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Module 1


Agrobiodiversity is the result of natural selection processes and the careful selection and inventive developments of farmers, herders and fishers over millennia. Agrobiodiversity is a vital sub-set of biodiversity. Many people's food and livelihood security depend on the sustained management of various biological resources that are important for food and agriculture. Agricultural biodiversity, also known as agrobiodiversity or the genetic resources for food and agriculture, includes:

Agrobiodiversity is the result of the interaction between the environment, genetic resources and management systems and practices used by culturally diverse peoples, and therefore land and water resources are used for production in different ways. Thus, agrobiodiversity encompasses the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are necessary for sustaining key functions of the agro-ecosystem, including its structure and processes for, and in support of, food production and food security (FAO, 1999a). Local knowledge and culture can therefore be considered as integral parts of agrobiodiversity, because it is the human activity of agriculture that shapes and conserves this biodiversity.

The variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. It comprises the diversity of genetic resources (varieties, breeds) and species used for food, fodder, fibre, fuel and pharmaceuticals. It also includes the diversity of non-harvested species that support production (soil micro-organisms, predators, pollinators), and those in the wider environment that support agro-ecosystems (agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic) as well as the diversity of the agro-ecosystems.
Source: FAO. 1999a

Many farmers, especially those in environments where high-yield crop and livestock varieties do not prosper, rely on a wide range of crop and livestock types. This helps them maintain their livelihood in the face of pathogen infestation, uncertain rainfall and fluctuation in the price of cash crops, socio-political disruption and the unpredictable availability of agro-chemicals. So-called minor or underutilized crops, more accurately, companion crops, are frequently found next to the main staple or cash crops. They often grow side by side and their importance is often misjudged. In many cases, from a livelihoods perspective, they are not minor or underutilized as they can play a disproportionately important role in food production systems at the local level. Plants that will grow in infertile or eroded soils, and livestock that will eat degraded vegetation, are often crucial to household nutritional strategies. In addition, rural communities, and the urban markets with which they trade, make great use of these companion crop species.

In Burkina Faso, and throughout the West African Sahel, rural women carefully collect the fruit, leaves and roots of native plants such as the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata), red sorrel leaves (Hibiscus saddarifa), kapok leaves (Ceiba pentandra) and tigernut tubers (Cyperus esculentus L.) for use in the families' diet. These supplement the agricultural grains (millet, sorghum) that provide only one part of the nutritional spectrum and may fail in any given year. More than 800 species of edible wild plants have been catalogued across the Sahel.
Source: IK Notes No. 23.

There are several distinctive features of agrobiodiversity, compared to other components of biodiversity:

An overview of the key roles of agrobiodiversity is provided in the following box. Not all the roles listed will be relevant in any given situation. Nonetheless, this list may serve as a checklist to prioritize those that are crucial in a project/work situation.

 Experience and research have shown that agrobiodiversity can:
  • Increase productivity, food security, and economic returns,
  • Reduce the pressure of agriculture on fragile areas, forests and endangered species,
  • Make farming systems more stable, robust, and sustainable,
  • Contribute to sound pest and disease management,
  • Conserve soil and increase natural soil fertility and health,
  • Contribute to sustainable intensification
  • Diversify products and income opportunities
  • Reduce or spread risks to individuals and nations
  • Help maximize effective use of resources and the environment,
  • Reduce dependency on external inputs
  • Improve human nutrition and provide sources of medicines and vitamins, and,
  • Conserve ecosystem structure and stability of species diversity.
(Adapted from Thrupp)


Locally varied food production systems are under threat, including local knowledge and the culture and skills of women and men farmers. With this decline, agrobiodiversity is disappearing; the scale of the loss is extensive. With the disappearance of harvested species, varieties and breeds, a wide range of unharvested species also disappear.

  • Since the 1900s, some 75-percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.
  • 30-percent of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction; six breeds are lost each month.
  • Today, 75-percent of the world's food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.
  • Of the 4-percent of the 250-000 to 300-000 known edible plant species, only 150 to 200 are used by humans. Only three-rice, maize and wheat - contribute nearly 60-percent of calories and proteins obtained by humans from plants.
  • Animals provide some 30-percent of human requirements for food and agriculture and 12-percent of the world's population live almost entirely on products from ruminants.
Source: FAO. 1999b

More than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers' fields; half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost. In fisheries, all the world's 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits, with many fish populations effectively becoming extinct. Loss of forest cover, coastal wetlands, other “wild” uncultivated areas, and the destruction of the aquatic environment exacerbate the genetic erosion of agrobiodiversity.

Fallow fields and wildlands can support large numbers of species useful to farmers. In addition to supplying Calories and protein, wild foods supply vitamins and other essential micro-nutrients. In general, poor households rely on access to wild foods more than the wealthier (see Table 1). However, in some areas, pressure on the land is so great that wild food supplies have been exhausted.

The term ‘wild-food’, though commonly used, is misleading because it implies the absence of human influence and management. Over time, people have indirectly shaped many plants. Some have been domesticated in home gardens and in the fields together with farmers' cultivated food and cash crops. The term ‘wild-food’, therefore, is used to describe all plant resources that are harvested or collected for human consumption outside agricultural areas in forests, savannah and other bush land areas. Wild-foods are incorporated into the normal livelihood strategies of many rural people, pastoralists, shifting cultivators, continuous croppers or hunter-gatherers. Wild-food is usually considered as a dietary supplement to farmers' daily food consumption, generally based on their crop harvest, domestic livestock products and food purchases on local markets. For instance, fruits and berries, from a wide range of wild growing plants, are typically referred to as ‘wild-food’. Moreover, wild fruits and berries add crucial vitamins to the normally vitamin deficient Ethiopian cereal diet, particularly for children.

[Table 1]Proportion of food from wild products for poor, medium and relatively wealthy households
Survey siteDateVery Poor %Middle %Better off %
Wollo - Dega, Ethiopia19990–100–100–5
Jaibor, Sudan19971552–5
Chitipa, Malawi19970–100–100–5
Ndoywo, Zimbabwe19970–500
Source: Biodiversity in development

There are many reasons for this decline in agrobiodiversity. Throughout the twentieth century the decline has accelerated, along with increased demands from a growing population and greater competition for natural resources. The principal underlying causes include:

Key points


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 1.1 provides a general introduction and overview of agrobiodiversity. It introduces the definitions of the concept and describes the different components and dynamics of agrobiodiversity. The overall aim is to establish a shared understanding of relevant terms and concepts among the participants.

LEARNING GOALS: Participants acquire a shared level of understanding of the relevant terms and concepts related to agrobiodiversity.

PROCESS: The fact sheet 1.1should be circulated to the participants after the session. This will help them to explore the concepts, from their own working background, without being biased by the information provided. It is important to show participants, from the beginning, that the training approach is based on the mutual sharing of knowledge and information. Moreover, the participants1 and trainer's knowledge is equally respected and valued.

  1. Depending on time availability participants could be invited to:

    1. Name components/examples of agrobiodiversity. This would take place in the form of a brain-storming activity. The information generated during this exercise could then be jointly organized and serve as an entry point for a more formal presentation.
    2. In small groups, develop maps of agricultural systems on which different components of agrobiodiversity are located. These maps could then be displayed and shared with the other participants.

  2. This exercise could be followed by a presentation of overheads/Power Point covering definitions and differences between agrobiodiversity and biodiversity in general.

  3. Afterwards it would be useful to discuss the dynamics and trends in agrobiodiversity. This may be based on:

    1. Participants discussion, in general, of dynamics and trends in agrobiodiversity.
    2. Participants, using the maps they have developed, indicating past changes and trends.

  4. Together with the participants, key issues should be extracted from this discussion.

  5. Finally, the trainer could present the key learning points for fact sheet 1.1.

It would be useful to integrate other visual aids, such as videos or slides to increase participants' interest and involvement.

OUTPUTS: The participants understand the concept of agrobiodiversity. They have established a shared understanding of key issues and terms. For further details please refer to the Key Points for fact sheet 1.1.

TIME ALLOCATION: A minimum of 3 hours is suggested for fact sheet 1.1.

1 Ideas for exercises are provided in the Process Sheets, which can be adapted to the different training events. Exercises marked with (a) are basic exercises that can be carried out if time is limited. Exercises marked with (b) require more time and can be added if time is available.


Local knowledge is the knowledge that people in a given community have developed over time, and continue to develop. it is:

Local knowledge is not confined to tribal groups or to the original inhabitants of an area. It is not even confined to rural people. Rather, all communities possess local knowledge-rural and urban, settled and nomadic, original inhabitants and migrants. There are other terms, such as traditional knowledge or indigenous knowledge, which are closely related, partly overlapping, or even synonymous with local knowledge. We have chosen the term local knowledge because it seems least biased in terms of its contents or origin. As it embraces a larger body of knowledge systems, it includes those classified as traditional and indigenous.

Local knowledge is a collection of facts and relates to the entire system of concepts, beliefs and perceptions that people hold about the world around them. This includes the way people observe and measure their surroundings, how they solve problems and validate new information. It includes the processes whereby knowledge is generated, stored, applied and transmitted to others.
The concept of traditional knowledge implies that people living in rural areas are isolated from the rest of the world and that their knowledge systems are static and do not interact with other knowledge systems.
Indigenous knowledge systems are often associated with indigenous people. This concept is rather limiting for policies, projects and programmes seeking to work with rural farmers in general. furthermore, in some countries, the term indigenous has a negative connotation, as it is associated with backwardness or has an ethnic and political connotation.
Source: Warburton and Martin

Knowledge systems are dynamic, people adapt to changes in their environment and absorb and assimilate ideas from a variety of sources. However, knowledge and access to knowledge are not spread evenly throughout a community or between communities. People may have different objectives, interests, perceptions, beliefs and access to information and resources. Knowledge is generated and transmitted through interactions within specific social and agro-ecological contexts. It is linked to access and control over power. Differences in social status can affect perceptions, access to knowledge and, crucially, the importance and credibility attached to what someone knows. Often, the knowledge possessed by the rural poor, in particular women, is overlooked and ignored.

The rural people of Ethiopia are endowed with a profound knowledge of the use of wild plants. This is particularly true for medicinal and wild plants, some of which are consumed during drought, war and other hardship. Elders, and other knowledgeable community members, are the key sources or reservoirs of plant knowledge. Wild-food consumption is still very common in the rural areas of Ethiopia, particularly for children. Among these, the most common wild plant fruits consumed by children, are from the plant species Ficus spp., Carissa edulis and Rosa abyssinica.
The consumption of wild plants seems to be more common and widespread in food insecure areas, where a wide range of species are consumed. The linkage has given rise to the notion of famine-foods, plants that are eaten only at times of food stress and that are therefore an indicator of famine conditions. Local people know of the importance and the contribution that wild plants make to their daily diet. Also, they know of the possible health hazards, such as an upset stomach that may occur after eating certain wild plants.
For example, Balanites aegyptiaca (bedena in Amharic), an evergreen tree, about 10 - to 20-m tall, is typical of this category. Children eat its fruit at any time when ripe, when there are food shortages they will be eaten by adults. The new shoots, which are always growing during the dry season, are commonly used as animal forage. Although, during food shortages, people cut the newly grown succulent shoots and leaves, which are cooked like cabbage. People in the drought-prone areas of southern Ethiopia also apply these consumption habits to the fruits and young leaves of Solanium nigrum (black nightshade), a small annual herb, and Syzygium guineense (waterberry tree), which is a dense, leafy forest tree around 20-m tall.
In parts of southern Ethiopia, the consumption of wild-food plants seems to be one of the important local survival strategies. This appears to have intensified because of repeated climatic shocks that have hampered agricultural production, leading to food shortages. Increased consumption of wild-foods allows people to better cope with erratic, untimely rains. They are able to face several consecutive years of drought, without facing severe food shortages, famine and general asset depletion, as is the case in other areas of Ethiopia. The key to this survival strategy is the collection and consumption of wild plants. These are found in uncultivated lowland areas such as bush, forest and pastoral land. in the more densely populated, and intensively used mid- and highlands, a great variety of these indigenous plants and trees have been domesticated for home consumption and medicinal use. Southern Ethiopia, particularly Konso, Derashe and Burji special weredas1 and parts of the southern nations, nationalities and people's region (SNNPR) may still be considered part of these biodiversity hot-spots in Ethiopia.
Source: Guinand and Lemessa

Local knowledge is unique to every culture or society; elders and the young possess various types of knowledge. And, women and men, farmers and merchants, educated and uneducated people all have different kinds of knowledge.

The type of knowledge people have is related to their age, gender, occupation, labour division within the family, enterprise or community, socio-economic status, experience, environment, history, etc. This has significant implications for research and development work. To find out what people know, the right people must be identified. For example, if boys do the herding they may know, better than their fathers, where the best grazing sites are. If we ask the fathers to show us good pastures, we might only get partial information. Development professionals sometimes think villagers know very little, when in fact the wrong people have been interviewed.

It is important to realize that local knowledge - as with other types of knowledge - is dynamic and constantly changing, as it adapts to a changing environment. Because local knowledge changes over time, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether a technology or practice is local, adopted from outside, or a blend of local and introduced components. In most cases the latter situation is most likely. For a development project, however, it does not matter whether a practice is really local or already mixed with introduced knowledge. What is important before looking outside the community for technologies and solutions, is to look first at what is available within the community. Based on this information, a decision can be made on the type of information that would be more relevant to the specific situation. Most likely, it will be a combination of different knowledge sources and information types.

This again has important implications for the research and development process. It is not sufficient to document existing local knowledge. It is equally important to understand how this knowledge adapts, develops and changes over time. How this knowledge is communicated is also significant, and by whom, both within and beyond the community.


Local knowledge is the human capital of both the urban and rural people. It is the main asset they invest in the struggle for survival, to produce food, provide for shelter or achieve control of their own lives. Significant contributions to global knowledge have originated with local people, for instance for human and veterinary medicine. Local knowledge is developed and adapted continuously to a gradually changing environment. It is passed down from generation to generation and closely interwoven with people's cultural values.

In the emerging global knowledge economy, a country's ability to build and mobilize knowledge capital is as essential to sustainable development as the availability of physical and financial capital. The basic component of any country's knowledge system is its local knowledge. This encompasses the skills, experiences and insights of people, applied to maintain or improve their livelihood.

Today, many local knowledge systems are at risk of becoming extinct. This is because globally natural environments are rapidly changing, and there are fast-paced economic, political, and cultural changes. Practices vanish, when they are inappropriate, in the face of new challenges, or because they adapt too slowly. However, many practices disappear because of the intrusion of foreign technologies, or development concepts, that promise short-term gains or solutions to problems. The tragedy of the impending disappearance of local knowledge is most obvious to those who have developed and make their living from it. A case in point is the wild-food example from southern Ethiopia (see box 2 in this fact sheet). These plants are especially vital for the survival of the poor, during food shortages, when there are no other means of satisfying basic needs. Moreover, the implication for others may also be detrimental, when skills, technologies, artifacts, problem-solving strategies and expertise are lost. Local knowledge is a part of people's lives. Especially, the poor depend, almost entirely, for their livelihoods on specific skills and knowledge essential to their survival. Accordingly, for the development process, local knowledge is of particular relevance to the following sectors and strategies:

Conventional approaches imply that development processes always require technology transfers from places that are perceived to be more advanced. This practice has often led to overlooking the potential of local experiences and practices. The following example from Ethiopia's food security programme illustrates what may happen if local knowledge is not adequately considered (see box 3).

Higher yielding sorghum varieties were introduced into Ethiopia to increase food security and income for farmers and rural communities. When weather and other conditions were favourable, the modern varieties proved a success. However, in some areas complete crop failures were observed, whereas local varieties, with a higher variance of traits, were less susceptible to the frequent droughts. The farming community considered the loss of an entire crop to be more than offset by the lower, average yields of the local variety that performed under more extreme conditions. An approach, that included local farming experience, could have resulted in a balanced mix of local and introduced varieties, thus reducing the producers' risk.
Source: Oduol

Local knowledge is relevant at three levels of the development process.

However, it is important to stress that local knowledge is not exclusive or necessarily sufficient for tackling the challenges people face today. Much evidence shows that local actors seek information and concepts from wherever they can in their efforts to solve their problems and achieve their goals. For people involved in research and development processes, with local communities, it is important to see local knowledge as one component within a more complex innovation system. Therefore, a thorough analysis of existing sources of information and knowledge is an important step in any research or development project. These sources, by nature, can be formal and informal. For instance, community groups, involved in similar agricultural practices, could be an informal source of local knowledge. Regional, or national, extension or research centres would be a formal source of knowledge. In this context, it is important to consider private service providers, such as local seed retailers, as they are becoming increasingly important as knowledge providers.

Key points


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 1.2provides a general introduction to the concept of local knowledge. it introduces definitions and describes the dynamic nature of local knowledge. The overall aim is to establish a shared understanding of relevant terms and concepts among the participants.

LEARNING GOALS: Participants understand the concept of local knowledge and are aware of its position in a wider knowledge system.


  1. It is important to show the participants, from the beginning, that the training approach is based on the mutual sharing of knowledge and information. Moreover, the participants' and trainer's knowledge is equally respected and valued.

  2. Participants could be invited to first share experiences, related to local knowledge, from their own working background. The trainer may encourage looking at different aspects, such as gender roles, knowledge management, knowledge development, etc. the information generated, during this exercise, could then be jointly organized in order to establish key characteristics of local knowledge.

  3. In a further exercise, participants could be asked to summarize the information, to define the concept. If time is limited, the trainer can move directly to step 4 and include the definition in his/her presentation.

  4. A presentation given by the facilitator on local knowledge (concepts, definitions).

  5. A discussion of the dynamics and trends in local knowledge development could follow. This again may be based (a) on general ideas and participants brain-storming, or (b) on participants presenting a few examples of agricultural systems in their region, comparing past and present situations in terms of the relevance of local knowledge.

  6. Together with the participants, key issues should be extracted from this discussion.

It would be useful to integrate other visual aids, such as videos or slides to increase participants' interest and involvement.

OUTPUTS : The participants understand the concept of local knowledge. They have established a shared understanding of key issues and terms and have covered the key points listed in fact sheet 1.2.

TIME ALLOCATION: Minimum 2 hours.

1 the basic administration unit in Ethiopia, equivalent to a district.


Gender is defined by FAO as “the relations between men and women, both perceptual and material. Gender is not determined biologically, as a result of sexual characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially. it is a central organizing principle of societies, and often governs the processes of production and reproduction, consumption and distribution” (FAO, 1997). Despite this definition, gender is often misunderstood as being the promotion of women only. However, as we see from the FAO definition, gender issues focus on women and on the relationship between men and women, their roles, access to and control over resources, division of labour, interests and needs. Gender relations affect household security, family well-being, planning, production and many other aspects of life (Bravo-Baumann, 2000).

Gender roles are the “social definition” of women and men. they vary among different societies and cultures, classes, ages and during different periods in history. Gender-specific roles and responsibilities are often conditioned by household structure, access to resources, specific impacts of the global economy, and other locally relevant factors such as ecological conditions (FAO, 1997).
Gender relations are the ways in which a culture or society defines rights, responsibilities, and the identities of men and women in relation to one another (Bravo-Baumann, 2000).

Rural people's roles, as food producers and food providers, link them directly to the management and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity. Through their daily work, rural people have accumulated knowledge and skills concerning their ecosystems, local crop varieties, animal breeds, agricultural systems and the nutritional values of various underused plants. They have become adept at maintaining their own scarce resources. Men and women act differently, because of their socially ascribed roles; therefore they have different sets of knowledge and needs.

Experience shows that agricultural, environmental and related policies and programmes do not differentiate between male and female farmers. Therefore, they often fail to recognize the differences between men's and women's work, knowledge, contributions and needs. This has significant consequences for biodiversity as well as for gender equality. The case study presented in Module 5, for instance, clearly shows how agrobiodiversity and the local knowledge held by women, were negatively affected by the introduction of exotic vegetables for market production, which was mainly a men-driven enterprise.

In Bafoulabé region in Mali, rice was traditionally considered a female crop. it was grown near rivers or where water stagnated during the rainy season. Women would take care of the field individually or in a group. Their knowledge of landraces was vast. They could identify 30 different varieties by growth cycle, plant growth habit, plant height, number of stems, grain yield, grain size, form, colour, preparation quality, utilization and taste of the end product. Men had very little knowledge of traditional rice varieties, but they had the main responsibility for three improved rice varieties introduced to the village.
Source: Synnevag, 1997

Both men and women farmers play an important role as decision-makers in agrobiodiversity management. They decide when to plant, harvest and process their crops. They decide how much of each crop variety to plant each year, how much seed to save from their own production and what to buy or exchange. All these decisions affect the total amount of genetic diversity that is conserved and used.

In most farming systems, there is a division of labour. This determines the different tasks for which men and women are responsible. Generally, women have an important role in the production, processing, preservation, preparation and sale of staple crops. Men tend to focus on market-oriented or cash crop production. Often we find a division in crop and livestock management practices. Weeding is often a women's task, while spraying or fertilizer application is mainly carried out by men. Women and children often look after the smaller livestock species and men are often in charge of cattle. These are only a few examples, which are not generally applicable, but will depend on the specific situations and cultures we are working.

Mostly children collect and eat the fruit from wild plants. Other wild-food and famine-food plants are collected by children and women and prepared by the latter in all the areas surveyed. Women frequently collect wild-food when they are on their way to fetch water, collect firewood, go to market, and when walking home from their fields.
Able-bodied male members of the community usually migrate to find work during food shortage. Women and children are left behind to manage as best they can. Therefore, women and children are the main actors concerning the collection, preparation and consumption of wild-food plants. Children forage and climb trees for collection while women do the preparation and the cooking. In normal times, young rural males eat more wild foods than the older generation. Although, when there is a food shortage, all ages and both sexes eat the wild foods to satisfy their need for additional nourishment, traditional fulfillment and local curative treatments. This includes consumption of Embelia schimperi (enkoko in Amharic), a fruit that is eaten to control intestinal parasites.
Source: Guinand and Lemessa

Women are often involved in the selection, improvement and adaptation of plant varieties. They often have more specialized knowledge of wild plants used for food, fodder and medicine than men (see box 2 and 3). Men and women may be responsible for different crops, or varieties, or be responsible for different tasks related to one crop.

Recent decades have witnessed substantial gains in agricultural productivity and rapid advances in agricultural technology. These advances have often bypassed women farmers and reduced their productivity. Frequently the changes were linked to credit requirements that were either inaccessible to women, or were not tailored to their needs and demands. Therefore, women face a variety of gender-based constraints as farmers and managers of natural resources. In order to meet the challenges of food production for the increasing population, countries must find ways to overcome this gap in productivity.


There are increasing concerns that the vital contribution of women to the management of biological resources, and to economic production generally, has been misunderstood, ignored, or underestimated (Howard, 2003). Women are the sole breadwinners in one-third of all households in the world. In poor families, with two adults, more than half the available income is from the labour of women and children. Furthermore, women direct more of their earnings to meet basic needs. Women produce 80-percent of the food in Africa, 60-percent in Asia and 40-percent in Latin America (Howard, 2003).

Women tend to be more actively involved than men in the household economy. This typically involves the use of a much wider diversity of species for food and medicine than are traded in regional or international markets. Women generally have the primary responsibility of providing their families with food, water, fuel, medicines, fibres, fodder and other products. Often they need to rely on a healthy and diverse ecosystem for a cash income. As a result, rural women are the most knowledgeable about the patterns and uses of local biodiversity. Yet, these same women are often denied access to land and resources. In many countries, such as Kenya, women have access only to the most marginal land - medicinal plants are collected along road banks and fence rows and fuel is collected in the de facto commons - land too far from villages to be claimed by men.

Gender issues cut across agrobiodiversity management activities in several ways. First, agrobiodiversity management is community-based, and requires the support of the entire community - young and old, rich and poor, men and women, boys and girls. Because women play a restricted or invisible role in the public affairs of many communities, special steps need to be taken so that women are consulted on agrobiodiversity management.

Tradition may dictate that the household head speaks for the household. However, many men are not sufficiently aware of women's concerns to raise them adequately in public meetings. Hence, other ways must be found to tap women's knowledge, needs and requirements, and to determine their commitment and contributions to agrobiodiversity management.

Second, men and women use agrobiodiversity in different ways and have diverse allocation and conservation measures. Agrobiodiversity management therefore requires information, participation in decision-making, management and commitment from both sexes.

Moreover, in several regions, women's roles and responsibilities are greater than ever because of male migration to urban areas. Frequently, men are absent from rural homes because they leave to earn an alternative income. This creates de facto female-headed households, where the men may retain decision-making power, even though the women are managing the farm and household on their own for long periods. This feminization of agriculture may indicate that women are obtaining more decision-making power with regard to agrobiodiversity management.

Because of these above-mentioned tendencies, it is important for us to recognize that gender considerations in agrobiodiversity always need to take into account both men's and women's roles, responsibilities, interests and needs. Furthermore, within these two groups, we need to be aware of other differences that need to be taken into consideration: those of age, ethnicity and social status.

Failure to consider these differences, between men and women, leads to unsuccessful project activities. it may also lead to the marginalization of a major sector of society and a large part of the agricultural workforce. Thus, understanding gender relationships, and adjusting methods and messages, is crucial for the full participation of all sectors of the community.

Key points


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 1.3provides an introduction to the concept of gender within agrobiodiversity management. It introduces definitions and describes the relevance of gender roles and responsibilities. The overall aim is to establish a shared understanding of relevant terms and concepts among the participants.

LEARNING GOALS: Participants come to an understanding of the concept of gender and are aware of its position within agrobiodiversity management.


It is important to show the participants from the beginning that the training approach is based on the mutual sharing of knowledge and information. Moreover, the participants' and trainer's knowledge is equally respected and valued.

  1. As an introduction to the session, a short exercise could be conducted to reveal the different roles and responsibilities of men and women in agriculture (See the SEAGA manual

  2. Brain-storming sessions on gender and gender-related terms based on SEAGA training material.

  3. The outcome of this exercise could be used to explore the relevance of the findings for agrobiodiversity management.

  4. The trainer could guide the discussion towards more complex levels of analysis. The participants might be encouraged to include aspects of age, social status in their discussion.

  5. A following step might be to invite participants to discuss the consequences of gender-blind1 project interventions and development approaches.

  6. The findings of the participants should be organized together with the trainer. Participants could be encouraged to provide examples from their own work experience.

OUTPUTS: The participants are aware of the importance of the gender dimension within agrobiodiversity management. They have jointly established a shared understanding of the concept. The Key Points of fact sheet 1.3are taken up by the participants.

TIME ALLOCATION: Minimum 2 hours

1 ignoring/failing to address the gender dimension, as opposed to gender sensitive or gender neutral.


The 1996 world food summit reached near-consensus on the main features of the global problem of food security. Food security is the adequate supply of food and food availability. This means stability of supplies and access to food and consumption by all. “Food security... is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”(FAO, 1996). The right to food is a basic human right, mandated in international law and recognized by all countries.

Food availability is necessary for food security, but is not sufficient. Food-insecure households may be in areas where there is enough food, but the household lacks the income or entitlements (production, trade or labour) to get it. Improving entitlements means expanding economic opportunities and making markets work better for the poor. Moreover, food-insecure individuals may live in food-secure households. Ensuring all family members have an adequate diet means overcoming gender or age discrimination.


Households are food secure when all members have year-round access to the amount and variety of safe foods required to lead active and healthy lives. At the household level, food security refers to the ability of all household members to secure adequate food to meet dietary needs, either from household production or through purchases.

State of world food security: there is no food scarcity for those who can afford to buy it. Although the global picture shows aggregate food surpluses and falling prices, food security remains a key concern. This is because millions of people do not have economic access to sufficient food:

Links to livelihoods analysis : The livelihoods approach, which considers people's assets and constraints, is a valuable tool for finding ways to improve poor people's access to food. it helps us to arrive at an understanding of transitory food insecurity and vulnerability. This includes, for example, how changes in vulnerability (HIV infection, drought), institutions (market reforms) or endowments (soil degradation) impact on livelihood outcomes (food security). Assets and livelihood strategies, including non-farm strategies, are valuable in that they allow us to move away from thinking of food security as being only focused on agriculture (see Module 2).

Biodiversity, and especially agrobiodiversity, are important assets that favour poor people's food security. Agrobiodiversity contributes to the achievement of sustainable livelihoods as it is an essential element of the natural resource base. Moreover, the greatest range and volume of biodiversity is held by developing countries. These genetic resources are particularly important for food and income security, health care, shelter, cultural and spiritual practices. This is true for many rural communities, in developing countries, as genetic resources are crucial elements for environmental risk management and food production. The importance of local knowledge is closely related to this aspect of food security, as it is not enough to have genetic diversity at hand. People rely on local knowledge for the sustainable management and utilization of these resources so they can benefit from them. (More details on agrobiodiversity and local knowledge can be found in fact sheet 1.1and fact sheet 1.2).

HIV/AIDS has been one important factor in the discussion of food security. From a livelihoods perspective, HIV/ AIDS represents a severe shock, within the vulnerability context of many people around the world. HIV/AIDS typically strikes the household's most productive members first. When these people become ill, there is an immediate strain on the family's ability to work, feed themselves and provide care. As the disease progresses, it can become even harder for a family to cope. The state of poverty advances as resources are drained and valuable assets, such as livestock and tools, are sold to pay for food and medical expenses.

Without food or income, some family members may migrate in search of work, increasing their chances of contracting HIV - and bringing it back home. For others, commercial sex may be the only option to feed and support their family. Food insecurity also leads to malnutrition, which can aggravate and accelerate the development of aids. Likewise, the disease itself can contribute to malnutrition by reducing appetite, interfering with nutrient absorption, and making additional demands on the body's nutritional status. (

In Module 2, you will learn more about the livelihoods framework and understand how food security is centrally placed within it.


OBJECTIVE: Fact sheet 1.4 provides a short introduction to an aspect of food security. That is, sustainable agrobiodiversity management, which is an important prerequisite for achieving food security. Moreover, this is directly linked to local knowledge and gender relations.

LEARNING GOALS: Participants are aware of the overall importance of improved food security.


It is important to show the participants from the beginning that the training approach is based on the mutual sharing of knowledge and information. Moreover, the participants' and trainer's knowledge is equally respected and valued.

  1. As an introduction to this session, participants can share ideas on why the three concepts of agrobiodiversity, gender, and local knowledge are important for food security.

  2. The trainer can cluster the different ideas and the aspect of “food security” should be highlighted. Finally, the trainer can: (a) Present a definition of food security based on fact sheet 1.4. (b) If time allows, the participants could form small groups and develop a definition of food security on their own, which will then be shared in the plenary.

OUTPUTS: The participants are aware that the entire course is embedded in the objective of achieving food security. In addition, they will have established a shared understanding of the term.

TIME ALLOCATION: Minimum 1 hour.


Key readings for fact sheet 1.1

Key reading for fact sheet 1.2

Key readings for fact sheet 1.3

Key reading for fact sheet 1.4


Bamako, Mali, 24 – 28.2.1997. pp. 85–92, Montpellier, France, Institut d'Economie Rurale, Bureau des Ressources Génétiques, Solidarités Agricoles et Alimentaires.

Bravo-Baumann, H. 2000. capitalisation of experiences on the contribution of livestock projects to gender issues. working Document, Bern, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

FAO. 1996a. Global plan of action for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, Leipzig, Germany, June 1996.

FAO. 1996b. Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, w3613e/w3613e00.htm

FAO. 1997. Gender: the key to sustainability and food security, SD Dimensions, May

FAO. 1999a. Agricultural Biodiversity, Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land Conference, Background Paper 1, Maastricht, September 1999.

FAO. 1999b. women: users, preservers and managers of agrobiodiversity.

Guinand, Y. & Lemessa, D. (2000), Wild-food plants in southern Ethiopia: Reflections on the role of “famine-foods” at a time of drought. UN-Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia.

Howard, P. 2003. Women and plants, gender relations in biodiversity management and conservation. United Kingdom, ZED Books.

IK Notes, No 23. August 2000. Seeds of life: Women and agricultural biodiversity in Africa.

IK Notes, No. 44. May 2002. The contribution of indigenous vegetables to household food security.

IIRR. 1996. Manual on indigenous knowledge: Recording and using indigenous knowledge. a manual for development practitioners and field workers. international institute of Rural Reconstruction. the Philippines.

IUCN/ DFID. (No date). Biodiversity in development, Biodiversity Brief No. 6. United Kingdom.

Mujaju, C., Zinhanga, F. & Rusike, E. 2003. Community seed banks for semi-arid agriculture in Zimbabwe. In Conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. Published by CIP-UPWARD in partnership with GTZ, IDRC, IPGRI and SEARICE.

Oduol, w. 1995. Adaptive responses to modern technology: Kitui farmers in the semi-arid regions of eastern Kenya. In Technology policy and practices in Africa, Canada, international development Research centre.

Synnevag, G. 1997. Gender differentiated management of local crop genetic resources in Bafoulabe Cercle, Kayes region of Mali - A case study. in Actes du Colloque, Gestion des Ressources Génétiques de Plantes en Afrique des Savanes.

Thrupp, L.A. 1997. Linking biodiversity and agriculture: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable food security. World Resources Institute, USA.

Warburton, H. & Martin, A.M. 1999. Local people's knowledge. best practice guideline. Socio-Economic Methodologies Programme, DFID, United Kingdom

Warren, D. M. 1991. Using indigenous knowledge in agricultural development. World Bank Discussion Paper No. 127, Washington, DC, World Bank.

World Resources Institute (No date) Women and biodiversity.

Web sites
FAO Web site on Agrobiodiversity:
FAO Web site on Gender, Agrobiodiversity and Local Knowledge:
FAO Web site on Gender:
FAO Web site on Sustainable Development issues: www.fao.og/sd/index_en.htm
FAO Web site on HIV/AIDS:
FAO Web site on Food Security:
World Bank Web site on indigenous knowledge:

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