What is COP V?

COP V is the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It was held in Nairobi, Kenya from 15th to 26th May 2000.

The 'Parties' are those governments - 174 countries as at 1999 -- who have signed the Convention, which was formulated at the Rio Earth Summit (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or UNCED) in 1992. Each government sent a delegation to Nairobi.

The CBD is a comprehensive treaty to protect the world's biodiversity. It is legally binding upon the Parties. In other words, whatever was agreed and adopted at the Conference, those governments will be obliged to accept, implement and enforce.

A Conference of the Parties (COP) is held every one or two years. The Nairobi conference is the fifth, hence COP V. The United Nations Environment Programme was responsible for the organisation of the Conference.

The COP is more of a signing-off forum than a debating chamber. In between COPs, various committees, working groups and ad-hoc groups, as well as the Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), meet to ensure that work programmes agreed by the last Conference are carried out, and to prepare new measures and work programmes for the next Conference.

Specific agencies are given certain responsibilities to take these programmes forward. For example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is responsible for work on agricultural biodiversity. ITDG has networked closely with FAO internationally, and has provided consultancy and the facilitation of workshops.

The main structures responsible for compliance with CBD measures, however, are the signatory national governments. There is one exception - the European Union signed as well as the individual countries doing so.

The opportunity for farmers at COP V

For the first time the Conference of the Parties was held in a country, and a region, where the economy is primarily agricultural -- 80 per cent of Kenya's people derive their livelihood from agriculture, and the same is true elsewhere in the region of East Africa.

This presented a vital opportunity to bring practical local meaning to the term 'agricultural biodiversity'. Delegates to COP V came to a region where the food security of the majority, and the livelihoods of millions, are based on the activities of small scale producers who help to shape, manage and develop the region's agricultural biodiversity.

In its first few years the CBD had mainly an agenda of conservation, focused on certain ecosystems felt to be at particular risk. The use of the term 'agricultural biodiversity' has arisen since the original Convention was framed. There are many governments, ministries, policy makers and stakeholders who remain poorly aware or informed about what it means. As the programme of work on agricultural biodiversity moves into a higher gear at COP V, this needed to change.

With agricultural biodiversity, we are not talking about static 'conservation' but about the dynamic ways in which, over centuries, the activities of farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and others have helped to develop and create ecosystems which support their productive activities and therefore provide food security both to themselves and to others.

Small scale food producers do not just 'live off' diversity - they develop diversity. They do so in the continual search for locally appropriate, locally adapted varieties - such as crops which can thrive on specific soils, in specific climates.

The FAO and the CBD have therefore recognised that in 'agricultural biodiversity' we are looking at the complex interaction of development and environment - at social and economic issues, as much as the preservation of species.

Much of the wealth of agricultural biodiversity is conserved through sustainable use in small scale production systems, often in marginal agricultural areas. These production systems are not only important for the conservation of life forms, but also provide food for around one third of the world's six billion population, as well as providing livelihoods for most of the world's poor people in rural areas.

The setting of COP V in Nairobi was therefore an opportunity to bring the decision-makers on agricultural biodiversity - the majority of the world's governments - into direct contact with the true, demonstrable meaning of the term. It is an opportunity to urge them to do more, and more quickly, to act upon the well-founded rhetoric in the proposed CBD work programme on agricultural biodiversity.

With ITDG and its partners, smallholder farmers came into Nairobi from all over Kenya and from other countries such as Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, to speak directly to the policy makers and tell them what support they need.

A Zimbabwe farmer makes a speech at COP V May 2000.

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