Bioversity international


The glossary does not aim to provide definitions, rather clarifications on the terms used in the publication. These are gathered from a variety of sources, including FAO terms, the online IPBES1 and A4NH2 glossaries. If the definition is not an FAO term, a reference is cited. These definitions provide an interpretation of the terms to which they refer, that relates to indigenous peoples’ food systems.

Agrobiodiversity: Agricultural biodiversity is a broad term that includes all components of biological diversity of relevance to food and agriculture, and all components of biological diversity that constitute the agricultural ecosystems, also named agroecosystems: the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms, at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, which are necessary to sustain key functions of the agroecosystem, its structure and processes (CBD, 2000).

Agrochemicals: Chemical compounds used in farming including fertilizers, pesticides, hormones and other growth agents, and soil conditioners.

Agroecology: The study of agricultural systems in the context of their entire environments over space and over time. It studies agricultural systems as ecological systems first and foremost, rather than simply as industrial food factories. It thus shades into landscape studies and agricultural geography but with more emphasis on biological factors and measures. It has become a holistic approach at odds with partial and sectored views that led early agricultural science (Altieri, 1995).

Agroecosystem: A semi-natural or modified natural system managed by humans for food and agricultural production purposes.

Agroforestry system: Any agricultural system (agroecosystem) in which planted or protected trees are seen as economically, socially, or ecologically integral to the system.

Balanced diet: A diet that provides an adequate amount and variety of food to meet a person’s macro and micro nutrient needs for a healthy, active life.

Biocultural diversity: The diversity exhibited by interacting natural systems and human cultures. The concept rests on three propositions: firstly, that the diversity of life includes human cultures and languages; secondly, that links exist between biodiversity and human cultural diversity; and finally, that these links have developed over time through mutual adaptation and possibly co-evolution between humans, plants and animals.

Biodiversity: The variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

Biofertilizer, biological fertilizer, organic fertilizer: A biofertilizer is a natural fertilizer that helps to provide all the nutrients required by the plants and to increase the quality of the soil with a natural microorganism environment. For instance, the production and use of biofertilizer (such as seaweed products; compost) is proposed to improve crop yields by using root nodule bacteria (rhizobia), mycorrhizal fungi, and other microorganisms that are able to increase the accessibility of plant nutrients from the soils.

Biological pest control: Biological control is a method of controlling pests, diseases and weeds in agriculture that relies on natural predation, parasitism or other natural mechanisms that restrain the development of pathogenic organisms.

Biome: Global-scale zones, generally defined by the type of plant life that they support in response to average rainfall and temperature patterns. For example, tundra, coral reefs or savannas.

Breed: Either a subspecific group of domestic livestock with definable and identifiable external characteristics that enable it to be separated by visual appraisal from other similarly defined groups within the same species, or a group for which geographical and/or cultural separation from phenotypically similar groups has led to acceptance of its separate identity.

Bushmeat: Meat for human consumption derived from wild animals.

Community seed bank: A community seed system is based on seed saving and aims to conserve existing varieties and make them available to the local community.

Compost: A mixture of decaying organic matter, as from leaves and manure, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients.

Conservation: Includes protection, maintenance, rehabilitation, restoration and enhancement of populations and ecosystems. This implies sound biosphere management within given social and economic constraints, producing goods and services without depleting natural ecosystem diversity.

Crop: A cultivated plant grown to be harvested either to be used or to be sold (adapted from FAO TERM).

Crop rotation: The practice of alternating the species or families of annual and/or biannual crops grown on a specific field in a planned pattern or sequence so as to break weed, pest and disease cycles and to maintain or improve soil fertility and organic matter content.

Cultivar: A plant or grouping of plants selected for desirable characteristics that can be maintained by propagation. Most cultivars have arisen in cultivation, but a few are special selections from the wild (Bioversity International, 2017).

Cultural heritage: Traditions or living expressions inherited from ancestors and passed on to descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

Cultural transmission: Cultural transmission is the acquisition of the various competences and pieces of information that a human society acquaints to its members and that forge its own traditions. Human traditions are meant to last because societies possess outstanding capacities for imitation, sufficient to trigger the evolution of cumulative cultures (Callan and Coleman, eds., 2018).

Customary tenure: Rules and norms which communities devise and uphold to regulate how their lands are acquired, owned, used and transferred. Many rules and norms are tested over generations (hence ‘traditions’ or ‘customs’).

Customary use of biological resources: Uses of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation and sustainable use requirements.

Diet: The kinds of food that follow a particular pattern that a person or community eats.

Dietary diversity: A measure of the variety of food from different food groups consumed over a reference period.

Ecoregion: A large area of land or water that contains a geographically distinct assemblage of natural communities that:

(a) Share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;

(b) Share similar environmental conditions, and;

(c) Interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence.

In contrast to biomes, an ecoregion is generally geographically specific, at a much finer scale. For example, the “East African Montane Forest” eco-region of Kenya (WWF ecoregion classification) is a geographically specific and coherent example of the globally occurring “tropical and subtropical forest” biome.

Ecosystem: A dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit (CBD, 1992).

Ecosystem function: An intrinsic ecosystem characteristic related to the set of conditions and processes whereby an ecosystem maintains its integrity (such as primary productivity, food chain, biogeochemical cycles). Ecosystem functions include such processes as decomposition, production, nutrient cycling, and fluxes of nutrients and energy.

Ecosystem services: The benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food and water; pollination of crops; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational and cultural benefits; and supporting services, such as the nutrient cycling that maintains the conditions for life on Earth.

Efficiency: The ratio of a system’s output (or production) to the inputs that it requires, as in the useful energy produced by a system compared with the energy put into that system.

Food biodiversity: The diversity of plant, animal and other sources used for food, covering the genetic resources within species and between species.

Food security: Food security takes place when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The multidimensional nature of food security includes food availability, access, stability and utilization.

Food sovereignty: Right of peoples to define their own policies and strategies for the sustainable production, distribution and consumption of food, with respect for their own cultures and their own systems of managing natural resources and rural areas, and is considered to be a precondition for food security.

Global (environmental) change: A major environmental and worldwide concern for the time being, global change combines systemic and cumulative dimensions. It is systemic where environmental change in any place directly affects the characteristics of the environment elsewhere, or even of the whole earth system. It is cumulative when change results from the accumulation of local and regional changes occurring around the world (Callan and Coleman, eds., 2018).

Green manure: A cover crop grown to help maintain soil organic matter and increase nitrogen availability. Legumes are often used because they have rhizobial bacteria living in their root nodules that are able to fix nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil. Green manure is incorporated into the soil for the purpose of soil improvement. May include spontaneous crops, plants or weeds.

Habitat: The place or type of site where species and communities normally live or grow, usually characterized by relatively uniform physical features or by consistent plant forms, e.g. deserts, lakes and forest are all habitats.

Habitat degradation: A general term describing the set of processes by which habitat quality is reduced. Habitat degradation may occur through natural processes (e.g. drought, heat, cold) and through human activities (forestry, agriculture, urbanization).

Healthy diet: Healthy diets contain adequate food energy and sufficient amounts of macro- and micronutrients; limit overconsumption, particularly of nutrient-poor foods high in energy, saturated and trans fats, added sugars and salt; include a variety of nutrient-dense foods from basic food groupings; and are safe to consume (Adapted from HLPE, 2017).

Hunter-gatherers (present-day): A term used to refer to small scale, mostly egalitarian, societies that subsist primarily from food that has been obtained directly from the environment – through hunting animals, gathering plant food, fishing, or scavenging. A more general term for this is ‘foraging’ and such peoples are also sometimes referred to as ‘foragers’ – or often ‘post-foragers’, given that most such societies no longer survive through these subsistence techniques alone. They constitute a tiny fraction (less than 1 percent) of the 476 million peoples referred to as indigenous (Lee R.B., Heywood Daly R. and Daly R., 1999).

Indigenous peoples’ food system: See elements of characterization in the Methodology section.

Indigenous peoples’ knowledge: Cumulative body of knowledge (for example know-how), practices and manifestations maintained and developed by people with long histories of interaction with their natural environment. It forms the basis for local-level decision-making, especially for the poor, and provides problem-solving strategies for communities.

In situ conservation: The conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties.

Institution: A structure of social order governing the behaviour of a set of individuals and that shape human interactions by serving collectively valued goals. The term includes formal institutions (e.g. public institutions, nongovernmental and private organizations, training and educational institutions such as universities and research institutes) and informal institutions (e.g. village committees, community groups, farmer groups).

Intercropping: Growing two or more crops as a mixture in the same field at the same time. Intercropping can be one way of adding diversity to a crop system.

Land race: A crop variety, often harbouring some genetic variability, yet, with a certain genetic integrity that has evolved in cultivation, usually in a traditional agricultural system over long periods, and has adapted to a specific local environment or purpose (Bioversity International, 2017).

Landscape: A landscape can be defined as a socioecological system made up of natural and/or human-modified ecosystems.

Livelihood: A combination of the resources used and the activities undertaken in order to live. The resources might consist of individual skills and abilities (human capital), land, savings and equipment (natural, financial and physical capital, respectively), and formal support groups or informal networks that assist in the activities being undertaken (social capital).

Local food: Local food refers to food that is produced near its point of consumption.

Manure: Organic material that is used to fertilize land, usually consisting of the faeces and urine of domestic livestock, with or without litter such as straw, hay, or bedding.

Mineral fertilizer, nitrogen fertilizer, synthetic fertilizer, synthetic input: Fertlizers manufactured by chemical and industrial processes. May include products not found in nature, or simulation of products from natural sources (but not extracted from natural raw materials). It refers to agricultural substances produced through chemical processes, including nitrogen-fertilizers.

Natural resource: Any portion of the natural environment, such as air, water, soil, botanical and zoological resources and minerals. A renewable resource can potentially last indefinitely without reducing the available supply because it is replaced through natural processes or because it recycles rapidly as water does.

Non-Timber Forest Product: Goods derived from forests that are tangible and physical objects of biological origin other than wood.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs): Also known as chronic diseases, these are generally of long duration and are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental, dietary, and behavioural factors. The main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. NCDs are the leading cause of death worldwide (adapted from WHO, 2018).

Nutrition: The intake of food, and the interplay of biological, social, and economic processes that influence the growth, function and repair of the body.

Nutrition security: A situation that exists when secure access to an appropriately nutritious diet is coupled with a sanitary environment and adequate health services and care, in order to ensure a healthy and active life for all household members. Nutrition security differs from food security in that it also considers the aspects of adequate caregiving practices, health and hygiene, in addition to dietary adequacy.

Oral tradition: Variety of spoken forms including proverbs, riddles, tales, nursery rhymes, legends, myths, epic songs and poems, charms, prayers, chants, songs, dramatic performances and more used to pass on knowledge, cultural and social values and collective memory. They play a crucial part in keeping cultures alive.

Organic manure: Organic manure covers manures made from cattle dung, excreta of other animals, rural and urban composts, other animal wastes, crop residues and green manures. Organic manure is time tested materials for improving the fertility and productivity of soils.

Pastoralism: Wide family of livestock-based, livelihood/food production systems, which are specialized in improving the animals’ diet and welfare through different forms of mobility (from short movements to nomadism), thus managing their grazing itineraries at a variety of scales in time and space (FAO, forthcoming).

Pest: Any species, strain or biotype of plant, animal or pathogenic agent injurious to plants or plant products, livestock, food and storage products.

Pesticide: Any substance intended for preventing, destroying, attracting, repelling, or controlling any pest including unwanted species of plants or animals during the production, storage, transport, distribution, and processing of food, agricultural commodities, or animal feeds or which may be administered to animals for the control of ectoparasites. The term includes substances intended for use as a plant-growth regulator, defoliant, desiccant, fruit thinning agent, or sprouting inhibitor and substances applied to crops either before or after harvest to protect the commodity from deterioration during storage and transport. The term normally excludes fertilizers, plant and animal nutrients, food additives and animal drugs. (Note: “Agricultural commodities” refers to commodities such as raw cereals, sugar beet, and cottonseed which might not, in the general sense, be considered food).

Resilience: The capacity of a system to deal with change and continue to develop; withstanding shocks and disturbances and using such events to catalyze renewal and innovation. (Adapted from the Stockholm Resilience Institute)

Self-sufficiency: A group is considered self-sufficient by its ability to produce all the materials it consumes and to consume what it produces. Self-sufficiency refers to a closed loop from production to consumption to production. It is a model, sometimes an ideal, that is never achieved. Economic self-sufficiency is in total contrast to complete market economy in which everything produced is traded and everything consumed is secured through trade (Callan and Coleman, eds., 2018).

Shifting cultivation: A way of farming that involves the clearing of natural or largely natural vegetation, usually using fire, to plant crops for one or two years and then allowing natural vegetation to regenerate on the plot for a long period of time referred to as fallowing, before clearing and cropping it again. Shifting cultivation is also known as “slash and burn” or “swidden cultivation” and by a variety of local names specific to each place in which it is practiced (Callan and Coleman, eds., 2018).

Social-ecological system: “Social” or “socio” ecological systems” are complex and evolving systems in which humans are part of nature. Social, economic, ecological, cultural, political, technological, and other components are strongly linked and the ecological component provides essential services to society such as supply of food, fiber, energy, and drinking water (Berkes and Folke, eds., 1998).

Soil erosion: The process of removal and transport of soil and rock by weathering, mass wasting, and the action of streams, glaciers, waves, winds, and underground water.

Soil fertility: The ability of a soil to sustain plant growth by providing essential plant nutrients and favorable chemical, physical, and biological characteristics as a habitat for plant growth.

Species: An interbreeding group of organisms that is reproductively isolated from all other organisms, although there are many partial exceptions to this rule in particular taxa. Operationally, the term species is a generally agreed fundamental taxonomic unit, based on morphological or genetic similarity, that once described and accepted is associated with a unique scientific name.

Species diversity: A measure of the number of different species within a biological community, and relative abundance of individual in that community.

Staple food: Food that is eaten commonly and regularly in a country or community and in such quantities as to constitute the dominant part of the diet and supply a major proportion of energy needs.

Subsistence: Subsistence is the process whereby people supply themselves with the necessities of life, such as food and shelter. Subsistence relates primarily to self-provisioning by small productive units, often families. These groups are referred to as autarkic for being able to supply all their own needs with no dependence on interaction with others to obtain necessities (Callan and Coleman, eds., 2018).

Sustainability: A characteristic or state whereby the needs of the present and local population can be met without compromising the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs.

Sustainable Diet: Diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.

Territory: Lands, and waters traditionally occupied, or used by indigenous and local communities.

Traditional knowledge: Knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world developed from experience gained over the centuries and adapted to the local culture and environment, traditional knowledge is transmitted orally from generation to generation.

Value chain: The set of actors (private, public, and including service providers) and the sequence of value-adding activities involved in bringing a product from production to the final consumer. In agriculture they can be thought of as a ‘farm to fork’ set of processes and flows.

Variety: A plant or group of plants selected for desirable characteristics and maintained in cultivation. It may be traditional and maintained by farmers, or modern and developed as a result of deliberate breeding programmes (Bioversity International, 2017)

Well-being: A context - and situation - dependent state, comprising basic material for a good life, freedom and choice, health, good social relations, and security.

Wild food: Wild plants, animals and insects that are not cultivated or reared in captivity. They are part of the minor crops and underutilized species, and include roots and tubers, vegetables and leafy vegetables, fruits, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals gathered for food (Bioversity International, 2017).