From an economics perspective, the unprecedented loss of crop diversity across the globe is a result of the fact that the full value of this diversity is not properly reflected in their market prices. This leads to a bias in favour of activities that are incompatible with diversity maintenance. People undervalue genetic resources because the many public and private benefits of conserving and using crop diversity do not have a market value.
Non-market values include ecosystem services and direct benefits to families, for example, helping women and men smallholder farmers to:
- manage risk on farm – particularly on the type of marginal and heterogeneous lands that poor smallholders tend to be associated with
- ensure food security and access to nutritious foods
- maintain resilience at a landscape level
- have options for confronting future pest or disease outbreaks
- adapt crops to climate change
- maintain traditional knowledge and cultural practices, such as food culture.
Bioversity International’s programme of work on the economics of agricultural biodiversity conservation and use seeks to identify and quantify the private and public costs and benefits generated by maintaining crop diversity, as well as improving understanding of the tradeoffs farmers and society face from maintaining it. Our research also seeks to identify the principal elements and associated costs and benefits of a strategic global approach to on-farm management and in situ conservation of biodiversity, which is capable of enhancing social and gender equity, as well as food security.
Specific research questions relate to: how we can determine whether unaccounted-for non-market values are in fact significant, how these values can be taken into account to support conservation and sustainable use, and what incentives are needed to encourage conservation. Additional questions focus on: the types of configurations of farmers and communities over time and space that are needed to generate the public benefits associated with on farm management and in situ conservation; the differential role of gender in conserving target crops and species; as well as the institutions, instruments and interventions needed for farmers to promote the effective management of crop diversity for the benefit of both farmers and broader society.
To answer these questions, Bioversity, in collaboration with national and international partners, is developing appropriate valuation methods, decision-support tools and strategies for the design of cost-effective policy options that can promote the conservation of agricultural biodiversity.
Understanding the market forces that imperil or support agricultural biodiversity conservation is fundamental to keeping these resources available for ensuring food security and healthy ecosystems of the future.