18 MAY 2000

Defending Agricultural Biodiversity

The COP has one of its most important tasks on Friday 19th May 2000. It has to decide about how to develop its work on Agricultural Biodiversity. The Draft Decision text is deficient in various details, mainly that it does not stress sufficiently the need for a farmer-centred programme.

Agricultural biodiversity is central to both environment and development.

  • Agriculture is the largest user of biodiversity
  • Farmers are the main ecosystem managers
  • Agricultural biodiversity provides:
    • sustainable production of food,
    • biological support to production, and
    • ecosystem services

The Agricultural Biodiversity Programme of Work must be farmer-centred if it is to be effective. It must stress and promote:

  • Farmers' guardian role in conservation and sustainable use
  • Empowerment of farmers
  • Counteracting the spread of unsustainable agriculture and use of unsustainable and potentially unsafe technologies - especially GURTs
  • Farmer-driven research and development

The CBD must actively collaborate with farming communities and their institutions as principal partners.

Specific textual changes have been proposed by NGOs in the GBF15 report, covering the need for additional clauses in each of the four elements of the proposed programme of work, each addressing the need for farmer-centred approaches and practices. There is a need to ensure that reports to COP 6 cover work on all these elements and demonstrate the way in which the Convention is really reflecting the demands, aspirations and needs of farmers and reporting that meaningful incentives are being provided to them to enable them to continue their role in managing agricultural biodiversity on which universal food security depends.

Many specific details are included in the landmark Decision III/11 on Agricultural Biodiversity that cover not only the Programme of Work but also, a description of the problems and possibilities of different agricultural systems and the need to mitigate the negative impacts of industrial agriculture on agricultural biodiversity, the relationship with WTO, and encouragement to the FAO to complete the negotiations on the International Undertaking.

The International Undertaking (IU) is being renegotiated by countries through the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. But, given the distinctive nature, origin and problems of PGRFA and the farmers' knowledge embodied in these, the IU will need to provide a framework which simultaneously permits free access and exchange, through a multilateral system of access to the resources, provide benefits related to end use i.e. food security and implement internationally recognised Farmers' Rights. (see the NGO statement to COP 5 debate on Access to Genetic Resources )

The COP Decision should ensure a pro-farmer IU is submitted to the next COP as a legally binding instrument.

This COP should ensure that its decisions relating to Agricultural Biodiversity in other areas are consistent and coherent and linked through specific references in the Decision on Agricultural Biodiversity.

The CBD has a real challenge before it. How can it support farmers' efforts to Sustain Life on Earth: to maintain the functions and integrity of Agro-ecosystems through the sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity? A good Decision on Agricultural Biodiversity that loses none of the gains made in previous Decisions and adds a farmer-centred focus to the CBD's work, will be a good step forward.

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