Agricultural biodiversity

Agricultural biodiversity

Agricultural biodiversity is a sub-set of general biodiversity including all cultivated varieties. Cultivated varieties can be broadly classified into “modern varieties” and “farmer’s or traditional varieties”. Modern varieties are the outcome of scientific breeding and are characterised by a high yield and a high degree of genetic uniformity. In contrast, farmer’s varieties (also known as landraces) are the product of breeding or selection carried out by farmers. They represent higher levels of genetic diversity and are therefore the focus of most conservation efforts. Agricultural biodiversity contributes to food security and livelihood security and underpins the development of all food production. It is the first link in the food chain, developed and safeguarded by farmers, livestock breeders, forest workers, fishermen and indigenous peoples throughout the world.


Although the term "agricultural biodiversity" is relatively new - it has come into wide use in recent years as evidenced by bibliographic references - the concept itself is quite old. It is the result of the careful selection and inventive developments of farmers, herders and fishers over millennia. Agricultural biodiversity is a vital sub-set of biodiversity. It is a creation of humankind whose food and livelihood security depend on the sustained management of those diverse biological resources that are important for food and agriculture. [FAO, (1996). Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,] Agricultural biodiversity includes:

*Domesticated crop and 'wild' plants (called: crop wild relatives), including woodland and aquatic plants (used for food and other natural resources based products), domestic and wild animals (used for food, fibre, milk, hides, furs, power, organic fertilizer), fish and other aquatic animals, within field, forest, rangeland and aquatic ecosystems

*Non-harvested species within production agroecosystems that support food provision, including soil micro-biota, pollinators and so on
*Non-harvested species in the wider environment that support food production agroecosystems (agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic ecosystems)

Agricultural Biodiversity, sometimes called Agrobiodiversity, "encompasses the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms which are necessary to sustain key functions of the agroecosystem, its structure and processes for, and in support of, food production and food security". [ [ FAO : SD Dimensions : Environment : Environmental conventions and agreements ] ] It is the product of sustainable agroecological production systems and these systems simultaneously depend on a wide range of agricultural biodiversity.

Aquatic diversity is also an important component of agricultural biodiversity. The conservation and sustainable use of local aquatic ecosystems, ponds, rivers, coastal commons by artisanal fisherfolk and smallholder farmers is important to the survival of both humans and the environment. Since aquatic organisms, including fish, provide much of our food supply as well as underpinning the income of coastal peoples, it is critical that fisherfolk and smallholder farmers have genetic reserves and sustainable ecosystems to draw upon as aquaculture and marine fisheries management continue to evolve.

Genetic erosion in Agricultural and livestock biodiversity

Genetic erosion in Agricultural and livestock biodiversity is the loss of genetic diversity, including the loss of individual genes, and the loss of particular combinants of genes (or gene complexes) such as those manifested in locally adapted landraces. The term genetic erosion is sometimes used in a narrow sense, such as for the loss of alleles or genes, as well as more broadly, referring to the loss of varieties or even species. The major driving forces behind genetic erosion in crops are: variety replacement, land clearing, overexploitation of species, population pressure, environmental degradation, overgrazing, policy and changing agricultural systems. [FAO, (1997). The State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,]

The main factor, however, is the replacement of local varieties by high yielding or exotic varieties or species. A large number of varieties can also often be dramatically reduced when commercial varieties (including GMOs) are introduced into traditional farming systems. Many researchers believe that the main problem related to agro-ecosystem management is the general tendency towards genetic and ecological uniformity imposed by the development of modern agriculture. [Gao, L.Z., (2003). The conservation of rice biodiversity in China: significance, genetic erosion, ethnobotany and prospect. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 50: 17-32.] [Guarino, L., (1995). Assessing the threat of genetic erosion. In: Collecting Plant Genetic Diversity: Technical Guidelines (eds. Guarino L, Rao VR, Reid R) pp. 67-74. CAB International, Wallingford.]

Human dependency

Agricultural biodiversity is not only the result of human activity but human life is dependent on it not just for the immediate provision of food and other natural resources based goods, but for the maintenance of areas of land and waters that will sustain production and maintain agroecosystems and the wider biological and environmental services (biosphere).

Agricultural Biodiversity provides:

* Sustainable production of food and other agricultural products emphasising both strengthening sustainability in production systems at all levels of intensity and improving the conservation, sustainable use and enhancement of the diversity of all genetic resources for food and agriculture, especially plant and animal genetic resources, in all types of production systems

* Biological or life support to production emphasising conservation, sustainable use and enhancement of the biological resources that support sustainable production systems, particularly soil biota, pollinators and predators

* Ecological and social services provided by agro-ecosystems such as landscape and wildlife protection, soil protection and health (fertility, structure and function), water cycle and water quality, air quality, CO2 sequestration, etc.

Agroecosystems vs natural ecosystems

Agricultural biodiversity has spatial, temporal and scale dimensions especially at agroecosystem levels. These agroecosystems - ecosystems that are used for agriculture - are determined by three sets of factors: the genetic resources (biodiversity), the physical environment and the human management practices. There are virtually no ecosystems in the world that are "natural" in the sense of having escaped human influence. Most ecosystems have been to some extent modified or cultivated by human activity for the production of food and income and for livelihood security.

International negotiations

* [ Convention on Biological Diversity CBD/COP 9 - Agricultural Biodiversity decision IX/1]
* [ Civil Society lobby at CBD/COP9]

ee also

* underutilized crops
* International Centre for Underutilised Crops (ICUC)

Notes and References

* cite book
author=IPGRI (now Bioversity International), Future Harvest
title=Why genetic diversity matters
publisher=IPGRI, Future Harvest. Rome
20 p.
* cite book
author=GFU, IPGRI (now Bioversity International), M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
title='Agricultural Biodiversity and Elimination of Hunger and Poverty'. UN Millennium Development Goals, Five years later. The Chennai Platform for Action
publisher=GFU, IPGRI, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. Rome
5 p.

External links

* [ Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture]
* [ Facilitating Mechanism for the Implementation of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (GPA)]
* [ European Cooperative Programme for Crop Genetic Resources Network]
* [ Bioversity International]
* [ International Centre for Underutilized Crops (ICUC)]
* [ International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture]
* [ European Crop Wild Relative Diversity Assessment and Conservation Forum]
* [ DIVERSEEDS] - Networking on conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in Europe and Asia
* [ Foreign genes in native varieties: A threat to biological diversity?]
* [ COHAB Initiative: Cooperation on Health and Biodiversity] - Information about health aspects of agricultural biodiversity
* [ Platform for Agricultural Biodiversity Research]
* [ Agricultural Biodiversity weblog]

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