AT-3

Solution Cluster 3.2.4

Agrobiodiversity

Agrobiodiversity – the subset of genetic resources that contributes in one way or another to agriculture and food production – is an essential component of sustainable food systems. This biodiversity includes plants, animals and the myriad organisms that live in and around food and sustain agricultural systems. These organisms, together with the associated knowledge, are the foundation of food and nutrition security as well as livelihoods for families and communities around the world, specifically for 500 million smallholder farmers. They are so important because, since their domestication, they have adapted to changing climate conditions, new pests and diseases and different cultural and taste preferences of the communities that adopted a given crop. Historically, human migration, economic exchanges and wars affected the further adaptations of different crops and animals. Through a combination of natural and human selection, a wide range of organisms at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels are available to sustain key agro-ecosystem functions and produce large variety and diversity of foods. In pre-industrial farming systems, farmers used to keep a diversity of different crops and livestock as a way to manage biotic and abiotic risks and changing market demand. The diversity of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture is also crucial for farmers’ ability to adapt their food production to the effects of climate change and ensure access to safe and nutritious food.

About this Solution Cluster

While agriculture can contribute significantly to the conservation of biodiversity, it can also be a major driver of global biodiversity loss. Agrobiodiversity, in particular, is threatened by unsustainable and inequitable production systems. Agricultural production and markets tend to become more uniform, leading to an erosion of diversity from production systems. Traditional and indigenous knowledge about the husbandry and use of diverse foods is in turn disappearing, and ongoing efforts to conserve food biodiversity have not succeeded in fully stemming the tide of these losses. Such loss of agrobiodiversity has a significant impact on the resilience of production systems, their outputs, in terms of food and nutrition security, the quality of the environment in terms of land degradation and provision of ecosystem services. With the major crises that the global population is facing—climate change, the triple burden of malnutrition, land degradation and biodiversity loss—sustainable models of agriculture which foster agrobiodiversity can be an important contribution to the solutions to address these problems and achieve various positive biodiversity and development outcomes.

The ‘agrobiodiversity cluster’ is proposing a strategy to scale up the long-term conservation of agrobiodiversity and promote use of the astounding biodiversity both between and within crops through more sustainable breeding and growing practices. The main objectives of the cluster are:

  • Develop a green investment plan that incorporates innovative and blended finance tools, to ensure a steady flow of financial support to long-term conservation of crop diversity, as well as for new business models and economic systems that enhance profitability of more biodiverse production systems to change food production, markets, and consumer preferences such that food systems enable farmers, especially women and indigenous peoples, to gain a viable livelihood through the use of agrobiodiversity.
  • Enable a greater and more sustainable use of agrobiodiversity in farmers’ fields and gene banks in order to improve diets and food and nutrition security and the adaptation of agriculture to climate change.
  • Recognize, celebrate and promote a greater understanding of the importance of the diversity of cultivated food crops and domesticated animals and their related wild relatives, of associated food knowledge, including indigenous and traditional, and of the myriad cuisines based on this diversity. Much more information is needed for many species on their potential to contribute to better diets, adaptation to climate change and healthier ecosystems.
  • Ensure an enabling environment that facilitates access and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity in production systems and value chains, including a more ambitious plan to mainstream the use of neglected and underutilized species (NUS) as well as efficient mechanisms for Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS).

The agrobiodiversity cluster builds on successes and initiatives within the SDG Agenda framework, primarily SDG2 – Zero Hunger and Improved Nutrition, but also associated goals such as SDG 1, 5, 12, 13, 15, 17. In specific, the agrobiodiversity cluster hopes to scale up the ongoing endeavors to implement Target 2.4 and Target 2.5 (which had an initial 2020 deadline). To that end, the cluster will focus on promoting the implementation of the following game-changing solutions:

  1. Develop and promote innovative, gender-responsive finance mechanisms for the long-term conservation of agrobiodiversity, so as to ensure buy-in from the financial sector, food processing and seed corporations and foundations, civil society and individuals. Potential instruments to be evaluated are green bonds, concessional loans, crop-based fundraising and crowdsourcing campaigns.
  2. Strengthen seed systems that serve farmers by ensuring and promoting – policies, legislation, capacity building, legislation and action – farmers’ access to and co-development of a diversity of crops and plant materials that meet agroecological, nutritional needs and trait preferences. This entails a fundamental re-think of how seed system development is supported globally and the implementation of a bottom-up demand-driven approach to seed security, thereby supporting farmers’ agency and recognising farmers’seed systems’ contribution to global food security.
  3. Implement a strategy for conservation, improvement, use and consumption of Neglected and Under-Utilized Species (NUS), including women-led schemes to increase purchasing power by growing, household consumption, marketing activities and efficient insertion in food value chains.
  4. Increase the funding for the characterization, sequencing and trait-mining of the world’s priority collections of genetic resources for food and agriculture to better understand the intrinsic value of species and varieties and their contribution to resilience, biotic and abiotic stresses, resistance/tolerance, livelihood, nutrition.
  5. Scale up the technological innovations and programmes around agrobiodiversity use in marginal ecosystems with significant food security problems, such as the desert or drought-vulnerable areas, through the use of locally adapted, resilient crops combined with agricultural technology tools.

The partnership and collaborative spirit behind the cluster will ensure ownership from a broad range of stakeholders in initiative focusing on agrobiodiversity conservation and its use. The coalition of actors will include the following stakeholders, among others:

  1. Governments, including both developed and developing countries;
  2. Research and scientific organizations;
  3. Private sector, including the seed and food processing industries;
  4. Civil society, farmers’ organizations, advocacy organizations, some of them having participated actively in the UNFSS National Dialogues;
  5. Financial sector; and
  6. Multilateral sectors, spearheaded by the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IT-PGRFA).

This multi-stakeholder approach together with the series of solutions presented in the preceding paragraph will lead to greater funding to protect and use agrobiodiversity, as well as sufficient exposure to ensure political buy-in for improvements in the regulatory framework for access and benefit sharing and farmers’ seed systems. Other actions that will be promoted to underpin the five game-changing solutions include establishing and scaling up community seed banks, collaborative plant breeding programmes, and cooperative seed production; improving rural livelihoods through capacity building at the community level and related microfinance programmes; and providing assistance to countries in reviewing and adjusting their seed policies and legislation to support such a development. These actions will benefit from close collaboration between national, regional, and local authorities as well as gene banks, scientists, NGOs, and farmers.

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