Ideal partners: the farmer, the planner and the banker
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CTA. 2000. Ideal partners: the farmer, the planner and the banker. Spore 90. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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They call biodiversity our insurance policy for life . So, in the farmers fields where biodiversity is essential and yet under threat, let s talk about the insurance premiums, let s talk money. Biodiversity, or more correctly, biological...
They call biodiversity our insurance policy for life . So, in the farmers fields where biodiversity is essential and yet under threat, let s talk about the insurance premiums, let s talk money. Biodiversity, or more correctly, biological diversity, is the term used to describe the number and variety of living organisms on the planet. According to the UN Environment Programme, it is defined in terms of the 'genes, species, and ecosystems which are the outcome of over 3,000 million years of evolution. The human species depends on biological diversity for its own survival'. Thus, somewhat dramatically, UNEP considers the term as a synonym for 'life on Earth'. What does it mean for people, for farmers whose immediate daily cares are about drawing sustainable livelihoods from feeding their own and other communities? At a general, benign level, agricultural biodiversity encompasses 'the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms which are necessary to sustain key functions of the agro-ecosystem and its structures and processes for, and in support of, food production and food security.' As such, agriculture needs the planet s biodiversity, and the agricultural community should welcome the world s measures to protect it. The principal measure, incidentally, is the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity which, after almost a decade of existence, will be reviewed at a conference of concerned parties in The Hague, Netherlands, in April 2001. So far, so good. But take heed of a recent report of the World Bank, which talks in terms of 'agriculture versus biodiversity' and asserts that agricultural expansion is a major contributor to the loss of biodiversity. 'Conversion of natural habitat to agricultural use substantially reduces its biodiversity. Naturally occurring plant species are replaced by a small number of introduced species (usually non-native and identical to crops produced elsewhere); wildlife is displaced; and insects and micro-organisms are decimated by pesticides. There is also a change in functions, especially in energy and nutrient cycling and storage, as well as in water infiltration and storage.' Sorghum. One of the 14 principal plants that feed the world, and one tiny millionth of the world s species. Photo J.-L. Noyer/CIRAD This environmental impact ultimately damages the productive potential of agriculture, and mainstream thinking in agricultural policy these days is focussed on getting the benefits of biodiversity to apply to agriculture itself. For this the term agrobiodiversity has been coined, in which gains can include the provision of genes for the development of improved crop varieties and livestock breeds, crop pollination, soil fertility services provided by micro-organisms, and pest control services provided by insects and wildlife. In such a win-win situation, there need be none of the extreme stop the world scenarios which condemn scientific advances and shed a tear at the loss of every species. Extinction is natural As UNEP points out, species extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary process. The concern is about the current rate at which species are being lost; most losses are taking place in tropical forests where 50 - 90 per cent of identified species live as well as in rivers and lakes, deserts and temperate forests, and on mountains and islands. The most recent estimates predict that, at current rates, some two to eight per cent of the Earth s species will disappear over the next 25 years. Whether that leaves 2 or 100 million species is not at all clear, despite massive efforts by the scientific community to measure the number of species, through such collaborative efforts as the BioNet International network and its member institutions in ACP and other developing countries. The loss of species is set to grow enormously, as the current phase of climate change wreaks its havoc on ecosystems. A recent report by the World Conservation Union on global warming talks of 'Speed kills'. In such scenarios, natural habitats will change faster than the ability of plant species and thus the fauna which depend on them to move to new hospitable areas, perhaps uphill, or northwards or southwards. At the end of the day, and at its beginning, it is food that we need, and for a long time to come it is farmers who will feed us. How can they, in daily, practical terms play a positive role in agricultural biodiversity, so that they too can benefit? The World Bank report again: 'Markets for many of the benefits of biodiversity often function poorly or not at all. The benefits of biodiversity often do not accrue to those deciding whether to conserve it.' Understandably, if food production with scant regard for biodiversity is cheaper, more profitable, or just ensures plain survival as opposed to collapse, what farmer is going to take the biodiversity route? Do no harm So just how do you mainstream agricultural biodiversity and, as the jargon puts it, 'deepen the implementation of do no harm strategies by effective use of environmental assessments'? The first step is to recognise that, even in apparently land-rich Africa, there is less environmental impact in intensification of production than in so-called habitat conversion which converts natural areas to agricultural landscapes. Here the familiar list of desirable measures immediately rushes into the foreground: land tenure issues, property rights, ecotourism, paying royalties to local communities for genetic material collected in a specific area, or maintaining natural corridors within and between agricultural areas to allow movement of plant and wildlife. The second step is to pay more attention to alien species of plants, which invade ecosystems and displace the previous occupants. Another set of measures included in that convention are 'economically and socially sound measures that act as incentives for biological diversity'. What incentives will work for the farmer? The fashionable ones, which usually focus on the export of a benignly produced harvest from cultivation or forests, have their built-in flaws. There is, is there not, something perverse about shipping eco-certified, value-added biomass halfway across a world which is critically short of energy, to a consumer who glows with a feel-good factor of buying from an unseen farm which uses biodiversity-enhancing, organic methods, fair-trade principles and no child-labour, and is run with a sound gender balance? Not much time for new ideas Most experiments with incentives have been in the areas of forestry and non-timber forest products in countries such as Cameroon, Guyana and Suriname. In other ACP countries, very few examples of work with incentives with farmers in the field have been documented, apart from a few in Zimbabwe, Senegal, and Ghana. They tend to explain the effects of the opposite, so-called perverse market incentives, which encourage farmers to disregard biodiversity. This is fine for underlining the need for incentives, but is rather weak on finding out how to achieve them. In short, the policy makers we expect to create them are, to a woman and a man, in one word, floundering. Incentive formulation is in , but the state of that art is still hovering around an adulation of local indigenous knowledge and proposals for better information exchange between practitioners. Yes, yes, yes, of course, but other instruments are needed. The FAO calls for fees, charges and environmental taxes; certification and eco-labelling; market creation and property rights; and regulations. The International Standards Organisation has a set of rules for the environment quality of the production and trade of goods, known as ISO14000. In the long-term, there obviously has to be a legislative framework which enables such measures to be applied in the field, rather than simply in the statute book. In the meantime, perhaps policymakers should move, or expand, their sights, and look not only at facilitating or fiscal measures, or even subsidies, but also at the role of finance. Money talks. That is why, in cash terms, some farmers cannot show the regard they would wish for agricultural biodiversity. In the field of agricultural innovation, there is in general too little dialogue between the farmer, the planner and the banker. Given the appeal of biodiversity, the urgency of its erosions, and the topicality of the issue (the Rio+10 summit in late 2002 will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the UN Convention on Biodiversity), surely here there are opportunities galore for finding ways to use credit, savings and finance instruments, all the way along to village level. It would be a brave person who tried to move such triangular dialogues into concrete actions, but, if they could talk, a few million species could be very grateful. The issue of incentives for agricultural biodiversity is the theme of a seminar being jointly organised in Zambia in September 2001 by the German cooperation bodies DSE, GTZ and ZADI; the Plant Genetic Resources bodies of SADC and Zambia, SACCAR, IPGRI, FAO/UNDP, CBDC and CTA
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