19 December 2016
UN Biodiversity Conference Highlights Links between Agriculture and Biodiversity
UN Photo/Gill Fickling
story highlights

The close link between agriculture and biodiversity was high on the agenda of the UN Biodiversity Conference in Cancún, Mexico.

Events held in parallel to the Conference explored interactions and approaches to mainstreaming biodiversity in agriculture, discussed tools and recommendations for policy makers, and searched for innovative solutions.

18 December 2016: Theme of UN Biodiversity Conference, ‘Biodiversity Mainstreaming for Wellbeing,’ with a focus on the “productive” sectors of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, gave the close interlinkages between biodiversity and agriculture an important profile during the Conference. Agriculture was also reflected in the programmes of parallel events such as the Rio Conventions Pavilion (RCP) and various other side events. This article provides an overview of the main events and outcomes on biodiversity and agriculture that took place in conjunction with the Conference.

The UN Biodiversity Conference, held from 2-17 December in Cancún, Mexico, included a High-Level Segment, followed by concurrent meetings of the thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (CBD COP 13), the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP 8) and the second meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (COP-MOP 2).

The importance of biodiversity for agriculture was highlighted during the opening Plenary by Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN. She stated that biodiversity is essential to “sustainably produce nutritious and abundant food and to adapt agriculture, forestry and fisheries to global challenges, such as climate change and growing populations.” She also noted that “reducing the ecological footprint of agricultural sectors through sustainable practices will contribute to the conservation of biodiversity.” Underlining that agriculture is also fundamental for poverty reduction, she suggested that agroecology based on scientific research and local traditional knowledge can provide the necessary transformation, and called for a platform for mainstreaming biodiversity into agricultural sectors. [FAO Press Release] [FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Policies, Programmes and National and Regional Plans of Action on Nutrition]

Exploring Approaches to Mainstreaming

On 7 December, 2016, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (lFAD) launched a report underlining the importance of biodiversity for smallholders worldwide. Titled ‘The Biodiversity Advantage: Global benefits from smallholder actions,’ the document reviews experiences from IFAD-supported projects in five countries that show how biodiversity is contributing to the food security and well-being of communities. The report identifies several recommendations for actions that protect and enhance ecosystems while increasing benefits to smallholders, including: reducing direct pressures on biodiversity through sustainable smallholder agriculture; a participatory approach that builds the existing capacities of rural people and empowers them; promoting biodiversity as a strategy to increase smallholder’s resilience to climate change; and actively improving benefits for women and indigenous peoples. [IFAD Press Release] [The Biodiversity Advantage: Global benefits from smallholder actions]

The Rio Conventions Pavilion (RCP) dedicated two thematic events to biodiversity and agriculture and agricultural sectors. On 9 December, the RCP Forest and Agriculture Day provided a forum to: present research, methodologies, approaches and initiatives that: contribute to environmentally sound approaches to food security and sustainable forest management; support mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in productive landscapes; and contribute to the integrated implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). On 10 December, the focus of the RCP shifted to sustainable food systems for biodiversity, nutrition and health to explore how sustainable food systems and diets can generate co-benefits for food security, nutrition, health and the environment. [RCP Programme Forest and Agriculture Day] [IISD RS Coverage of RCP: 9 December 2016] [RCP Programme Sustainable Food Systems for Biodiversity, Nutrition and Health] [IISD RS RCP Coverage of RCP: 10 December 2016]

Implementation in Harmony

Two side events addressed the mutually supportive relationship between the CBD and its Nagoya Protocol, the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR). The first event took place on 6 December, providing an opportunity to address specific questions in the relationship between the ITPGR and the Nagoya Protocol, which both address access to and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. The second event, held on 12 December, 2016 showcased the general role of FAO, CGRFA and ITPGR in international cooperation for biodiversity conservation. Speakers at both events underlined the importance of harmonious implementation, lauding the long standing collaborative relationship between the CBD and CGRFA/ITPGR Secretariats. [FAO Press Release] [IISD RS ENBOTS Coverage, 6 December 2016] [IISD RS ENBOTS Coverage, 12 December 2016]

Tools and Recommendations for Policy Makers

A key challenge to conserving and sustainably using agrobiodiversity – the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture – is to measure it. To date there is no consistent framework for decision makers to track agrobiodiversity in food systems and assess the influence it has on other sectors. The Agrobiodiversity Index, a project led by Bioversity International with the support of the European Commission, aims to fill this gap. The project aims to develop a tool to measure and manage agrobiodiversity across four dimensions: diets, production, seed systems and conservation. The scientific foundations for the Index were presented twice on the margins of the Conference: On 3 December, 2016 participants of the Business and Biodiversity Forum were offered the opportunity to provide feedback during a consultation. This meeting was followed by a Conference side event on 5 December. During the side event, participants noted, among other issues, the need to provide greater details on how variables within the Agrobiodiversity Index will be measured, and to address how agricultural fiscal policies influence agrobiodiversity. An academic volume on the scientific foundations of the Agrobiodiversity Index is expected to be published in 2017. [IISD RS ENBOTS Coverage: 5 December 2016] [Bioversity International Press Release] [Mainstreaming Agrobiodiversity in Sustainable Food Systems: Scientific Foundations for an Agrobiodiversity Index] [Bioversity International Blog Post] [Agrobiodiversity Index Information Flyer]

Also 5 December, IISD’s State of Sustainability Initiatives held a side event to launch a policy brief titled ‘Voluntary Sustainability Standards and Biodiversity: Understanding the Potential of Agricultural Standards for Biodiversity Protection.’ Produced in partnership with the CBD Secretariat, this Brief provides preliminary findings regarding the use of standards to reduce the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity. Among other conclusions, the document notes that, while standards address many key biodiversity issues, their effectiveness is hampered by the lack of performance requirements and impact data. The Brief therefore recommends that policy makers should take measures to improve the credibility of standards, including by setting ground rules, demanding access to impact and other data and facilitating the strategic implementation of standards in areas of highest biodiversity concern. The full report will be released in 2017. [IISD RS ENBOTS Coverage: 5 December 2016] [The State of Sustainability Initiatives Review 2016]

Another tool for policy makers was presented on 6 December by FAO during a side event organized by Mexico’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO). The Report titled ‘Voluntary Guidelines for Agro-environmental Policies in Latin America and the Caribbean’ aims to provide templates for countries to develop policies that promote sustainable production and consumption patterns and transform their agricultural systems. The Guidelines address the specific environmental challenges countries of the region face including adapting agriculture to climate change, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, conserving biodiversity, and managing water resources and soils. [FAO Press Release] [Directrices Voluntarias Para Políticas Agroambientale (Spanish only)]

On the same day, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) convened a side event to discuss follow-up to its first ‘Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production,’ which was approved in February 2016. The Netherlands announced ‘Promote Pollinators: the Coalition of the willing on Pollinators’ an invitation to countries to join a group committed to protect pollinators and their habitat through national pollinator strategies consistent with the Assessment’s findings. Coalition partners will: share experience and lessons learnt, especially knowledge on new approaches, innovations and best practices; engage and collaborate with a broad spectrum of stakeholders; develop research on pollinator conservation; and provide mutual support and collaboration. Representatives from France, China, South Africa and Brazil reported on national actions and strategies informed by the assessment. Coinciding with the Conference, an article written by the Assessment’s lead authors was published in Science magazine that proposes 10 concrete policies for pollinators. While the policies were informed by the Assessment, the scientists state that they suggest these policies on their own behalf to assist policy makers in translating assessment findings into action. [IPBES Press Release, 24 November 2016] [IPBES Press Release, 2 December 2016] [UN Press Release] [Promote Pollinators, the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators] [Ten Policies for Pollinators (Abstract)] [Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production] [IISD RS ENBOTS Coverage, 6 December 2016]

Looking for Innovative Approaches

On 9 December, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), launched the Global Solution Search Contest to Identify Bright-Spots in Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Agricultural Landscapes and Practices during a Conference side event. The contest seeks innovative solutions to address threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services in farming systems, such as farming practices that increase the biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and more on the agricultural land itself. The winner will receive US$ 30.000. Nominations for ideas can be submitted until 10 March 2016. [IFOAM Solution Search Context Website]

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held a side event on 5 December, 2016 to discuss how food systems can be radically transformed to provide food for a growing world population while protecting the planet. A panel of experts discussed the outcomes of the previous GEF/IUCN ‘International Dialogue on Our Global Commons,’ held 11-13 October, 2016 in Washington DC, US. The Global Commons Dialogue considered new scientific findings and transformative solutions to rethink the global commons and discussions innovative ways to disrupt systems that drive pressures on our global commons. Participants at the Conference side event suggested that the Global Commons debate consider the loss of biodiversity from agricultural expansion, influencing consumer choices, and threats from genetically modified organisms. [IUCN Press Release] [IISD RS ENBOTS and ENBOTS Video Coverage, 5 December 2016] [IISD RS ENB+ Coverage: International Dialogue on Our Global Commons] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story, 17 October 2016]

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