Specials Environment
AGENDA 21 10 Land resources 11 Deforestation 12 Desertification 13 Mountains
14 SARD 15 Biodiversity Climate Energy

Progress Report
FAO, June 1997
Chapter 15:
Conservation of
biological diversity

The challenge

Genetic resources for food and agriculture are the biological basis of world food security. They encompass the diversity of genetic material in both traditional and modern plant varieties and animal breeds, as well as wild relatives and other wild species used as food.

Today this "agrobiodiversity" is under growing threat. A wide range of plant diversity has been lost this century as farmers have abandoned their traditional cultivars and "landraces" for genetically uniform, high yielding varieties. Some 30% of livestock breeds are at the point of extinction. In fisheries, introduced species have improved production in many areas, but may also threaten to erode natural genetic diversity while forest genetic diversity is affected by habitat loss, unsustainable forestry practices and the contamination of locally adapted genepools by hybridizing species.

Agenda 21 warned that this accelerating erosion of the Earth's biological diversity represents "a serious threat to human development". To meet the food needs of their growing populations, developing countries will need to expand agricultural production rapidly, mainly through sustainable intensification, productivity increases and optimal management of productive natural systems. Success will depend on the conservation and use of the full "portfolio" of genetic material adapted to local conditions, including genes from the wild relatives of domesticated plants and animals. It will also depend critically on preventing further erosion within cultivated species and domesticated breeds.

Progress since UNCED

Following UNCED, FAO broadened the scope of its intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to cover all plant, farm animal, forest and fisheries biodiversity. The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity has recognized the Commission's role, given "the special nature of agricultural biodiversity, its distinctive features and problems needing distinctive solutions".

At the recommendation of Agenda 21, the Commission is strengthening FAO's Global System on Plant Genetic Resources. The Commission is the forum for negotiation of revisions, in harmony with the Biodiversity Convention, to the 1983 International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources. Under its guidance, FAO has published the first Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources and prepared of a Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources that was adopted by 150 governments at an International Technical Conference in Leipzig, Germany in June 1996. It has developed two other key components of the Global System: the World Information and Early Warning System and the International Network of Ex Situ Collections under the Auspices of FAO.

FAO is also leading development of the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources. Work began with a survey in 180 countries that highlighted the gravity of genetic erosion during the second half of the century. The strategy will comprise a country-based structure of focal points, stakeholder networks and FAO's country-secure Domestic Animal Diversity Information System. Also planned are a wide-ranging technical programme, intergovernmental dialogue and policy-making, and expert development of modalities for implementation.

In the fisheries sector, FAO identified in 1992 priorities and general principles for the sustainable use and conservation of the genetic diversity of both natural and farmed aquatic species. Plans of action and guidelines were developed in 1995 through the FAO/Japan Kyoto Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security, and the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. With Sweden, FAO also elaborated guidelines for the application of the "precautionary approach" to fisheries management and the use of introduced species.

In the area of forestry genetic resources, FAO co-sponsored in 1995 a series of separate international workshops on boreal zone, North American temperate and European forest genetic resources which could serve as possible "models" for similar discussions in other ecological regions in 1998. Its Committee on Forestry in March 1997 discussed the need to prepare a global plan of action on forest genetic resources, aimed at facilitating a country-driven process to strengthen and streamline future activities in the field. There was no consensus, but some countries considered that FAO should pursue efforts to develop regional plans as a first step to develop a global plan of action.

Instruments created following UNCED have given new impetus to existing legal frameworks such the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). FAO has helped governments improve legislation and programmes for conservation and sustainable development of wildlife resources, ecosystems and protected areas.

Key issues

Plants for food production

Farm animals


Forestry, wildlife and ecosystems

The role of FAO

Under its mandate, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focusses on the conservation and sustainable utilization of that part of biodiversity which provides food and other agricultural products. Although Chapter 15 of Agenda 21 covers all kinds of biodiversity, important elements of agrobiodiversity are also addressed in other chapters for which FAO is Task Manager.

FAO and its Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have presented progress reports on their activities in the field of agrobiodiversity to the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity and worked in close cooperation with the Convention Secretariat. Reciprocal reporting between the FAO Commission and the Conference will ensure complementarity and synergy.

FAO contacts

FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Jose T. Esquinas-Alcázar
Tel.: (+39-6) 5225 4986
e-mail: jose.esquinas@fao.org

Plant genetic resources
H. David Cooper
Tel.: (+39-6) 5225 3789
e-mail: david.cooper@fao.org

Domestic animal diversity
Keith Hammond
Tel.: (+39-6) 5225 3364
e-mail: keith.hammond@fao.org
WWW site: http://www.fao.org/dad-is/

Fisheries biodiversity
Devin M. Bartley
Tel.: (+39-6) 5225 4376
e-mail: devin.bartley@fao.org

Forestry genetic resources
Name: Mr. E.H. Sène
Telephone: (+39-6) 5225 5978
e-mail: elhadji.sene@fao.org

Agenda 21 Progress: Introduction | 10 Land | 11 Deforestation | 12 Desertification | 13 Mountains | 14 SARD | 15 Biodiversity | Climate change | Energy

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