Linking Zero Hunger and Biodiversity

On the first day of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB) IFAD held a side event to discuss the linkages between biodiversity conservation, smallholder farmers and achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2- Zero Hunger.

The moderator, Terry Sunderland – Team Leader and Principal Scientist, Sustainable Landscapes and Food Systems, at the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) opened the event.

He discussed the role of smallholder farmers in creating resilient agriculture systems and how the world needs to recognise the value smallholder farmers bring to the world's economy.

He asked the panel how smallholder farmers can incorporate biodiversity conservation into the challenges they already face? 

Alejandro Argumedo, Director of Programmes at Asociacion ANDES spoke of his personal experiences in the mountainous regions of Peru and the need to move towards a more integrated landscape management approach.

“We should be creating innovations for food systems, we don’t need to be inventing new systems as there is already lots of knowledge," said Argumendo. "We need to harness traditional knowledge.”

Chikelu Mba, Team Leader, Seeds and Plant Genetic Resources, Plant Production and Protection Division of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) told the packed auditorium that he came from Nigeria where they maintain close ties to ancestral homes and villages.

"Despite the best efforts of small family farmers, they are barely scraping by," said Mba. "They want to send their children to school, they want cell phones, and they don’t see farming as a way of achieving that.”

“We also know we will need to produce more food with a growing population. The additional food can only be produced with a knowledge intensive ‘green-green’ revolution.”

IFAD's Director of Environment and Climate, Margarita Astralaga, explained that for smallholders their assets are part of their ecosystems. They depend on plants for medicine, seeds and hunting.
“What helps them and us is to see the full potential of these ecosystems,” said Astralaga, “Different crops and indigenous crops are important - we have lost nearly all genetic variations of corn and wheat,  50 per cent of the world is eating the same species."

"We must diversify - when small farmers do that, they can protect themselves against climate shocks. When farmers grow nuts, cocoa, coffee, cassava as well as corn, when a drought strikes and the corn yield is low or non-existent they have other crops to fall back on."

Terry Sunderland went on to ask the panel about how we can create more equitable systems, and get governments to realise the full value of smallholder agriculture?

“We have seen demonization of smallholders,” said Sunderland.

Tómas Eusebio, Forest Dialogue Facilitator, Alianza Mesoamericana de Pueblos Y Bosques (AMPB), clarified that smallholders and indigenous peoples are agents of conservation and don’t destroy biodiversity necessarily.

"I believe the problem lies with global policies," said Eusebio. "Matching ancestral knowledge to proposed policies is oftentimes difficult  - so we would like to see ancestral knowledge put into policies at CBD.”

Sunderland then asked the panel how agricultural institutions at the country level are integrating environmental concerns into their rural development programmes?

 “At IFAD we are mainstreaming this across the portfolio of investments," said IFAD's Astralaga. " If we didn’t take into account climate change and natural resource management, we would lose our money in the long term.

"As an organisation, we lend money. But we want our borrower countries to be able to pay it back. This can only happen if the crops do well. We have many examples of how it makes economic sense to invest in sustainable agriculture, you see a much higher return. It’s all about the long-term investment.”

All panellists then gave examples of the problem of youth migration to urban areas – taking with them traditional knowledge that has been in families for generations.

“By 2030 only 20 per cent  of people will live in rural areas. What will we do?” said Argumedo, Director of Programmes at Asociacion ANDES.

FAO's Mba agreed saying that if current urbanisation trends continue  in the developing world three per cent of the population would provide all the food and there is not the technology nor the knowledge for this to be a reality in most developing countries.

“We need to have able bodied people who find agriculture attractive. Not simply seeing it as working like slaves. We need a change in behaviour and outlook,” concluded Mba.

IFAD's Astralaga added that youth in developing countries want internet, phones, entertainment and easy access to the city.

"At the moment, they spend six hours or so on a bus to get into a city. If they can make a life that is seen as decent, they would stay in rural areas, but carrying on like their great grandparents is not going to happen.”

CIFOR's Sunderland summed up by saying that this was an extremely interactive event.

“There is clearly no one size fits all answer here," said Sunderland.  “All of us intuitively know there is no conflict between agriculture and biodiversity, why then are they constantly separate, whether in ministries or in declarations?"