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• 11•11•2011 •

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Montréal, 7 - 11 November 2011

Updated 11 November 2011

15th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Technical and Technological Advice held in Montréal, 7 - 11 November 2011

Latest In-session Documents


CBD – the UNsustainable Use Convention?

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Patrick Mulvany, Practical Action

So, 20 years after Rio , what has the CBD done to stop the unsustainable use of biodiversity?

As one of the dominant users of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems and with impacts on other ecosystems, what is agriculture's role in realising “ substantial improvements in the sustainable use of biodiversity – a precondition to achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 ”? Over the decades, has the CBD acted robustly to prevent and reduce bad agricultural practices and has it defended and promoted the good practices that use agricultural biodiversity sustainably? The jury is out…

Agriculture is part of the problem .

Industrial commodity and livestock production and fisheries is dramatically undermining, and will continue to undermine, the sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity, its related ecosystem functions and the lives and livelihoods of those who sustain and develop it. This industrial production is supported by unjust and biodiversity-eroding laws, rules, contracts and especially chemically-compliant genetic technologies, including hybrids, GMOs, and now Terminator technologies and Synthetic Biology.

Agriculture can be part of the solution

Agricultural biodiversity and its related ecosystem functions is conserved, sustainably used and has been, and continues to be, developed by small-scale food producers – farmers, gardeners, livestock keepers, artisanal fishers, forest dwellers, Indigenous Peoples and Local communities, among others. Their small scale ecological food production systems, developed in the framework of food sovereignty, can sustain and regenerate agricultural biodiversity, soil fertility and water resources. Through their practices they realise sustainable use – especially of agricultural biodiversity

Will the CBD champion these women and men who sustainably use biodiversity – especially small-scale food producers whose resilient production systems provide not only healthy local food but also sustain a wide range of agricultural biodiversity?

Will the CBD tackle the UNsustainable users of biodiversity and, as it agreed to do in Rio in 1992 “ to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity at source ”?

Or will the CBD simply wash its hands of its core mandate and resign itself to be the UNsustainable Use Convention, letting the powerful fiddle with genes while biodiversity burns?

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Don't Flush GISP down the Pan!

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Pat Mooney (ETC Group)

As psychologists always say, pet's bring out the best in us. So, it's not surprising that Tuesday's working group and Side Event discussions on exotic pets (the muzzled “invasive species” agenda) was mostly a feel-good moment where many European governments took the lead in calling for the precautionary principle and received warm support from most other parties with the notable exceptions of Brazil and Argentina who were clearly riding another horse.

Industry seemed to side with Brazil and Argentina and told governments that the problem wasn't biopiracy or environmentally-destructive treating it was that consumers have to be educated not to flush their little pets down the toilet. It's all really just a misunderstanding that can be resolved with warning signs and posters.

As charming as it is to have industry arguing for labeling -and, as interesting as it is to contemplate extending the labeling of invasive exotic pets to other invasive species like GM maize and GM soybeans, Europe needs to back up its precautionary approach with the money needed to make it work.

It is as much absurd as it is tragic that the Global Invasive Species Program (GISP) lacks the funding it requires to continue its excellent work. The absurdity is compounded because GISP is being penalized for providing exactly the kind of responsible scientific reports that some governments -especially those in Europe - have been demanding of the SBSTTA.

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Confronting UNsustainable Use

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CBD/ SBSTTA 15, Montreal

Agenda item 4.3: Sustainable Use

Intervention by Patrick Mulvany, Practical Action

Many thanks Chair for the opportunity to speak, on behalf of NGOS in the CBD Alliance present at this meeting, to this item on Sustainable Use .

We welcome the paper UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/15/13 for its comprehensive coverage of the issue in a landscape perspective.

We support the views expressed by the spokesperson from the International Indigenous Forum for Biodiversity and their demands.

This is one of the most important issues before this SBSTTA as it relates directly to one of the core pillars of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) .

Chair, as most of us in this room are aware, the task before us is primarily to stop the UNsustainable use of biodiversity including at landscape levels (also stated by Austria , Timor Leste, among others). We should be reminded that it was agreed in 1992 in the founding document of the CBD "...that it is vital to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity at source." Agriculture is one of the dominant users of terrestrial ecosystems. We would urge that agreed actions related to agriculture's interaction with the environment – covered by all the CBD Decisions on Agricultural Biodiversity, its joint Programme of Work with FAO, and is reflected in many other processes (e.g. CGRFA    [note 1], IT PGRFA   [note 2]) – be implemented.

This has not happened. As confirmed by many reports (e.g. GBO   [note3], IAASTD   [note 4]) industrial agriculture, livestock production and fisheries continue to erode biodiversity. The precautionary principle is not being followed, as evidenced in biodiversity-destroying laws, regulations and technologies, like GMOs and the latest, most egregious, development of Synthetic Biology .

Unprecedented biodiversity losses are driven by the imperative to develop and disseminate proprietary goods and services; trade laws that favour industrial actors; and the homogenisation of consumers' food cultures.

Chair, to achieve Strategic Goal B : “Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use” and many Aichi targets , especially Targets 7 and 13, we must stop the UNsustainable use of biodiversity. Parties must resolve to adopt legally-enforceable international regulation of biodiversity-damaging industrial production that is both dependent on non-renewable energy, depletes our water sources and contributes to destructive greenhouse gases.

Agricultural biodiversity and its related ecosystem functions that is conserved, sustainably used and developed by small-scale food producers – farmers, gardeners, livestock keepers, artisanal fishers, forest dwellers, Indigenous Peoples and Local communities, among others also currently provides more than 70% of the world's food. Agricultural biodiversity has CULTURAL, social and temporal, as well as genetic, species and ecosystem, dimensions. Therefore, in order to ensure the sustainable use of biodiversity, Parties are urged to protect and support small-scale, biodiversity-enhancing food providers, ensuring continued benefits through their sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity and related ecosystem functions and their contribution to a healthy environment and food sovereignty.

Chair, in order to take this work forward, it is also essential that the organisations of these small-scale food providers – the real experts – and the civil society organizations that support them, are explicitly involved in the development of norms and programmes relating to the sustainable use of biodiversity.

We hope that Parties will support this request.

[note 1] FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

[note 2] International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

[note 3] Global Biodiversity Outlook

[note 4] International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development


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Time for CBD to provide oversight of Synthetic Biology

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It sounds almost like the opposite of the natural biological diversity and sustainable use traditions that the CBD is entrusted to protect. Synthetic Biology, the artificial construction of lifeforms from synthetic genetic parts, is now leaving the lab and rapidly ballooning into a multibillion dollar industry. As it does so The CBD is now beginning to move towards discussing oversight of synthetic biology. The issue will be raised at SBSTAA 16 as a new and emerging issue however the issue links directly to much of what will be discussed here at SBSTTA 15.

The urgency of starting this discussion is growing daily. Almost all major energy, chemical and grain companies have investments in a clutch of new 'synthetic biology' startups with names like Amyris Biotech, Life Technologies and Solazyme whose business plan is to use manmade engineered bacteria, viruses, yeast and crops to produce fuels, chemicals and other industrial compounds in large vats. behind them are more familiar names: shell, BP, Exxon, Cargill  Du pont, ADM and otehrs with wide global reach and impact.

In the process such a business plan will gobble up large quantities of biomass feedstocks fueling land use change and land grabs. Those proprietary vats of synthetic organisms may displace the production of natural commodities in farmers fields (such as vanilla, licorice or rubber) by moving that production into microbes rewired to act as cellular factories. Those synthetic organisms may escape into the environment, contaminating waterways and soil or worse yet may intentionally be released into the environment either for experimental bioremediation or in the form of synthetic algae species. Two companies, Synthetic Genomics Inc working hand in hand with Exxon Mobil, and Sapphire Energy with funding from Monsanto are attempting to scale up its outdoor production of synthetic algal species in the next few years to facilities covering hundreds of acres.

To address the many issues raised by synthetic biology a comprehensive set of submissions are now available on the CBD website under new and emerging issues prepared by several civil society groups outlining the risks and proposing concrete ways forward. These will be discussed under New And Emerging issues at SBSTTA 16 and parties will do well to study those proposals carefully.  However Synthetic Biology could already be addressed here at SBSTTA 15 under several items:

> Preventing release of synthetic algal species could be addressed under the item on inland freshwater ecosystems

> Preventing release of untested synthetic organisms as bioremediation agents could be addressed under ecosystem restoration

> Ensuring that Synthetic biology is properly assessed for its adverse impacts before release in accordance with the precautionary principle could be considered under the Biodiversity Targets especially target 19.

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NGO Opening Statement

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Montréal 7-11 November 2011

NGO Opening Statement (full text)

Madam Chair

Thank you for the opportunity to address the opening session of this 15 th SBSTTA.

My name is Marvin Gómez, a Lenca farmer from Fundación para la Investigación Participativa con Agricultores de Honduras (FIPAH), and I am speaking on behalf of NGO members  of the CBD Alliance ( ) present at this meeting.

We would first like to support the statement of the Indigenous and Local Communities and in particular agree that their knowledge systems are central to the issues before the CBD.

Chair, we have come to this SBSTTA to contribute views from Civil Society on the important agenda items you have before you. Through our CBD Alliance, we have discussed and debated these issues in some depth in preparation for this meeting, for example with reference to the comprehensive capacity building strategy of the Global Taxonomy Initiative. We will, at the appropriate times in each agenda item present these to you individually and collectively, if you and your co-chairs will permit. We will welcome the support of Parties for the points we will make.

We have three concerns that we would especially wish to draw to your attention:

1. We would urge you to ensure that SBSTTA retains an inclusive definition of Science and Technology, which recognises the sciences, technologies and knowledge systems developed and used by all actors concerned with sustaining life on Earth. We recommend therefore that para 2 of the recommendations include reference to the time-tested knowledge of indigenous and local communities. and have wording to provide to the Chairs. It is also important to recognise that the SBSTTA cannot and should not separate politics from science, technology and knowledge systems. It is artificial and misleading to separate science from its political, economic and cultural contexts. This is a space in the UN system where these issues are debated and prepared for wider consideration and resolution in the COP.

2. We welcome the Rio +20 process and work towards improved environmental governance and anticipate that this SBSTTA will strengthen our work in the Biodiversity Convention. We recommend the Civil Society Mechanism adopted in the new UN Committee on World Food Security as a model for improved collaboration in the CBD and Rio +20.

3. We are further concerned about some proposals for the ‘Green Economy' will lead to the commodification of nature and biodiversity, will destroy local communities and undermine the work of this Convention. Governments have not done what they committed to do in 1992 and the proposed ‘Green Economy' cannot disguise these failures. There is little to assure us that the control will be retained by democratic intergovernmental processes – and in relation to Biodiversity that means this esteemed Convention. We draw to your attention that the document concerning ‘innovative financial mechanisms' was not accepted at COP10 in Nagoya . Market mechanisms are no substitute for rights-based legal protection. Financial institutions that have failed miserably to even manage housing mortgages should not be allowed to play in the garden!

Chair, we are here to provide our best and considered advice. We are committed to see a successful outcome of this meeting. We call on everyone here to learn from what is happening outside this conference hall and ensure that nothing that is agreed here will allow Wall St to Occupy the ecosystems of the world.

Many thanks

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Supporting the Majority Food Producers

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Supporting the Majority Food Producers

the Small-scale Developers and Sustainable Users of Agricultural Biodiversity.

Patrick Mulvany, Practical Action

The good news is that more than 70% of the food people eat is still produced locally. The women and men who farm, garden, raise livestock, fish and gather other wild foods under the cultural norms of customary institutions, providing it to people through local food webs and local markets, are the world's majority food producers. They are also the people who have sustained and continue to develop the agricultural biodiversity, in all its dimensions from genes to landscapes, which is the basis of all our food. They have nurtured this vital sub-set of biodiversity through using it sustainably over millennia in their resilient ecological food production systems.

The bad news is that the seemingly inexorable spread of industrial agriculture, livestock production and fisheries, supported by unjust and biodiversity-eroding laws, rules, contracts and technologies, is dramatically undermining agricultural biodiversity, its related ecosystem functions and the lives and livelihoods of those who sustain and develop it.

Twenty years ago in the text of the Convention, governments recognised " ...that it is vital to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity at source. " The well-documented causes of these losses include the rapid spread of industrial production of commodities and livestock as well as unsustainable capture fisheries. These losses are facilitated by, among others: the legalisation of the enclosure of community rights to seeds, livestock breeds, aquatic organisms and their genes; research that is driven by the imperative to develop and disseminate proprietary goods and services; the globalisation of production and trade; and the homogenisation of consumers' food cultures.

The bio-barons, and other distant and unaccountable corporations and financiers, behind the spread of industrial production, wish to extend their control over, and profit from, the global food system. They would further capture, control and ultimately destroy the markets, livelihoods and ecosystems of the bio-serfs, shackling them meanwhile in food chains of input supply and produce markets.

This perilous situation can be averted by implementing what has already been agreed and working closely in support of the majority food producers themselves.

There is no shortage of priorities and actions, which have been adopted by governments.

  • The Addis Ababa principles on sustainable use are to show parties and other actors “ how to ensure that the use of the components of biodiversity will not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity.” The ‘Guidelines on the Ecosystem Approach' further support this.
  • The landmark 1996 Decision III/11 on Agricultural Biodiversity in its Annex 1 stated that… “ Meeting the imperative of increasing agricultural production in such sustainable [agroecological] ways while conserving and prudently using biological diversity is the major challenge which we must urgently address ” (emphasis added). This Decision provided the ‘basis for action' of the CBD's Programme of Work on Agricultural Biodiversity.
  • The CBD's decisions on Agricultural Biodiversity have, since 1996, reinforced the need to, for example “ prioritise work on promoting, supporting and removing constraints to on-farm and in situ conservation of agricultural biodiversity.
  • The World Bank/UN sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), approved by 58 governments in 2008, found it necessary to move towards smaller-scale and more agroecological production systems that, inter alia , would sustain agricultural biodiversity.
  • The International Seed Treaty (IT PGRFA) has inextricably linked articles on sustainable use, conservation and Farmers' Rights, debated in the 2011 session of its Governing Body, with commitments to action.
  • The Second Global Plan of Action on the Conservation and Sustainable use of PGRFA, adopted by FAO in 2011, has a Priority Actions to support ‘on-farm' and ‘ in situ ' conservation.

The Convention was empowered 20 years ago in Rio to challenge and change norms and practices that damage biodiversity and do what is necessary to ensure benefits flow to those who conserve and continue to use it sustainably. In terms of agricultural biodiversity, this should have translated, on the one hand, into legally-enforceable international regulation of biodiversity-damaging industrial production, and, on the other hand, into globally actioned protection and support for small-scale, biodiversity-enhancing food providers, ensuring continued benefits through their sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity, for producing food, securing livelihoods and sustaining healthy ecosystems.

The evidence is clear. Actions are agreed. The small-scale providers of the world's food have shown through their promotion of the food sovereignty framework that they are willing and able.

What is the CBD waiting for?

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