Building capacity related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP MEAs 3)

Interview with Julie Bélanger on The State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture report

Julie Bélanger is the Lead Technical Officer for the ACP MEAs 3 programme and is a Technical Officer for Biodiversity and Environment at the Secretariat of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, where she coordinated the preparation of the FAO report on The State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.
She says it took six years and the contributions of some 1 500 people from around the world to prepare this seminal 600-page report, which came out in 2019 and which was key in designing programmes such as ACP MEAs 3.

JB: In 2007 the Commission, which was created in 1983 and has 178 member countries, decided to assess the state of all the biodiversity that is related to food and agriculture in the world. The work began in 2013, and it was a country-driven process: all the members were involved, and 91 countries produced their own evaluations of the state of their national biodiversity.

Negatives and positives

The findings of the report can be boiled down to five key messages: number one, biodiversity is essential to food production. This seems like an obvious statement given that everything we eat comes from plants, animals and micro-organisms, but there are many other ways in which biodiversity plays a role — for example by pollinating plants, cycling nutrients and controlling pests.

The second is that worldwide, biodiversity for food and agriculture is in decline. Forests, coral reefs, mangroves and other habitats are being lost and degraded. Breeds, strains and varieties of domesticated plants and animals face extinction. Scientists report declines in many wild species – including including pollinator insects, which are vital to farming  – and that rates of species loss are accelerating. More than a third of fish stocks are being overfished, according to FAO.

The third key message concerns drivers:the one mentioned by the highest number of reporting countries as having negative impacts is changes in land and water use and management. Others include the overuse of external inputs such as pesticides, the overexploitation of resources, the rise of invasive alien species, pollution, and climate change.

The fourth was a positive: the report assessed some 20 different practices that can be considered biodiversity friendly, such as agroecology, agroforestry, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Almost all of them are increasing — more and more countries are adopting these practices and approaches, several of which are being promoted by the ACP MEAs 3 programme.

The last key message was that overall, the policies and incentives to mainstream biodiversity into agriculture exist to some extent, but much more needs to be done. And this is what ACP MEAs 3 is working on — helping governments design policies to transition to biodiversity-friendly agriculture, and also to adopt practices that conserve plant and animal species.

"We need to conserve, restore and use biodiversity sustainably"

The report concluded that we need to conserve and use biodiversity in a sustainable manner, restore habitats and to address negative drivers of change, for example by avoiding using harmful chemicals so that wildlife is not impacted and food is safe, pollinators and soil microorganisms can thrive and land remains fertile.

One of the key outcomes of the report was that it raised awareness: it attracted a lot of media attention, with over 530 articles in major news outlets in the week following its launch, and it influenced decision-making. It also played an important role in FAO's adoption of its Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity across Agriculture Sectors.

When Phase 3 of the programme was being designed the report was already out, and it was useful in selecting the target countries and developing work plans. The country reports prepared in the three ACP regions – Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific – also support the knowledge base for implementing the ACP MEAs 3 programme.

Working on two fronts at the same time

A unique feature of ACP MEAs 3 is that it works with countries to implement four key multilateral environmental agreements, focusing on biodiversity in the case of the Convention on Biological Diversity and on hazardous chemicals and wastes in the case of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions.

The programme is working on two fronts simultaneously to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity: reducing the drivers of biodiversity loss by promoting the sound management of chemicals; and promoting the adoption of biodiversity-friendly ways of producing food.

"Less and less water in the glass"

As things stand, there seems to be less and less water in the glass. The overall news on biodiversity loss remains worrying. If things continue as they are we risk losing vital resources, and the productivity and resilience of our agri-food systems will suffer. But there are grounds for optimism in that biodiversity loss is now receiving unprecedented attention. Many biodiversity-friendly ways of growing food are becoming more widely adopted. And the ACP MEA3 programme is accelerating this much-needed transition.