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12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity

Item 31: Agricultural Biodiversity

24 October 2014

The following is a statement prepared by SEARICE at the Twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 12)
Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea
October 6–17, 2014.


Where is agricultural biodiversity heading to?

The Pyeongchang Roadmap will be designed to facilitate implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and Aichi Biodiversity Targets. But the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on agricultural biodiversity has fallen off course. While Targets 9 (genetic diversity of crops) and 13 (traditional knowledge) of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation are relevant, these are not enough. Previous COP decisions, most recent of which was adopted at COP 10, have identified activities to address the whole suite of issues pertaining to agricultural biodiversity. Why is it not on the agenda at COP 12?

Aichi Target 13 states:

Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
By 2020, the genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and of wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species is maintained and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.


The 4th Global Biodiversity Outlook recognizes that “[G]enetic diversity offers options for increasing the resilience of agricultural systems and for adapting to changing conditions, including the escalating impacts of climate change. Maintaining this diversity requires conservation of the many varieties of cultivated plants and breeds of domesticated livestock bred by farmers over thousands of years; and of the wild relatives of crops whose traits may be essential for future plant breeding and thereby underpin food security.” While there is progress towards this target, the GBO-4 reports that the same is at an insufficient rate. There is no significant change in the maintenance of the genetic diversity of wild crop relatives, and there is no data reflecting the maintenance of the genetic diversity of socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species.


Further, while ex situ collections of genetic resources improve, “there is currently limited support to ensure long term conservation of local varieties of crops in the face of changes in agricultural practices and market preferences that are tending, in general, to promote a narrowing genetic pool. The wild relatives of domesticated crop species are increasingly threatened by habitat fragmentation and climate change, and few protected areas or management plans address these threats. Erosion of traditional crops and their wild relatives is greatest in cereals, followed by vegetables, fruits and nuts and food legumes.”


Support small farmers worldwide


FAO statistics show that smallholder farmers provide at least 70% of the world’s food needs, occupy 60% of global land, and the agricultural sector, of which farmers belong, provide 40% of the world’s livelihoods. In a 2011 paper, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concluded that global food production could be doubled within a decade if the right policies towards small farmers and traditional farming were implemented. In assessing data from Africa, De Schutter said that small farmers have already produced an average crop yield increase of 80% in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116% among all African initiatives assessed. Recent projects conducted in 20 African countries provided a doubling of crop yields in a short period of just three to ten years. Olivier De Schutter’s 2014 final report as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has emphasized that there can be no reduction of hunger and there can be no meaningful development if small scale farmers are continuously ignored.


The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report also highlighted the need to provide support to smallholder farmers. The 2013 Trade and Environmental report of the UNCTAD added that smallholder farmers, while the most vulnerable to climate change, hold the key to solutions for climatic challenges. The United Nations General Assembly has even declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming to increase awareness on their contributions to sustainable development.

1.   Olivier De Schutter, “Agroecology and the Right to Food”, Report presented at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council [A/HRC/16/49], 8 March 2011





Yet, small farmers remain marginalized despite recognition of their efforts. It bears stressing that smallholder farmers, like indigenous peoples, also depend heavily on biodiversity for their livelihoods and very survival.

Put small farmers at the center of CBD’s work on agricultural biodiversity

SEARICE agrees with the GBO-4 observation about limited support to ensure long-term conservation. The CBD’s work can change this by including issues of small farmers in its discussions and processes.


The text of the Convention uses the term, “indigenous and local communities”, but this does not expressly include small farmers. There has always been the presumption that the issues of small farmers, pastoralists, small livestock owners, peasants and the like are explored in CBD discussions on agricultural biodiversity and Article 8j with the opinion that local communities as defined in CBD includes small farmers. However, this presumption does not exist.


The definition of ‘local communities,’ as recommended at the 8th Meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Article 8(j) and Related Provisions of the CBD in October 2013 puts emphasis only on traditional practices. It does not cover some small farmers’ groups in developing countries, such as those who have, by compulsion, resorted to green revolution practices; or pockets of individual farmers that are neither organized, nor share any common property, or any property (no land tenurial rights) for that matter. SEARICE has been working with these groups of extensively marginalized farmers. Results of a SEARICE study also show that the worst-off group consists of landless women farmer-laborers that belong to displaced indigenous groups.

4. GRAIN, 2014. Reversing the trend: give small farmers the means to feed the world.

Promote public policies and incentives for small farmers to continue their work in providing the world’s food


One of the actions suggested to enhance progress towards achieving Aichi Target 13 is by “promoting public policies and incentives to maintain local varieties of crops and indigenous breeds in production systems (Targets 2, 3, 7), including through increased cooperation with, and recognition of, the role of indigenous and local communities and farmers in maintaining genetic diversity in situ.”

GBO-4 recognizes FAO reports that since the 1900s, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties. More than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields, FAO added.

GBO4, COP 12 and the Pyeonchang Roadmap also need to recognize that the loss of plant genetic diversity has threatened the livelihoods of small farmers. If small farmers stopped their livelihoods, the direct impact would be food shortage. To arrest such a scenario, there is an urgent need to protect the livelihoods of small farmers through policies and incentives. These policies and incentives should ensure access and control of farmers over the necessary resources such as fertile land, adequate water, and a diverse pool of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) for them to continue producing food.


No less than the 2008 IAASTD Report has called for the empowerment of farmers when it observed that “AKST (agricultural knowledge, science and technology) must address the needs of small scale farms in diverse ecosystems and create realistic opportunities for their development where the potential for improved area productivity is low and where climate change may have its most adverse consequences”.

While there is need to encourage incentives for small farmers to continue with their livelihoods, there is also need to remove incentives that are harmful and perverse to farming livelihoods. Incentives given to fertilizer and pesticide companies, plant breeders’ rights (PBRs) and patents must be removed.

Recognize that small farmers are managers of agricultural biodiversity

The GBO4 also calls for “enhancing the use and maintenance of genetic diversity in plant and animal breeding programmes, and raising awareness of the importance of genetic diversity and its contribution to food security”.


SEARICE strongly suggests that this call should involve farmers as breeders of plant and animal genetic resources, instead of merely perceiving them as a viable market for seeds. Incentives need to be lobbied for farmer-breeders programs. Governments need to support these farmer-led initiatives by providing free access to breeding materials, and providing positive incentives to these initiatives. Public breeding institutions need to coordinate breeding efforts with farmers for in situ conservation of PGRFA.


It is about time for a change in perception of farmers as mere producers of food, and as viable market for seeds by agrochemical companies. As the IAASTD report stated, “let [farmers] be perceived as not merely producers but also as farm managers, there should be increased cooperation between small-scale farmers and other stakeholders for agricultural productivity”.


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