management:
Requests the Secretariat to proactively seek inputs from farmers and their communities including local farming communities embodying traditional lifestyles, in the implementation of these activities.

3.Capacity building:
Promote cooperation of farmers and their institutions in particular at the local level in actions to promote conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity.

Change the Operational Objective to read:
“To develop national plans and strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity and ensure their mainstreaming and integration in sectoral and cross-sectoral plans and programmes, in particular in national agricultural policies.”
Requests the Secretariat to carry out a study on the demands by farmers for support by governments of their action to conserve and sustainably use agricultural biodiversity. This study should be carried out in close consultation with farmers and their institutions and be submitted to COP 6.

Dry and Sub-Humid Lands Ecosystems

The COP should further develop its Programme of Work to include:

Requests the Secretariat to carry out an assessment of farmer knowledge, innovations and practices in sustaining dry and sub-humid lands ecosytems for, and in support of, food production and food security and report to COP 6. Major inputs should be solicited from local farmers and their communities.

Targeted actions:
The proposed programme of work should be expanded to include three new paragraphs, under Activity 8, as follows:
8 (e) Adapting national development strategies to the needs of pastoralists in full consultation with them and other stakeholders;
8 (f) Adopting measures for integrated management of catchments (including wetlands and forests), ensuring a balance between human and ecosystem needs of water;
8 (g) Implementing biodiversity-friendly and equitable land tenure systems.

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