Environment Conventions and agreements

Posted February 1998


Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture

The following Special is extracted from "Human Nature: Agricultural Biodiversity and Farm-based Food Security" by Hope Shand, an independent study prepared by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (December 1997). The full publication is available in Portable Document Format (PDF) at: http://www.rafi.ca/publications/human_nature.html


 See also:
Sustaining agricultural biodiversity and agro-ecosystem functions - report of an International Technical Workshop (Rome, December 1998) organized jointly by FAO and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, with the support of the Netherlands
by Louise O. Fresco
Director, Research, Extension and Training Division
Sustainable Development Department
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

BIODIVERSITY - a technical concept as much as a "green philosophy" - is here to stay. Since well before the Rio Earth Summit, we have become aware of the fragility of the genetic resources and ecosystems that provide the basis for our livelihood. Food and other agricultural products depend directly on germplasm incorporated in useful plants and animals, but also indirectly through the manifold functions that natural and managed ecosystems perform: buffering water and soil nutrients, stabilising erosion, controlling the invasion of harmful species and many others. This will be even more true in the world of tomorrow with its expected 10 billion inhabitants.

Yet, in the past, agriculture and nature conservation have often been seen to be in opposition. Agriculture was considered a threat to nature and vice versa; naturalists were seen as lobbying against agricultural production. Today, there is growing recognition that food security and the conservation and sustainable utilisation of agricultural biological diversity are inextricably linked. Even if we are only just beginning to understand their technical and social complexities, no one can deny the importance of domesticated diversity, as it is sometimes called.

The publication of "Human Nature" by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) is, therefore, very welcome. It synthesises the rich technical literature on the subject of biological diversity as it relates to food and agriculture. While it draws on many sources, FAO is particularly pleased to have been closely associated by furnishing the authors with extensive technical documentation. The book addresses both the causes and potential consequences of biodiversity loss for food security, drawing out the implications for policy-making at national, regional and international levels.

Biological diversity for food and agriculture has always been central to FAO's mandate to promote sustainable agricultural development to ensure global food security. Mainstreaming biodiversity into national agricultural policies, programmes and projects constitutes a top priority. FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture contributes to this goal by providing a neutral forum where Member States can meet to discuss and formulate policy in this area. Our sectoral programmes generate and transfer the information and technical know-how farmers need to conserve, develop and deploy biodiversity in sustainable and ecologically sound agricultural production systems.

Biodiversity issues are technically complex, sometimes politically controversial, and rarely susceptible to easy solutions. FAO, in supporting the study upon which this book is based, takes no position on these issues. The book reflects the thinking of RAFI and its authors and does not necessarily represent the views of the Organization or its Members States. RAFI is to be congratulated for tackling this very difficult subject, raising public awareness, and giving future debates on this subject the benefit of a diversity of views.

Link to the following extracts from Human Nature, Part 2: Biodiversity for food and agriculture
1. Crop genetic resources (30K)
2. Conservation of plant genetic resources (24K)
3. Farm animal genetic resources (26K)
4. Forests (43K)
5. Fish and aquatic life (33K)
6. Soil and microbial biodiversity (24K)

Note: The Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) is an international, non-governmental organisation headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) with an affiliate office in Pittsboro, North Carolina (USA). RAFI is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable improvement of agricultural biodiversity, and to the socially responsible development of technologies useful to rural societies. RAFI is concerned about the loss of genetic diversity - especially in agriculture - and about the impact of intellectual property rights on agriculture and world food security. RAFI encourages the wide dissemination of Human Nature by any means, including photocopying. It requests only that the author, RAFI, and the title of the work be cited if it is used. Visit the RAFI Web site at http://www.rafi.ca; e-mail: rafican@rafi.ca.

Back to Top FAO Homepage