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For a sustainable future, agricultural biodiversity is part of solution

Rome, Italy

Media contact: Kirsten Khire, Bioversity International;
k.khire(@), Phone: (39) 06 6118246; Mobile: (39) 3346234852 

ROME, June 12, 2012 – As our climate changes and our population grows, a critical research area in the quest for food and nutrition security and sustainability is agricultural and tree biodiversity, says the leader of a global research institute speaking at Rio+20.
In the discussions about potential solutions to world hunger, poverty, malnutrition and climate change, one of the most critical assets of the poor – agricultural biodiversity – holds potential for millions of some of the poorest farmers who produce the majority of the world’s food, says Director General Dr. Emile Frison of Bioversity International.
“Agriculture has to change in order to provide food and nutrition security for a growing population under threat of climate change, land degradation and water scarcity,” Frison says. “Agricultural biodiversity has the potential to change lives and sustain our world by diversifying livelihoods, increasing the resilience and sustainability of production systems and by providing access to a diverse and nutritious diet.”
Agricultural biodiversity is the variability of crops and their wild relatives, trees, animals, microbes and other species that contribute directly or indirectly, to food production. But species are under threat of loss every day, with diversity shrinking and people now consuming more than half of their calories from only 3 species out of 250,000 in existence.
“We know from our research that agricultural and tree biodiversity can be effective for smallholder farmers who need tools and knowledge to overcome new world challenges,” Frison says. “By addressing the needs of smallholder farmers, we can help feed our growing population and help agriculture be more sustainable.”
Recent projects around the world highlight how agricultural biodiversity is making a difference.

  • In Kenya, Bioversity International worked with many partners to manage the promotion of renewed production and usage of African leafy greens, creating awareness and building local capacity. After the project ended, over 60% of project participants in one area reported that their net monthly income from the vegetables had increased and sales at supermarkets in Nairobi rocketed an astonishing 1,100% in just two years.
  • A project involving China, Ecuador, Morocco, and Uganda showed that agricultural biodiversity can reduce the damage of pests and diseases without chemical treatment.
  • In India, Bioversity and partners reintroduced neglected and underutilized species – including minor millets – with great success, especially among women. Published research indicates that this work is transforming the lives of marginalized rural people in southern India by helping them to grow more nutritious food for their families and communities, in some cases increasing their yields by 70%.

"In order to overcome hunger and poverty, we need an integrated approach to research involving agricultural biodiversity. Science can provide the knowledge and develop the practices we need to go forward,” Frison said.

Frison is speaking and participating at the following side events at the world sustainability conference Rio+20:

  • 18 June – Agriculture and Rural Development Day (morning)
  • 18 June – CGIAR event on food security (afternoon)
  • 18 June – Nordic Council of Ministers “From New Nordic Food to New Rural Economy”
  • 19 June – Rome-Based UN Agencies event “Aiming for a Food Secure Future
  • 19 June – Indigenous Peoples’ International Conference on Sustainable Development and Self-Determination
  • 21 June – International Institute for Sustainability – Landscapes for People, Food and Nature initiative
  • 21 June – International Treaty of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Roundtable
  • 21 June – Rome-Based UN Agencies event “Food for Life, Life of Food”

Dr. Frison is a contributor and is quoted on pages 42 and 44 of the Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability report released by the U.N. Division for Sustainable Development as a strategic input to the "Sustainable Development in the 21st Century Report" to be launched at the Rio+20 Summit.

Dr. Frison supports the CGIAR call to action for Rio+20, released on 23 May.