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Biodiversity is key for rural livelihoods
Biodiversity plays an important role in the functioning of ecosystems (i.e. the activities, processes or properties of ecosystems, such as decomposition of organic matter, soil nutrient cycling and water retention), and consequently in the provisioning of ecosystem services. Preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services contributes directly to human well-being and development priorities, creating great synergies between the 20 Global Biodiversity Targets and the Global Sustainable Development Goals.
Rural people depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, relying on a range of natural assets from their ecosystems and biodiversity for food, fuel and much else. Productive and sustainable agricultural systems need clean water, healthy soil, and a variety of genetic resources and ecological processes. Biodiversity is also important for enhancing the resilience of poor farmers and indigenous peoples to climate change, pests, diseases and other threats.
Unsustainable agriculture is a major cause of biodiversity loss
Agricultural production, as currently pursued, is a source of 24% of greenhouse-gas emissions, 33% of soil degradation, and 60% of terrestrial biodiversity loss. Unsustainable farming practices, such as deforestation, the destruction of wetlands and aquatic environments, and overfishing are key threats to biodiversity. Farming is a major driver of agrobiodiversity loss, too, as the intensification of food production is narrowing the genetic diversity of the plants and animals on which we rely for food and nutrition. Agriculture is clearly associated with all the five primary threats to biodiversity, i.e. climate change, habitat change, invasive alien species, nutrient loading and pollution, and unsustainable overexploitation of natural resources, as identified by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
We need innovative solutions!
Are farming and biodiversity then inevitably incompatible? The simple answer is, no. But solutions rely on major shifts in policy, practice, behaviours, attitudes, and knowledge to explore how we can do farming for biodiversity. Although the world is far from achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, there are various approaches to direct food systems onto a sustainable path. One of these are voluntary certification schemes, most of which are rooted in organic certification.
Organic agriculture maintains biological diversity
Organic agriculture is based on a holistic approach and sustains ecosystems by:
- providing food and shelter for wild species and thus increasing them in number and variety,
- supporting agro-biodiversity,
- maintaining healthy soils and soil fauna,
- reducing the risk of water pollution,
- cutting the demand for synthetic inputs, thereby reducing land-use pressure on natural habitats by the energy industry, and
- nourishing ecosystems and ensuring that they are not cleared to further extend the agricultural frontier.
Participators Guarantee Systems deliver on all fronts of sustainability and social inclusion
Consumers’ trust in an organic label rewards farmers for their good practices enhancing biodiversity. Besides third party organic certification, needed for international trade in organic, there are locally focused quality assurance systems, such as Participatory Guarantee Systems which can only be used for domestic sales. Producers are certified based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange. They contribute to establishing sustainable and fair food systems by
- ensuring that the smallest farmers can have access to organic markets,
- ensuring the integrity of organic products in a cost effective, transparent way and
- facilitating local production and consumption of organic food.
Biodiversity friendly organic agriculture needs to be promoted by policies
As organic agriculture is a system which has biodiversity protection as its core element, it should be promoted by a conducive policy environment. This can be done in various ways, such as:
- favouring agricultural research and extension on organic methods, agro-forestry, etc.,
- supporting the development and use of organic inputs (e.g. on-farm plant preparations, vermicompost, etc.),
- subsidizing certification to biodiversity-friendly standards,
- area payment subsidies for organic production,
- subsidies for agri-environmental practices, such as preserving extensively managed grasslands hedges, woodlands, ponds, etc. on the farm, agroforestry, non-use of chemical pesticides, no/low-use of chemical fertilizers, permanent ground cover under perennial crops etc.,
- organic management in public areas and publicly-owned land, and
- prohibition of agro-chemical use in biodiverse sensitive areas.
Another testament to a growing global movement for positive change in behaviours is the depth and breadth of response to the Farming for Biodiversity Solution Search is a testament to this. Through this contest, over 300 innovative and replicable ideas have been identified that connect agriculture, livelihood and the environment.
These game-changing solutions are bringing farming into harmony with the natural environment to protect and increase the biodiversity of surrounding plants, animals, and microbes on the agricultural land itself. They highlight sustainable land use management practices that promote the natural balance and benefits of biodiversity. They promote alternative pest control, fertilization, and waste management to protect water sources and ecosystems. They address human/wildlife conflicts and put in place livestock control measures to protect both flora and fauna. They bring new-found economic benefits and recognition for traditional varieties, knowledge, and practices. They celebrate the potential of youth and women farmers to drive change.
Following the overwhelming success of the contest, we are dedicated the next two years to bringing these solutions to scale – both through behaviour change and technical training for our local champions in-country and through engaging in international policy processes.
Some inspiring solutions that Farming for Biodiversity surfaced and that I would like to share with you include:
- Our contest Audience Prize Winner, Apis Agriculture from Ethiopia, has used certified organic wild honey to create employment opportunities and provide training for hundreds of landless, unemployed youth in his area. This tackles youth out-migration and deforestation simultaneously, as young people find new income sources and also have incentives to protect local forests.
- In Nepal, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research, and Development, has developed a “landscape label” that markets local agricultural products based on the tourism appeal of the local area, Begnas and Rupa Lakes, introducing buyers to niche products to create new demand
- The community-based Kenya Organic Oil Farmer’s Association – which has a mixed membership that includes women and youth – has a contractual agreement with Earth Oil Extracts to produce Organic and “Fair for Life” (a Fair-Trade standard and certification system) tea trees for essential oil extraction. Currently, they have trees covering about 500 acres, and each member has between 1-3 acres of land on which they grow a mix of food crops and essential oil crops.
Because land degradation and fragmentation are at the heart of the habitat loss that threatens biodiversity, most of the projects address technical aspects associated with protecting or restoring land, water, or forest systems, often in combination. Innovators employ numerous methods, with an emphasis on organic farming, integrated farming, and conservation agriculture to replace the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and restore ecosystems. They take a better control of waste and crop residues, including turning them into compost, animal feed, or biofuel. They plant trees planting and apply agroforestry, with incentives (e.g., more food production, nutrition, income generation, skills) for local communities to benefit from the sustainable use and preservation of forest systems.
Explore some of these ground-breaking innovations at the recently launched ‘Agriculture and biodiversity solutions’ site of the Panorama platform – and share your own solutions with the world.
Recommendations to donors and policy makers
Based on the above, our recommendations to donors and policy makers are the following:
- Create enabling environments through policies, social structures, and financial incentives that support biodiversity stewardship with agricultural production such as organic farming.
- Foster community solutions to farming for biodiversity with enabling policies and funding to support tested initiatives, proof of concept, and new technologies and innovations for community-based and community-driven programs.
- Invest in indigenous communities, youth, and women as agents of change in biodiversity conservation and agricultural/economic development. Design programs targeting women and older generations who are key in the valuation of traditional ways and the intergenerational transfer of indigenous seeds, breeds, and knowledge.
- Work with policy actors from local and regional levels to inform and align with national and international strategies for conservation, agricultural development, and economic development.
- Beware of and eliminate the subsidizing of policies (e.g., support for monoculture, overproduction, high use of chemical fertilizers/ pesticides) that harm biodiversity and its linkages with food production in the name of increased productivity. Introduce the polluter-pays-principle for agriculture.
- Set up agricultural advisory services and establish farmer-to-farmer learning programmes to scale up and scale out sustainable innovations and to demonstrate that biodiversity and increased food production can, and must, be compatible.
- Donors, governments should work in partnership with business to fund incentives (e.g., direct payments, academic certification, prizes, other recognitions) that reward environmentally and economically sustainable farming, so that it becomes an occupation of choice.
- Establish participatory research programmes and human-centered design models, putting leaders and communities at the center of problem solving and change, so that they truly become transformational.
- Highlight solutions through rewards, scholarships, networks, mentoring programs, social marketing campaigns, and events to encourage young people to engage in farming for biodiversity through strategies that integrate business development, financial inclusion, new technologies, communications, and innovative linkages.
- Take a cross-sectoral approach in planning and use the ‘Guidance on agriculture, crop and livestock’ of the Cancun declaration on mainstreaming the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity for well-being when addressing biodiversity and food systems. Consider how broader social, political, economic, ecological, and physical dimensions (e.g., urbanization, farmland, forests, water sources) fit together and affect natural resource use and management.
Primarily, it is governments who shall provide support to all farmers from commercial through to subsistence farmers via AEAS with the emphasis on providing quality not quantity. Such an extension system should design appropriate mechanisms to cater to the needs and demands of resource-poor, particularly women farmers, remote area farmers, different ethnic and disadvantaged groups who are often the most food and nutrition insecure. Unfortunately state capacity in many countries is low and there are many local political imperatives at play pushing officials in policy directions that contradict the aims of development and poverty reduction. Governments and to some extent the private sector, target their extension and input resources to richer farmers and landowners, leading to the perception that they ignore the plight of the poor.
Hereby we share a couple of findings, approaches and opinion pieces which are based on our project ‘Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecosystems’ (NMA) aiming to improve the sustainability and the diversity of diets in 5 countries: Ethiopia, Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Peru by improving the access to sufficient nutritious food for and the resilience of rural communities in mountain regions.
The need for new sources of production will inevitably require AEAS to reach out to marginal farming communities and help strengthen farmer organizations to improve productivity and help them develop business skills, find market opportunities, and navigate modern market chains. An extension system suitable to meet the needs of farmers and farming communities in the twenty-first century should be conceived in the broader sense, than it has been in the past of merely being a provider of technical advice through lip service or word-of-mouth. It should coordinate and facilitate networking among public and private stakeholder institutions for research, education, inputs, credit, processing and marketing. Joint planning, implementation monitoring, impact assessment, and sharing in a project mode should be emphasized. This should be incorporated in the extension policy and strategy by the policy making body. Access to inputs and credit, and rural markets development are also crucial for effective extension service delivery. The better AEAS providers are connected with diverse stakeholders, the greater their potential is to offer multifunctional services.
In many countries, extension agents tend to have a relatively low education level and limited training in modern communication techniques. Continuous capacity development of AEAS providers is key for the quality service. Policies must provide the regulatory framework for (participatory) curricula development based on needs assessments, continuous in-service education, quality assurance and accreditation of AEAS providers. In order to play the role described above, they must embrace ICT in order to scale information services and extension operations to meet the needs of millions of smallholders. Part of the new extension approach must involve close cooperation among field agents, managers, and ICT service providers. The systems will require that farmers register with the e-systems and pay at least a part of the costs for information. They will also have to work with extension teams to gather routine data (e.g. weather, soil conditions), monitor pest and disease situations, and report information on costs and access to key inputs and services.
For better nutrition outcomes, extension services should shift the approach from specialist advisory services to the wholefarm approach within the context of district/regional level development plans.
Provision of education and advice must address the whole farm as a business, taking account of the objectives of the farming family.
It is also important that service providers consider the nutritional status of the farm family. All support services should provide advice on nutrition and should help families to foster the potential of their children through education and developing farm skills. In addition to helping highly vulnerable farmers improve their food and marketing targets, extension staff can also help them by supporting better risk and financial management.
There are quite a few countries where the development of farmers’ organizations is limited to the formation of farmers’ groups at the grassroots level and there is no central body to lobby on behalf of the farmers in general. AEAS with clients’ participation will empower farmers’ organizations to negotiate with service providing institutions and the government by giving feedback on the currently implemented programmes and expressing clients’ needs, priorities and demands for future programmes intervention. This will help reform the policy and make the extension service efficient, effective and sustainable. Thus, demand-driven local level food security needs and commercialization can be addressed through participatory extension development.
AEAS would benefit significantly from being better informed about the needs of farmers within specific value chains. Participatory extension service should emphasize value-chain development for achieving commercialization and competitiveness. AEAS can engage in adult learning and participatory methods to enable extension agents to work with farmers as equal partners rather than telling them what to do. Farmer-to-farmer approaches, local-or community-based extension approaches (sharing of information on improved agricultural practices or diets within their community) characterized by the use of para-professionals are also found to be an effective way to provide flexible and cost-effective services to resource-poor farmers in marginalized rural areas. For instance, the Mountain Agro-ecosystem Action Network (MAAN) established by the NMA project is a vibrant online platform where rural service providers and farmers can share their solutions and lessons learnt as well as discuss issues which might be relevant for the regional or national policy makers. Lead farmers can also be used to organize farmers into groups for knowledge exchange and for accessing inputs and services.
Resource use efficiency and environmental protection tend to remain low on the political agenda in rural areas which hinders any coordinated efforts to develop a coherent nutrient management strategy and policies to improve nutrient use efficiency by farmers. The extension system is poorly equipped with innovations in natural resources management and climate change. In many cases AEAS are particularly prone to neglecting ecological and social priorities (e.g. focus on short-term productivity increases through high input agriculture). Soil fertility management, water conservation technologies, agroforestry, quality control and certification, climate change adaptation and mitigation measures should form extension agenda in addition to agro-biodiversity conservation, promotion and use. It can be noted that both a lack of relevant regulation and publicly available monitoring data for ground and surface water quality, means that there are no ‘baselines’ against which to set advice and training for good farming practice.
In many parts of the world, farmers do not have good access to information on alternatives to industrialized agriculture because much of their advice comes from representatives of companies that sell both seeds and pesticides. Even the few independent agronomists struggle to get independent information and advice to pass on to farmers. Agro-ecological systems like organic agriculture entails diversifying production resulting in a more diverse and nutritious diet for the family. AEAS must be trained on ecological farming and on sharing this approach, and support the farmer-to-farmer sharing of ecological approaches.
Where chemical fertilizers are used, the economic optimum (profit maximising) fertilizer application rate is less than the agronomic optimum, as determined by the point at which diminishing marginal returns to increased fertilizer use match the incremental costs of that additional use. Farmers can be expected to aim to approximate this economic optimum, unless their behaviour is dominated by extension advice based on the agronomic optimum application rate. Private input suppliers should therefore be linked with research organisation and local extension agencies to support effective extension services delivery, i.e. private AEAS should be incorporated in the whole system and their results regularly monitored by the public AEAS.
In view of the serious health impacts on rural and urban communities of hazardous products and practice, awareness-raising and education on pesticide use and dangers must go beyond conventional extension activities to reach women and children in particular.
Although it is important to improve the means of sustainable production and raise productivity levels, farmers need to commit to ways they can improve their returns on investments. AEAS must find practical ways of re-orienting their efforts to programs that support market linkage and good business management.
Women still have limited land tenure rights and lack of access to farm inputs, equipment, and information. Women tend to have lower levels of education than men, which reduce their power level and ability to make decisions within their families and societies. Therefore, raising the productivity and returns of women farmers requires extension services directly targeted to them with well-defined gender and social equity indicators right at the beginning, monitored over time. It is important to understand the different roles and responsibilities of all family members (women/men, girls/boys) in the production, transformation and marketing process. The social and cultural contexts that affect differential rights and access to and control over productive resources require particular attention when providing AEAS. Care should be taken to not reinforce gender stereotypes and household roles. For instance, men are not necessarily the predominant gender involved in cash crops, as great variability in control and co-operation has been found. Working with entire rural communities (i.e. not only women) and raising men’s awareness of the benefits of gender equality for agricultural production helps to overcome resistance to the social change that gender-equitable extension might entail.
Via provision of professional training on gender issues, advisers can become models for gender-sensitive and participatory communication within farming communities.
It is important to train AEAS staff in gender-differentiated approaches and methodologies, to ensure that demand-led processes consider gender and to provide gender-sensitive arrangements for extension and training services (location, time, availability of on-site childcare services, etc.)
Female extension workers are often in a better position to help female small-scale farmers adapt and adopt innovations. Incentives can help motivate women to work as agricultural advisers. Current extension workers can be role models for career plans of young girls. Supporting internships for female students from agricultural colleges in extension offices and agricultural departments have proven a successful way to increase the number of women advisers.
Strategic partnerships between women’s organizations and government institutions can help to improve women’s land and resource access rights.
A results-based extension programme planning would be desirable in which objectives would be about women and child nutrition and women’s access to resources or their increased roles in management and marketing besides household income and sustainability such as reduced use of chemical inputs.
A complementary way to assure social equity and ecologically sound AEAS is the power of united consumers who demand and are ready to pay for nutritious, ecologically sustainable and fairly produced and traded products. Sensitising consumers to the benefits of social and ecological products is a significant means to strengthen private sector involvement in AEAS that benefits to poor agricultural producers in an ecological way.
IFOAM – Organics International thanks FAO for organizing this broad consultation on the Maximizing the Impact of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. IFOAM – Organics International is the global umbrella organization for organic farming movements with more than 800 members in all continents. We are a recognized CSO representing farmers by various UN organizations including CFS, UNDESA, UNFCCC, UNEP and UNCCD.
We welcome the idea to have the coming decade dedicated to action on nutrition. We believe that it is a great opportunity to make a big step towards achieving commitments undertaken by countries in the framework of WHA, Nutrition for Growth, ICN2, as well as SDG 2 and contribute to other relevant targets of Agenda 2030. However, we also believe that, if global agriculture is to stay on the path it has been taking for the past decades will lead to the failure of DoA. As the UNCTAD report titled ‘Wake Up Before It Is Too Late’ points out, hunger and malnutrition are not supply-side productivity problems: "meeting food security challenges is primarily about empowerment of the poor.” A shift is needed "from a conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers."
The common goal: dietary diversity
The benefits of a more diverse diet are now widely recognized. Dietary diversity is a strong predictor of micronutrient adequacy and overall diet quality. Increasing availability and access to a nutritionally diverse range of foods within and across different food groups is key to ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients required for healthy, productive lives.
However, to date, the diversity of produce delivered by international trade has mainly benefited wealthy consumers in high-income countries, while poor people in low-income countries continue to be unable to afford the diversity available on these markets. We need to stop the erosion of traditional diets that has started in many places. No government policies should anymore have an explicit focus on monocropping of staple crops or favouring the specialization in major cereal or cash crop production that helps to push out more diverse food cropping at the expense of nutritionally-important foodstuffs. What is needed instead is supportive policies at national level for dietary diversity, combined with locally developed solutions, including integrated homestead food production and greater integration of locally available nutrient dense foods into market systems that can reach urban consumers. Reviving the importance of locally available nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and beans and pulses within food systems and ensuring greater market access are key strategies to achieve a more diversified diet.
Besides being detrimental to nutrition and dietary as well as agricultural diversity, corporate industrialization of agriculture in many developing countries is resulting in massive land grabs, destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems, displacement of indigenous peoples, destruction of livelihoods and cultures and creates financial dependency for smallholders.
NSA as the real challenge
Some developing countries, which are just about to start putting nutrition on their national agendas, might be tempted and misguided to tick the task by turning to the simplest solutions sometimes driven by donors. Public-private partnerships need to be critically viewed in this respect, too. In our opinion, nutrition-specific actions will remain a much easier and more popular target for donors. Therefore, while it is imperative for DoA to keep both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions in any portfolio designed to improve nutrition to address malnutrition both in the short and the longer term, the main challenge lies in the latter. If DoA is to make a real mark on the nutrition scene, it should stimulate and enable countries in the form of clear guidance as well as targeted resources to walk the hard way of designing nutrition-sensitive policies, schemes and investments.
Focus on Actions!
Last but not least, instead of an often followed events-based approach for a UN Decade, we believe DoA should be action-oriented. It should define a roadmap of actions for nutrition-sensitive agriculture, which should form part of an overall transformation towards truly sustainable agriculture and food systems based on the idea of ecological intensification. Awareness raising programmes and campaigns on the importance of dietary diversity and ‘good food’ adjusted to local conditions should be an essential part of such a roadmap.
IFOAM – Organics International will work in its full capacity to make DoA a true success and we offer collaboration to all organizations and entities wanting to join us on the pathway outlined above.