Table Of ContentsNext Page


The Satellite Event held during the weekend of 12-13 October 2002 and reported in these Proceedings examined agriculture, fisheries and forestry using ecosystems approaches. The event was organized by FAO’s Inter-Departmental Working Group on Biological Diversity for Food and Agriculture.

FAO’s Biodiversity Programme turns a common argument on its head. It is often claimed that agriculture is the world’s greatest threat to biodiversity. But at the same time over 40 percent of the land surface of the world is covered by agriculture (including pastures, rangelands, inland fisheries and managed forests). Ecological studies of agro-ecosystems reveal the same functional groups of species and essential ecosystem processes found in natural ecosystems. Agriculture depends on ecosystem services delivered through agro-biodiversity and simultaneously delivers ecosystem services (mostly through non-market channels) to wider environments. Careless management or bad policy incentives can threaten biodiversity and those services, but agriculture nonetheless represents the world’s largest opportunity for ecological learning by the practical managers of ecosystems.

There are well over 500 million farm management units in the world, overwhelmingly found in developing countries. FAO’s ongoing field work in over 100 000 rural communities has found that all those farm managers can understand their farms, fields, forests, range- lands and fisheries as ecosystems and thus be able to manage them better. Farmers, even in the poorest and most food-insecure regions of the world, manage genes by their decisions on crop varieties, manage species by their decisions on farm animals and manage ecosystems by their decisions on soils or pollinators. FAO’s biodiversity programme includes many applications of the Malawi Principles on the Ecosystem Approach of the Convention on Biodiversity, some of which are highlighted in this volume.

Farmers, fisherfolk, and forest dwellers not only understand and can apply ecosystem approaches in their decision making, but also understand the potential impact of large-scale environmental threats to their livelihoods. Illiterate farmers are still aware of the harmful effects of insecticides on domestic animals, fish and the health of people in their communities and downstream. These rural people are eager to do their part to reduce and mitigate these threats. By valuing and understanding their own experiences using ecological concepts they can connect and help solve environmental problems at the same time that they solve production problems.

FAO’s biodiversity programmes apply ecosystem approaches to stimulate community level education and experiential learning by rural people. The same approaches educate national policy makers wishing to fulfill commitments made to environmental treaties while still meeting agricultural production demands. If policy makers like these, during the few days spent each year visiting the countryside, meet farmers in their fields, then those policy makers sharply increase their confidence in agro-ecologically literate farmers. That confidence goes on to strengthen national commitment to deeper policy reforms, to reduce and eliminate perverse subsidies that threaten biodiversity and to support public investment in rural human capital through education, transport and communications.

The complementary processes of ecological education by and of farmers, as well as policy makers, drive FAO’s strategy for mainstreaming biodiversity in national agricultural policies and programmes. This strategy grew from the FAO/CBD/Netherlands Technical Workshop on Sustaining Agricultural Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functions (1998) and the Programme of Work on Agricultural Biodiversity, which the Convention on Biological Diversity asked FAO to lead through its COP V/5 decision.

We would like to thank FAO’s Priority Area for Interdisciplinary Action (PAIA) on Biological Diversity for Food and Agriculture and the FAO/Netherlands Partnership Programme (FNPP) Agro-Biodiversity Theme for financially supporting this Satellite Event on Biodiversity and the Ecosystem Approach in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. We would also like to acknowledge the endorsements by the PAIA, the FNPP and the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture of FAO’s programme on work on biodiversity and ecosystem approaches in food and agriculture. Finally, the intellectual contributions of these bodies, the authors of these papers, the participants in the discussions during the Satellite Event and the rural peoples whose work is documented here continue to inspire and guide the work of FAO’s biodiversity programme and are gratefully acknowledged.

Peter Kenmore
Inter-Departmental Working Group on
Biological Diversity in Food and Agriculture


FAO, ROME, 12-13 OCTOBER 2002


A Satellite Event on Biodiversity and the Ecosystem Approach in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries was held on the occasion of the Ninth Regular Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, in FAO, Rome, 12-13 October 2002. An informal presentation of the Satellite Event’s discussions and results was given on 16 October 2002.

The event was organized by the FAO Inter-Departmental Working Group on Biological Diversity for Food and Agriculture1in support of the recommendation of the Seventh Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture which mentioned that “countries were encouraged to develop strategies, programmes and plans for agro-biodiversity in conformity with an ecosystem approach”. The meeting was supported by FAO’s Priority Area for Interdisciplinary Action on Biological Diversity and by the FAO/Netherlands Partnership Programme.

More specifically, the meeting aimed to improve awareness of the importance of biological diversity, through concrete cases from around the world, and to support the integration of the ecosystem approach applied to all types of production systems and policies and within biodiversity programmes and plans.

About 100 participants attended the day and a half event, including country delegations and observers to the Interim Committee of the International Treaty and the Ninth Regular Session of the Commission. The agenda and list of participants are attached.



Presentations and discussions covered grasslands in South Africa, agro-pastoral systems in Nigeria, rice-fish ecosystems in Cambodia, organic agriculture systems in 16 locations and 10 countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, Cuba, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Spain, South Africa), mahogany forests in Mexico, medicinal plants in India, soil systems in six locations and five countries (Australia, Brazil, India, Mexico and Sahel), apple pollination in the Himalayas, rice ecology in Asia and ingenious agricultural systems in five countries (Asia, French Guyana, Slovakia, Tanzania, Tunisia).

The case studies depicted innovations from over 20 countries and production systems which included some 70 plants (mainly crops) and a number of animals (ranging from honey bees, through fish to livestock) used for food, fibres and medicine. The studies involved universities, research institutions, inter-governmental institutions, government institutions, civil society institutions and farmers’ associations. A number of these institutions are FAO partners in the field.

Food production ecology

The ecological relationships and intrinsic mechanisms involved in the food web were illustrated for both aquatic and terrestrial environments. More specifically, natural population regulation of pests in rice fields and nutrient cycling in soil ecosystems were illustrated.

Agro-ecological management entails a paradigm shift where agro-ecosystems are designed and managed in a manner that optimizes nutrient and energy flows below as well as above the ground.

Knowledge of ecological processes was shown in these cases to replace either excessive dependence on, or the lack of, external inputs. The understanding of ecological relations and functional groups (rather than of individual species) can unlock new potentials.

Ecological services are productive inputs

The importance of functional bio diversity in providing goods and services to both the natural and human environments was highlighted. Habitats rich in native flowering plants and free of pesticide use increased pollinators and pollination services in the Himalayas and hence, food security of rural communities.

The conservation of wild habitats is key to the continued harvesting of medicinal and aromatic plants, which enjoy growing consumer demand in both developing and developed countries. Although the bulk of quantities of medicinal herbs come from cultivation, 60-90 percent of medicinal species traded internationally are harvested from the wild.

Ecosystem services (e.g. pollination, predation, soil nutrient cycling) are as valuable as agricultural products in providing public goods. Conserving these ecological processes allows managing agro-ecosystems for improved production and resilience. An ecosystem approach to food production implies both species and area based approaches which analyze and act upon the intrinsic relationships between species and their environment.

Coping with change through diversification and heterogeneity

The survival strategies of farmers and pastoralists include creating the conditions to harvest food, fibre and medicinal products throughout the year. Continued production relies on harnessing biodiversity goods and services within prevailing conditions of both high and low external inputs, in order to optimize the flow of energy and nutrients throughout the food chain. This is achieved by optimizing heterogeneous conditions in order to meet different needs. For example, corralling and manure practices in Nigeria’s agro-pastoral systems increased soil heterogeneity in order to create conditions that allowed production under different rainfall regimes. Networking, conflict resolution and contracts between farmers and herders showed the diversity and adaptability of farmers’ strategies and institutions to cope with harsh conditions.

In organic agriculture, the need to compensate for the restriction on (or lack of) synthetic inputs result in the establishment of polycultures that use local varieties and breeds resilient to local climatic conditions and resistant to pest and diseases. Conservation through the utilization of adapted genetic resources is the main productive strategy.

Even where managed biodiversity is rare, such as in the case of Mahogany tree species in Mexico and medicinal, aromatic and dye plants in India, local communities’ ownership, management and marketing of a species of high ecological and socio-economic value was sustainable. In fact, the presence of 1-2 mahogany trees in a hectare of forest represents a capital that can be nurtured and sustainably exploited, especially when agro-forestry activities were integrated.

Farmers’ and pastoralists’ decision-making in managing biodiversity for food production, livelihoods and resilience in the face of changing and unforeseen biophysical and socio-economic conditions is key to adaptive management strategies.

Managed ecosystems increase biodiversity

About 40 percent of the world’s lands are occupied by agriculture as compared to no more than 12 percent of lands occupied by reserves and protected areas. To be successful, wildlife conservation needs well connected areas and agricultural practices with positive externalities affecting both natural and semi-natural ecosystems.

Well managed agro-ecosystems have demonstrated the potential of agriculture to restore and maintain biodiversity at gene, species and ecosystem levels, through sustainable management of existing systems and restoration of degraded systems.

Markets valorize managed biodiversity

The market demand for organic and speciality products allows farmers and processors to improve household income by using biodiversity and associated ecological services. Certification of organic and other products add value to biodiversity and local economies.

The cases of quinoa and naturally pigmented cotton in Peru or Maya organic chocolate in Mexico added value to threatened genetic resources and traditional systems through processing. Consumer demand for Saraceno grain or Garfagnaga spelt in Italy for their specific medicinal or gastronomic properties allowed the rescue of these threatened species.

Good connections within the food production chain (from production to processing and marketing) ensured economic viability of marginal areas and restoration of under-utilized biodiversity and authoctonous races (e.g. Maremmana cattle in Italy).

Celebrating biodiversity knowledge systems

The main question is how agro-ecosystem complexities could be maintained in a transforming society. Complex and sound agro-ecosystems are the result of co-adaptation and co-evolution between nature and man. Key determinants for biodiversity improvements at all levels are household and community factors, which are location-specific.

Cultural heritage and knowledge systems determine biodiversity and inter-species dynamics. The potential of joint learning processes between farmers, who have a historical perspective of their ecosystems and scientific knowledge of ecology was illustrated in examples such as the use of termites for rehabilitating crusted soils and many organic agriculture projects.

Numerous studies showed that traditional knowledge and new ecological knowledge establish positive pressures, which deserve attention. Rural communities have the capacity to adapt to change. This capacity is amplified when good governance is ensured.

Ownership and participation maintain biodiversity

Access to land and water resources and changes in property boundaries, such as cropland fencing and pastoralism in Nigeria or flooding of fishponds in Cambodia create common property challenges to bio diversity management.

Community-based management and participatory selection and evaluation of open-pollinated varieties (e.g. Association for Biodynamic Vegetable Plant Breeding in Germany) and old breeds (e.g. of native chicken in South Africa) create common ownership and benefit sharing of biodiversity.

Ecological, economic and social resilience can only be managed by building on local heterogeneity through decentralized decision-making and resource appropriation. It appears that political functions are as important as ecosystem functions.


The resilience and stability of agro-ecosystems depend on the quality of connectedness within and among natural and social systems. Too few or too weak connections may marginalize communities or populations and increase their risk of collapse. Too many or too strong connections may amplify local systems shocks (like forest fires or national economic depression in regional or global markets) and cause wider disruption. Recommendations across case studies include increased focus on: ecological connections, economic connections and socio-political connections.

The quality of connectedness should be improved through ecological literacy and good governance in order to equip rural communities with the necessary tools and mechanisms to maintain biodiversity and act upon change.


Saturday 12 October




Plant and animal diversity and sustainable production

  • Biodiversity and performance of grassland ecosystems in communal and commercial farming systems in South Africa (David Hoare, South Africa)
  • Biodiversity management in West African pastoral and agro-pastoral systems: a case study from North-west Nigeria (Irene Hoffmann, FAO)
  • Traditional use and availability of aquatic biodiversity in rice-based ecosystems: I. Kompong Thom Province, Cambodia (Peter Balzer, Cambodia)
  • Organic agriculture and genetic resources for food and agriculture (Cristina Grandi, Italy and Christina Henatsch, Germany)


Coffee break




Lunch break


Biological diversity and wild and semi-wild ecosystems

  • Effectiveness of biodiversity conservation (Doug Williamson, FAO)
  • Conservation and use of mahogany in forest ecosystems in Mexico (Patino Fenando, FAO)
  • Impact of cultivation and gathering on biodiversity of medicinal plants: global trends and issues and the case of India (Kampalappa Ramakrishnappa, India and Rainer Krell, FAO)


Coffee break




End of first day

Sunday 13 October


Biological resources that support production systems

  • Soil biodiversity management for sustainable and productive agriculture: lessons from case studies (Sally Bunning, FAO)
  • Cash crop farming in the Himalayas: the importance of pollinator management and managed pollination (Uma Partap, India)


Coffee break


Ecological and social services provided by agro-ecosystems

  • Ecosystem management in agriculture: principles and application of the ecosystem approach (William Settle, FAO)
  • Globally important ingenious agricultural heritage systems: (David Boerma, FAO)




Wrap-up and conclusions (Peter Kenmore, FAO)


End of meeting

1 Information on the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Biological Diversity and FAO’s work in this area is available at:

Top Of PageNext Page