What is biodiversity for food and agriculture?
Gardens in Sri Lanka
THE STATE OF THE WORLD’s BIODIVERSITY THE STATE OF THE WORLD’s BIODIVERSITTY
FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture presents
the first global assessment of biodiversity for food and agriculture worldwide.
Biodiversity for food and agriculture is the diversity of plants, animals and
micro-organisms at genetic, species and ecosystem levels, present in and
around crop, livestock, forest and aquatic production systems. It is essential
to the structure, functions and processes of these systems, to livelihoods and
food security, and to the supply of a wide range of ecosystem services. It has
been managed or influenced by farmers, livestock keepers, forest dwellers,
fish farmers and fisherfolk for hundreds of generations.
Prepared through a participatory, country-driven process, the report draws
on information from 91 country reports to provide a description of the roles
and importance of biodiversity for food and agriculture, the drivers of
change affecting it and its current status and trends. It describes the state of
efforts to promote the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for
food and agriculture, including through the development of supporting
policies, legal frameworks, institutions and capacities. It concludes with a
discussion of needs and challenges in the future management of biodiversity
for food and agriculture.
The report complements other global assessments prepared under the
auspices of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,
which have focused on the state of genetic resources within particular sectors
of food and agriculture.
FAO COMMISSION ON GENETIC RESOURCES FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
ASSESSMENTS • 2019
For the full report see it on line or downloadable at http://www.fao.org/3/CA3129EN/CA3129EN.pdf
Biodiversity is the variety of life at genetic, species and ecosystem levels. Biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) is, in turn, the subset of biodiversity that contributes in one way or another to agriculture and food production. It includes the domesticated plants and animals raised in crop, livestock, forest and aquaculture systems, harvested forest and aquatic species, the wild relatives of domesticated species, other wild species harvested for food and other products, and what is known as “associated biodiversity”, the vast range of organisms that live in and around food and agricultural production systems, sustaining them and contributing to their output. Agriculture is taken here to include crop and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture.1
About this report
The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture provides an assessment of biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) and its management worldwide, drawing on information provided in 91 country reports (prepared by over 1 300 contributors), 27 reports from international organizations and inputs from over 175 authors and reviewers. It describes the many contributions that BFA makes to food security and nutrition, livelihoods, the resilience of production systems, the sustainable intensification of food production and the supply of multiple ecosystem services; the major drivers of change affecting BFA; the status and trends of various components of BFA; the state of management of BFA; the state of policies, institutions and capacities that support the sustainable use and conservation of BFA; and needs and challenges in the management of BFA.
1. biodiversity is essential to food and agriculture
Biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food security, sustainable development and the supply of many vital ecosystem services. Biodiversity makes production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses, including to the effects of climate change. It is a key resource in efforts to increase food production while limiting negative impacts on the environment. It makes multiple contributions to the livelihoods of many people, often reducing the need for food and agricultural producers to rely on costly or environmentally harmful external inputs. The country reports highlight the importance of biodiversity, at genetic, species and ecosystem levels, to efforts to address the challenges posed by diverse and changing production systems. Many emphasize the role of diversification – using multiple species, integrating the use of crop, livestock, forest and aquatic resources, and conserving and managing habitat diversity at landscape or seascape scale – in promoting resilience, improving livelihoods and supporting food security and nutrition.
1 For the purpose of the country-reporting process, biodiversity for food and agriculture was defined as follows: “…the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels that sustain the ecosystem structures, functions and processes in and around production systems, and that provide food and nonfood agricultural products.” More information on key concepts is provided in Section 1.5.
2. multiple interacting drivers of change are affecting biodiversity for food
While a range of drivers of change are having major negative impacts on biodiversity for food and agriculture and the ecosystem services it delivers, some provide opportunities to promote more sustainable management. Analysis of the country reports and the wider literature indicates that BFA is affected by a variety of drivers operating at a range of levels: major global trends such as changes in climate, international markets and demo- graphy give rise to more immediate drivers such as land-use change, pollution and overuse of external inputs, overharvesting and the proliferation of invasive species. Interactions between drivers often exacerbate their effects on BFA. Demographic changes, urbanization, markets, trade and consumer preferences are reported to have a strong influence on food systems, frequently with negative consequences for BFA and the ecosystem services it provides. However, such drivers are also reported to open opportunities to make food systems more sustainable, for example through the development of markets for biodiversityfriendly products. Many of the drivers that have negative impacts on BFA, including overexploitation, overharvesting, pollution, overuse of external inputs, and changes in land and water management, are at least partially caused by inappropriate agricultural practices. The driver mentioned by the highest number of countries as having negative effects on regulating and supporting ecosystem services is changes in land and water use and management. Loss and degradation of forest and aquatic ecosystems and, in many production systems, transition to intensive production of a reduced number of species, breeds and varieties, remain major drivers of loss of BFA and ecosystem services. Countries report that the maintenance of traditional knowledge related to BFA is negatively affected by the loss of traditional lifestyles as a result of population growth, urbanization and the industrialization of agriculture and food processing, and by overexploitation and overharvesting. Policy measures and advances in science and technology are largely seen by countries as positive drivers that offer ways of reducing the negative effects of other drivers on BFA. They provide critical entry points for interventions supporting sustainable use and conservation. However, policies intended to promote the sustainable management of BFA are often weakly implemented.
3. biodiversity for food and agriculture is declining
Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline. Evidence suggests that the proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing, and that, for some crops and in some areas, plant diversity in farmers’ fields is decreasing and threats to diversity are increasing. Nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened. Countries report that many species that contribute to vital ecosystem services, including pollinators, natural enemies of pests, soil organisms and wild food species, are in decline as a consequence of the destruction and degradation of habitats, overexploitation, pollution and other threats. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining rapidly.
Knowledge of associated biodiversity, in particular micro-organisms and invertebrates, and of its roles in the supply of ecosystem services needs to be improved. While a large amount of information has been accumulated on the characteristics of the domesticated species used in food and agriculture, many information gaps remain, particularly for species,
varieties and breeds that are not widely used commercially. Information on wild food species is also often limited. Many associated-biodiversity species have never been identified and described, particularly in the case of invertebrates and micro-organisms. Even when they have, their functions within the ecosystem often remain poorly understood. Over 99 percent of bacteria and protist species remain unknown. For several types of associated biodiversity, including soil micro-organisms and those used for food processing, advances in molecular techniques and sequencing technologies are facilitating characterization. Several countries have active programmes for characterizing soil micro-organisms using molecular methods. In many countries, however, gaps in terms of skills, facilities and equipment constrain opportunities to benefit from these developments.
Monitoring programmes for biodiversity for food and agriculture remain limited. Assessment and monitoring of the status and trends of BFA at national, regional and global levels are uneven and often limited. Even in developed regions, where the population trends of many species are well monitored and there are numerous ongoing research projects on the links between biodiversity and food and agriculture, available data often provide only a snapshot of the status of individual species (or groups of species) in particular production systems, habitats or geographical areas. While it is clear that many components of BFA are declining, lack of data often constrains the planning and prioritization of effective remedial measures.
4. the use of many biodiversity-friendly practices is reported to be increasing
The sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture call for approaches in which genetic resources, species and ecosystems are managed in an integrated way in the context of production systems and their surroundings. In particular for many types of associated biodiversity and wild foods, sustainable use and conservation require in situ or on-farm management integrated into strategies at ecosystem or landscape levels. Ex situ conservation should serve as a complementary strategy.
The use of a wide range of management practices and approaches regarded as favourable to the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture is reported to be increasing. Eighty percent of reporting countries indicate that one or more of the biodiversity-focused practices on which they were invited to report are being used in one or more types of production system. A much higher proportion of OECD countries than nonOECD countries report the use of these practices. However, it is difficult to fully evaluate the extent to which these approaches are being implemented, because of the variety of scales and contexts involved and the absence of data and appropriate assessment methods. Although countries generally indicate that the impacts of the biodiversity-focused practices on diversity are perceived to be positive, they emphasize the need for more research in this regard, even for practices where research on production issues is well established. Many biodiversity-focused practices are relatively complex and require good understanding of the local ecosystem. They can be knowledge intensive, context specific and provide benefits only in the relatively long term. Many countries note major challenges in up-scaling such practices, and the need to promote them through capacity-development and strengthening policy frameworks.
Although efforts to conserve biodiversity for food and agriculture in situ and ex situ are increasing, levels of coverage and protection are often inadequate. Crop, livestock, forest and aquatic genetic resources are conserved in situ through a variety of approaches,
including promotion of their sustainable use in production systems and the establishment of protected and other designated areas. However, many species and populations remain inadequately protected. Relatively few in situ conservation programmes are reported to explicitly target associated biodiversity and its roles in the supply of ecosystem services, although such programmes are increasing. Most associated-biodiversity species targeted are conserved through the promotion of biodiversity-friendly production practices, the establishment of protected areas, or policy and legal measures aimed at restricting activities that damage biodiversity. Ex situ conservation efforts for BFA are increasing, in particular for plant genetic resources, although many gaps in coverage remain. Much of the diversity present in minor crops, and in livestock, forest and aquatic species, is also not yet secured ex situ. Although limited, public- and private-sector ex situ conservation initiatives for targeted species of associated biodiversity have been established, with many countries, for instance, holding culture collections of micro-organisms used in agriculture or in agrifood industries. Eight percent of the wild species reported by countries to be used for food are reported to be subject to in situ conservation measures and 13 percent to be conserved ex situ.
Marketplace Tehuacan Mexico
5. enabling frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture remain insufficient
Enabling frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture urgently need to be established or strengthened. Most countries have put in place legal, policy and institutional frameworks targeting the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity as a whole. Policies addressing food and agriculture are reported to be increasingly based on ecosystem, landscape and seascape approaches. However, legal and policy measures explicitly targeting wild foods or components of associated biodiversity and their roles in supplying ecosystem services are not widespread. Constraints to the development and implementation of effective policy tools include a lack of awareness among policy-makers and other stakeholders of the importance of BFA, and in particular wild foods and associated biodiversity, to livelihoods and food security. There is a large knowledge gap in terms of how existing policies are affecting these components of biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. Diverging interests among stakeholders hamper the development and implementation of laws, policies and regulations, as do shortages of human and financial resources.
Research on food and agricultural systems needs to become more multidisciplinary, more participatory and more focused on interactions between different components of biodiversity for food and agriculture. Improvements to the sustainable use and conservation of BFA are often constrained by a lack of understanding of interactions between sectors (crop and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture), between wild and domesticated biodiversity, and between the ecological and socio-economic components of production systems. Cooperation across disciplines, and greater involvement of producers and other stakeholders in research projects, can help to overcome these knowledge gaps.
Improving the management of biodiversity for food and agriculture and enhancing its contributions to ecosystem services call for better multistakeholder, cross-sectoral and international cooperation. Ensuring the sustainable use of BFA requires effective actions by relevant authorities and improved collaboration among a range of stakeholder groups (producers and their organizations, consumers, suppliers and marketers, policy-makers, and national and international governmental and non-governmental organizations) across
the sectors of food and agriculture and between the food and agriculture sector and the environment/nature-conservation sector. The management of BFA spans international borders and the conventional boundaries between sectors. Frameworks for cooperation at national, regional and international levels in the management of genetic resources are relatively well developed in the individual sectors of food and agriculture. Cross-sectoral cooperation and multistakeholder collaborative activities specifically targeting associated biodiversity and wild foods are less widespread and need to be expanded and strengthened.
What needs to be done?
Securing and enhancing the multiple roles of BFA will require sustainable use and conservation of the ecosystems, species and genetic diversity that compose it. For this to happen, knowledge of the roles of biodiversity in the ecological processes that underpin food and agricultural production needs to be strengthened, and used to develop management strategies that protect, restore and enhance these processes across a range of scales. Establishing effective policy and outreach measures will be needed to support the uptake of management practices that sustainably use biodiversity to promote food and livelihood security and resilience. The country-driven process of preparing The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture has led to the identification of numerous gaps, needs and potential actions in the management of BFA. The next step is to take action. Over the years, the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has overseen the development of global plans of action for genetic resources in the plant, animal and forest sectors. Implementation of these instruments needs to be stepped up. Consideration also needs to be given to how the international community can more effectively promote synergies in the management of all components of biodiversity, across these sectors and others, in the interests of a more sustainable food and agriculture.