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.