Peter Kenmore and Linda Collette
FAO Interdepartmental Working Group on Biodiversity
There are still over a billion hungry people in the world today, and the resources with which to feed these people are becoming scarcer. Agricultural production systems need to focus more on the effective management of biodiversity and ecosystem services in order to conserve biodiversity and safeguard the environment, while feeding the global population. This is especially true in light of global challenges such as ensuring food security, climate change, shifts in population distribution and consumer preferences for food as well as potentially rising energy prices. Well-managed ecosystems are essential for ensuring a healthy resource base on which to intensify sustainably, to ensure that enough food is produced from now until 2050 – and beyond.
Biodiversity and its sustainable use and management are fundamental not only for providing food, but for maintaining and enhancing well-managed agro-ecosystems which in turn are necessary for healthy food production.
The role of biodiversity and the genetic resources it carries is essential for ensuring food security, sustainable livelihoods, ecosystem resilience, coping strategies for climate change, adequate nutritional requirements, insurance for the future (for example, for crop and animal breeding) and the management of biological processes needed for sustainable agricultural production.
With farming practices shifting away from heavy dependency on non-renewable inputs and chemical-based intensification (such as monocultures or the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers), the management of biological processes (such as pest regulation and control, soil biological processes and pollination) is increasingly becoming a recognized option for sustainable agricultural production intensification.
Agricultural systems are by far the largest managed ecosystems in the world. This gives farmers an ever-increasing role in maintaining and enhancing agricultural biodiversity and in providing the wider community with a range of ecosystem services. Farmers are the largest group of natural resource managers on the Earth. They both depend on and generate a wide array of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Their actions can enhance or degrade ecosystems. Farmers’ knowledge is therefore very important in understanding what drives their decisions in all aspects of agricultural production, the sustainable use of biodiversity, the role of the biological process in sustainable agricultural production intensification, and the enhancement of ecosystem functions.
Globally, conserving genetic diversity both in situ and ex situ, and managing biodiversity in situ, are important, in order to capitalize on those traits that are adapted to specific conditions.
The biodiversity maintained in the Southern Caucasus is important for national food security, but also for the wider globe (for example, traits that are found in locally adapted species in the Caucasus can be adapted to suit similar climatic conditions in other geographic areas). The genetic resources found in the Southern Caucasus also play an important role in local culture, traditions and society. Despite the fact that many farmers, scientists, policy-makers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Southern Caucasus are struggling to preserve these genetic resources, their work is not sufficiently known and they are insufficiently connected with the many farmers, scientists and policy-makers of other countries who could share the benefits deriving from using these genetic resources for their agriculture.
One of the greatest challenges to achieving food security is recognizing – and internalizing into concrete action – the longer-term perspective of environmental sustainability. This is important for farmers, but also critical for policy-makers (at all levels – national, regional and international), to make informed decisions that have a positive impact on farmers’ livelihoods, the health of the population, the health of the environment and, ultimately, food security. Effective policy should provide an enabling environment for different sectors to have a favourable impact on sustainable agricultural production intensification, and therefore also on farmers. Hence, the management of natural resources, including biological processes, biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides, becomes essential not only at the farm level, but also at the policy level.
In a world of global changes, a collective effort is necessary to recognize the geographic interdependence between countries and regions.
There is a need to expand beyond national boundaries and promote international collaboration, develop joint research and breeding programmes, promote exchange and develop and strengthen collaboration programmes. This is particularly salient when facing the need to intensify agricultural production sustainably through applying ecosystem approaches.