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Incentives to conserve agricultural biodiversity – Peru at the forefront

Farmers harvesting quinoa in Peru. Credit: Bioversity International/A.Camacho
Farmers harvesting quinoa in Peru. Credit: Bioversity International/A.Camacho

Peru is developing an incentive scheme for the conservation of its rich crop diversity, with scientific support from Bioversity International.

Peru is developing an incentive scheme for the conservation of its rich crop diversity, with scientific support from Bioversity International.

With 184 native domesticated plant species and hundreds of varieties, Peru is one of the most important centres of crop diversity and domestication in the world. This diversity has a value that goes beyond Peruvian borders. Agricultural biodiversity is the basis of human survival and well-being – safeguarding it is crucial to providing future food growing options for us all.

While the benefits of agricultural biodiversity are increasingly recognized, its full value is often not fully accounted for by individuals and society. This is because many components of agricultural biodiversity provide a mixture of private benefits to the farmer – for example the production of food, fodder and fibres – and public benefits to wider society – such as the provision of ecosystem services and options to adapt to climate change and face new pest and disease outbreaks. Markets capture only a part of this total economic value and thus underestimate the true value of these genetic resources.

Mechanisms to help farmers capture the private value of these resources include the development of value chains and niche market products for some species and varieties. However, this strategy is inadequate to conserve the full range of genetic resource diversity that exists, for example, in Peru. Many varieties may not currently have market potential, yet can still contain valuable and often unexplored genetic potential to help future-proof our food systems.

With no market incentive to conserve agricultural biodiversity on farm, much genetic resources conservation often occurs as a result of farmer socio-cultural preferences. Yet we increasingly risk losing these precious resources, as poor smallholder farmers cannot be expected to alone incur the costs of their maintenance for the public good. A solution to this dilemma may be found in the provision of incentives to farmers who conserve agricultural biodiversity on their farms – a form of payment for ecosystem services applied to crop diversity (known as RACS, Rewards for Agrobiodiversity Conservation Services). The importance of the design and implementation of such positive incentives for the conservation of biodiversity has been explicitly recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity (Aichi Target 3) as well as in Peruvian national legislation.

Bioversity International has been working in Peru and other countries since 2009 to test the potential of such incentives to conserve priority threatened species/varieties, while also supporting indigenous farmer livelihoods and existing community institutions of collective action.

In 2014, the Peruvian Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economics and Finance's Euro Eco-Trade Programme, called on Bioversity International's expertise to outline the steps required for the adoption of a PACS scheme at the national level.

“Building on our previous work on RACS, we have identified a number of key steps necessary to establish such a programme, and designed an implementation plan”, said Adam Drucker, Senior Ecological Economist at Bioversity International, who led the work in Peru. “These steps include: deciding what to conserve; how much to conserve and in what configurations; identifying farmer communities willing to participate in conservation activities in a cost-effective and socially-equitable manner; ensuring that the rewards used are appropriate and conditional on the conservation service actually being delivered; as well as the identification of sustainable funding sources for the long-term implementation of an incentive scheme, including though engagement with the private sector”.

“Bioversity International scientific support has been key in designing the specific incentive schemes we are planning to use to conserve our rich crop diversity”, commented Tulio Medina, Genetic Resources Specialist, Ministry of Environment. “During the 2015-2016 agricultural season we plan to implement a RACS project for two key crops in our country, quinoa and amaranth, before undertaking a much larger-scale programme, potentially covering other crops too, in 2016-2017.”

This week, Bioversity International is carrying out an expert workshop with the National Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) and other national partners to define the scientific parameters – such as the conservation goals and the underlying threat and diversity measures needed to prioritize in a cost-effective manner the species and varieties to be targeted by the interventions. This information will be used to inform the incentive mechanism programme.

“Peru is very well placed to successfully implement an incentive scheme to support the conservation of agricultural biodiversity. Even though other countries have adopted incentive mechanisms (not always successfully), Peru can learn from these experiences and has the opportunity to apply them within the context of an innovative strategic approach, and under very favorable conditions given that high levels of genetic diversity and traditional knowledge still exist”, concluded Drucker.

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Photo: Farmers harvesting quinoa in Peru. Credit: Bioversity International/A.Camacho

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