Knowledge for Development

Feature articles

Plant genetic resources: knowledge for agricultural and rural development in ACP countries

Broussonetia-papyrifera Genetic resources have become topical issue in international agricultural, environmental, Intellectual Property, and trade policy circles. It has gained an overwhelming prominence in these areas of endeavour, not only for its conservation significance, but also the unprecedented benefits that accrue from the sustainable use of these resources. Specifically, plant genetic resources are any material of plant, containing functional units of heredity of actual and potential value. Genetic resources generally at the local, national and international levels, play a critical role in the lives of the people of African, Caribbean and Pacific Island (ACP) countries. The people and the communities, in general, of these countries depend on these resources for their economic, social and cultural well-being. Yet, the full potential of PGR is yet to be tapped. The ACP countries and other economies could benefit significantly in the global search for new sources of food stocks, medicines, fiber etc.


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

By investing billions in conserving natural areas now, governments could save trillions every year in ecosystem services, such as natural carbon sinks to fight climate change, according to a European report The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). The TEEB report focused on the economic cost of biodiversity loss around the world. For years, biologists have been warning that the world may be entering a new mass extinction with extinction rates estimated at a thousand times above normal. This cumulative loss of biodiversity, if allowed to continue, will have great economic consequences according the report. The study recommended that delegates at the UN Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December make stabling a payment system for forest conservation a priority, otherwise known as REDD.View PDF.


The implementation strategy for the International Year of Biodiversity - 2010

This paper outlines the activities that the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity plans to undertake to support all stakeholders to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB), both those that are already under way, as well as those under development. It also includes planned and confirmed activities by other partners. The purpose of the International Year is to raise public awareness of the importance of biodiversity and the consequences of its loss. It will also seek to promote the engagement of the public and other actors for the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Its overall objective is to obtain a commitment by the global community to reinforce implementation of the Convention.View PDF.


Draft second report on the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture

This report describes the current status of conservation and use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) throughout the world. It is based on 106 country reports, two regional syntheses, several thematic studies and published literature. It describes the most significant changes that have taken place since the first State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (SoW) was published in 1996 and describes major continuing gaps and needs. The structure follows that of the first SoW report with an additional chapter on the contribution of PGRFA to food security and sustainable agricultural development. The other chapters cover the following subjects: the state of diversity; the state of in situ management; the state of ex situ conservation; the state of use; the state of national programmes, training needs, and legislation; the state of regional and international collaboration; and access to plant genetic resources, the sharing of benefits derived from their use and the realization of farmers’ rights.Author: FAO, Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 2009


TEEB – The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for national and international Policy Makers 2009

TEEB draws together experience, knowledge and expertise from all regions of the world in the fields of science, economics and policy. Its aim is to guide practical policy responses to the growing evidence of the impacts of ongoing losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The report stresses that destruction of nature has direct economic repercussions which are systematically underestimated, and that valuing ecosystems makes "economic sense". To increase protection of biodiversity, a price tag should be put on nature's different ecosystem services to make them visible to economies and society as a whole. The report also underlines that there is no one solution, as each country's economy relies on nature in a different way and countries already have different sets of policies in place. It invites politicians to first consider what ecosystem and biodiversity means for a given economy and then evaluate current policies to identify potential improvements. Finally, the report stresses that it is necessary to rethink the allocation of the one trillion dollars or so of annual global subsidies that are handed out to the agriculture, fisheries, energy, transport and other sectors.Authors: P. ten Brink et. al., UNEP, EU, and the German, UK, Norwegian and Dutch governments, November 2009


Safeguarding biological diversity as part of the agricultural challenge of the 21st century

Approximately 10,500 years ago, Man made his first attempts at agriculture and they proved successful, as it was possible to grow what he needed. However, there was a lot of trial and just about as much error. Mobility was limited, very limited by today’s standards, and thus the choice of species to experiment with was limited to those that grew or were readily available and, not every species was suitable for domestication. The implication of this is that successful domestication efforts depended on a high level of available biodiversity! As trade developed, and agricultural biodiversity started to be exchanged, societies that had greatest access proved to be the most successful.


Mitigating the impacts of invasive alien species

Invasive alien species (IAS) are responsible for serious ecological, economic and social problems in the world today. Indeed, the problem has been described as an “immense, insidious and usually irreversible” one by the IUCN in 2000 and as “the second biggest cause of ecological disintegration, second only to habitat loss” by Vitousek et al. in 1997. Whilst there is no universally accepted definition, it is increasingly accepted that IAS are those alien (alternatively referred to as introduced, exotic, non-indigenous, pest or non-native) species which pose a threat to or have a negative impact on environments, economies and/or human health. All major taxa contain invasive species, including microorganisms, fungi, lower and higher plants, and animals. Problems posed by IAS have come to the fore in recent years, as expanding human activities linked with trade, tourism, transport and air travel have dramatically increased their spread worldwide, either intentionally or accidentally (Mack et al., 2000).


Strategic repositioning of agrobiodiversity in the horticultural sector for sustainable development

(Keynote paper, finals of the ‘Women in Science’ competition)Horticultural biodiversity which was once an integral part of African diets should have been part of the celebrations of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. However, with the introduction of exotic temperate crops, indigenous green vegetables lost popularity in Africa and are regarded mostly as ‘weeds’ or ‘poor man’s food’. With over 50% of the African population living below the poverty line, resulting in malnutrition and poor health, there is need for a paradigm shift in food production patterns to harness the nutrition and economic potential of indigenous vegetables and fruits. Agrobiodiversity has a crucial part to play in revolutionalising the horticultural sector for food security, nutrition, income and sustainable development in Africa. This article outlines strategies and recommendations that could be used to raise the status of agrobiodiversity in the continent.Article taken from the 2011 CTA/FARA publication ‘Agricultural Innovations for Sustainable Development’ Volume 3, Issue 2.


Sustainable Intensification and Conservation Agriculture

Amir Kassam in his lead article argues that the no-till farming system involving soil cover and crop diversification, known as Conservation Agriculture (CA), is fundamentally changing farming practices and management of the land resource base, the landscape and the environment. As a proponent of this approach, Kassam notes that CA enhances ecosystem services and resilience, and offers additional economic and environmental benefits that are difficult or impossible to mobilize with conventional tillage agriculture. In his view, CA fits within the sustainable intensification paradigm which when defined in its broadest sense, encompasses production and ecological dimensions, the biological products produced and utilized by consumers and with minimum food waste, as well as the human and economic dimensions of socio-cultural aspirations, organizations and social equity and economic growth.According to Kassam, CA is not intensification in the classical sense of greater use of inputs but rather the intensification of knowledge, skills and management practices and the complementary judicious use of other inputs. He sees the new challenge for science and policy in the 21st Century as being able to produce more from less and with minimum damage and to rehabilitate degraded and or abandoned lands while conserving and optimizing the use of the remaining water and biodiversity resources. CA is now being practiced on 125 million hectares (about 9% of cropland) across all continents, and approximately 50% lies in the developing countries, including in African countries, namely Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kassam believes that CA can contribute to the goal of sustainable intensification, but more research and extension effort is needed to inform policy formulation and development strategies. 


Biodiversity, Science and Governance

Biodiversity is the natural biological capital of the earth and is the basis for survival for mankind as it provides essential goods and services including food, fuel, medicine, shelter and fodder. Biodiversity maintains ecosystems that support biological productivity, regulate climate, maintain soil fertility and cleanse water and air. It is important for recreation, tourism, science and education and provides opportunities for human societies to adapt to changing needs and circumstances, and to discover new products and technologies. Socio-economic development and poverty reduction strategies are dependent on biodiversity. Achievement of development initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals is also related to sustainable management and use of biodiversity.


Biodiversity as a key-factor for sustainable development

Solving the problem of environmental threats and a dwindling biodiversity has been on the international agenda for some decades now. The formulation of environmental questions, however, is changing slowly. There has been a tendency to define those questions in sectoral environmental terms, like soil, air, water, and nature (conservation). This approach indeed has been an important first step, because solving these questions contributed to the direct conservation of nature being threatened.In the meantime the majority of national states have decided (WSSD, Johannesburg 2002) to make a next step in conservation - and poverty alleviation - by adopting the idea of ‘sustainable’ societies (see the Plan of Implementation). The basis for this concept came largely from two other United Nations views: those on development and those on biodiversity issues. The former were expressed in the Millennium Development Goals and the Declaration of the UN General Assembly, September 2000. The latter find their basis in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, Rio de Janeiro, 1992). The objectives of this convention are threefold, interalia: ’The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, which should include appropriate access to genetic resources and appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and technologies, and access to appropriate funding’.