Agro-biodiversity is needed to adapt to climate change

A variety of colours are seen in this selection of different corn strains. (c) Keith Weller
A variety of colours are seen in this selection of different corn strains. (c) Keith Weller
With 60 percent of the world's caloric intake now coming from only three crops: rice, maize and wheat PIERINA BENITES ALFARO discusses what can be done to promote Agro-biodiversity and its use as a strategy to adapt to climate change
The loss of biodiversity is the only truly irreversible global change in the world

Agrobiodiversity is defined as the variety and variability of animals, plants and organisms used for feed and agriculture.

The continuation of agrobiodiversity is for a large part made possible by indigenous heritage, with local communities worldwide retaining the ancestral knowledge and management of local species. 

However, its care provides benefits to all habitants over the world, such as protection of ecosystems and forests, pest and disease control in cultivars, human health and it is a natural strategy to adapt for climate change.

Truly irreversible

The link between agro-biodiversity and adaptation to climate change dates back to 2014, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cited its importance. 

The loss of biodiversity is the only truly irreversible global change in the world

Recently, the book "Strategy for FAO's work on climate"(July, 2017) underscores the importance of agro-biodiversity as a strategy for adaptation to climate change, given its importance in the livelihoods of vulnerable populations and global food security.

However, research indicates that the loss of biodiversity is the only truly irreversible global change in the world. Even so, it continues to gain momentum (FAO, 2010).

Quinoa varieties

Our selective consumption habits give us an idea of why we have chosen the crop specialization worldwide: Only 2.8% of the world's plant species are consumed as a food, and 60% of the world's caloric intake comes from only three crops: rice, maize and wheat (FAO, 1995).

"Our ancestors knew how to take care of colored quinoa, but now we need more support to keep the fields without poisons, because they only ask us for specific varieties", says Apolinaria Arapa, President of the Union of Producers from Titicaca Lake, located in the frontier Peru -Bolivia.

This is corroborated in a scientific study of 2015, carried out in Peru & Bolivia. One of the main findings was that 76 percent of the farmers interviewed have abandoned at least four native quinoa varieties in the last 20 years.

Food security 

Further, 42 percent confirm that they have stopped planting native crops such as tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis), ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus) and kaniwa (Chenopodium pallidicaule), to plant one greater surface area of white quinoa, given the pressure of the current governments and the loss of the ancestral Cosmo vision of the new generations of indigenous farmers.

Therefore, generating incentives to continue the conservation work done by farmers becomes crucial, even when it has been recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity (Aichi Target 3) and the Sustainable Development Objectives.

In addition, Biodiversity International (BI) believes that differentiated work strategies should be developed with both the public and private sector, considering indigenous populations as strategic partners in rescuing endangered cultivars. Consequently, BI has proposed a pilot scheme of incentives called Payments for Agrobiodiversity Conservation Services (PACS), a community-based reward mechanism for conservation.

This program has already been implemented in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Zambia and Slovenia. The proposal is still awaiting answers, though.

In addition to international proposals, the task of sensitizing the general population about all the benefits of agro-biodiversity is still pending, in order to promote proposals that give the necessary identification of their real value.

This Author

Pierina Benites Alfaro is an economist specializing in economic research and in the design and evaluation of business plans and investment projects related to rural development and environmental sustainability.