Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

A measure of diversity from production to diets: The value of an Agrobiodiversity Index

07 Dec 2016

Bioversity International's Director General, Ann Tutwiler, guest-blogs for the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) from the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP13) in Cancun, Mexico and explains the importance of mainstreaming agrobiodiversity in food systems and the rationale behind the Agrobiodiversity Index.

Mainstreaming biodiversity is the theme of the thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), is taking place in Cancun, Mexico, 4-17 December 2016. Mainstreaming biodiversity means that specific components of biodiversity (e.g. genetic/varietal, species, landscape) are integrated into other sectors, such as poverty reduction, climate adaptation, health, agriculture and tourism, for the generation of mutual benefits. Integration usually takes the form of introducing biodiversity into other sectors’ plans, policies and practices.

Biodiversity is key to achieving sustainable food systems. Using food biodiversity to diversify diets is a critical element in response to global malnutrition. For example, the nutrient content between different varieties of the same species can vary a thousandfold. This information can be used to maximize nutritional adequacy of diets.

On the production side, managing farming systems sustainably means that agriculture needs to be about much more than yields of commodity crops in highly simplified and specialized landscapes. Agricultural biodiversity is used by rural communities worldwide in time-tested practices that can confer increased resilience to farms, communities and landscapes and provide positive externalities, such as improved soil quality, the need for less irrigation, reduced pollutants and more pollinators.

A primary obstacle to mainstreaming biodiversity in sustainable food systems is the lack of a consistent way for governments, the private sector and other decision-makers to assess agricultural biodiversity in food systems, track change, or measure the effects that its use has on other issues and sectors. While many indicators and methods exist to measure aspects of agricultural biodiversity, they are scattered across disciplines (e.g. conservation, ecology, agriculture, markets, nutrition) and scales (from crop varieties to species to ecosystems). This limits the effective management of agricultural biodiversity and its contributions to sustainable food systems.

Bioversity International is therefore working with interested countries and corporations to develop an Agrobiodiversity Index to measure and manage agricultural biodiversity across four connected dimensions. They include:

  • Healthy diverse diets, which contribute to: SDG 2 (Zero Hunger); SDG 3 (Health and Well-being); and Aichi Target 14 (Restoring Ecosystems).
  • Multiple benefits from production systems, which contribute to: SDG 2 (Zero Hunger); SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production); SDG 13 (Climate Action); SDG 15 (Life on Land); Aichi Target 4 (Sustainable Consumption and Production); Aichi Target 7 (Sustainable Agriculture, Aquaculture and Forestry); Aichi Target 8 (Pollution); Aichi Target 14 (Restoring Ecosystems); and Aichi Target 15 (Ecosystem Resilience and Carbon Stocks).
  • Diversity-supplying seed systems, which contribute to: SDG 13 (Climate Action); SDG 15 (Life on Land); Aichi Target 4 (Sustainable Consumption and Production); Aichi Target 14 (Restoring Ecosystems).
  • Conservation of agricultural biodiversity, which contributes to: SDG 2, target 5 (Maintain genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species); Aichi Target 7 (Sustainable Agriculture, Aquaculture and Forestry); and Aichi Target 13 (Maintain genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and of wild relatives).

The Agrobiodiversity Index will provide policymakers and private investors with easy-to-digest data that allow them to link decisions across human nutrition, environmental protection, agricultural production, biodiversity conservation and economic development. It will be comprised of a simple set of measures to: apply across four interconnected dimensions of diets, production, seed systems and conservation; use in different locations by different actors to provide insights into trends in agricultural biodiversity issues; provide key data for allocation of financial resources; and measure progress towards relevant targets in the SDGs and the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020.

Read Ann Tutwiler's IISD blog Mainstreaming Agrobiodiversity in Sustainable Food Systems: The Value of an Agrobiodiversity Index

Read the Bioversity International Mainstreaming Biodiversity for Well-Being blog series. The blogs explain why mainstreaming agricultural and tree biodiversity is critical in sustainable food and production systems if we are to achieve the Convention on Biological Diversity's Strategic Action Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 that "By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and widely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people".

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