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18th meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) 

Montreal, Canada
June 23 -28, 2014

SEARICE Position Statement Health and Biodiversity (Item 9.7)

SEARICE would like to thank the Secretariat for the information gathered in UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/18/17. We agree with the statement in this document that “human health is affected by the state of the global environment and the health of ecosystems. We agree further with the conclusion of the Third Edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook of the CBD that current trends are bringing us closer to a number of potential tipping points that would catastrophically reduce the capacity of ecosystems to provide the essential services upon which we all depend for life.

One of these current trends is the accelerating decrease in the diversity of our food crops. We emphasize the direct contribution of biodiversity to food security, nutrition, and well-being. It provides a variety of food sources of a range of nutritional requirements, and provides a safety net to vulnerable households in times of crisis.

It has been concluded by several organizations, noteworthy of which is the Food and Agriculture Organization, that the active involvement of smallholder farmers or small farming families is critical in ensuring that agricultural ecosystems and biodiversity in general are conserved and sustainably used to meet present and future needs. To this end, we suggest that the Joint Work Program and technical review being conducted by the CBD and the World Health Organization (WHO) seriously consider the voices and perceptions and, most importantly, the active cooperation and involvement of smallholder farmers or small farming families, including other relevant stakeholders. Smallholder farmers or small farming families provide solutions that can very well achieve Target 14 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

SEARICE fully supports the Joint Work Program of the CBD and WHO. To aid in the design of the workshops and work program, we highlight relevant portions of the 2014 report of Prof. Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, in relation to developing countries’ need for sustainable use of PGRFA through Participatory Plant Breeding and Community Seed Banking. Diverse farming systems contribute to more diverse diets that produce their own food, thus improving nutrition. Noting how the Green Revolution led to monocultures and a significant loss of agrobiodiversity, Prof. de Schutter urges supporting crop genetic diversity, including agrobiodiversity. He noted that seed policies and intellectual property rights can hinder the continued use and development of local traditional knowledge in seed management. He urged States to:

(a)  Make swift progress towards the implementation of farmers’ rights, as defined in article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture;

(b)   Not allow patents on plants and establish research exemptions in legislation protecting plant breeders’ rights;


(c)    Ensure that their seed regulations (seed certification schemes) do not lead to an exclusion of farmers’ varieties; and


(d)   Support and scale up local seed exchange systems such as community seed banks and seed fairs, and community registers of peasant varieties.


Donors and international institutions should assist States in implementing the above recommendations, and, in particular:


(a)    Support efforts by developing countries to establish a sui generis regime for the protection of intellectual property rights which suits their development needs and is based on human rights;


(b)   Fund breeding projects on a large diversity of crops, including orphan crops, as well as on varieties for complex agroenvironments such as dry regions, and encourage participatory plant breeding; and


(c) Channel an adequate proportion of funds towards research programmes and projects that aim at improving the whole agricultural system and not only the plant (agroforestry, better soil management techniques, composting, water management, good agronomic practices). “


Under the above metric, nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin A deficiency, would be better addressed by promoting biodiversity through the use and consumption of a wide variety of local and traditional plant sources of Vitamin A. This approach dovetails with Targets 6, 9, and 13 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Given the recognized lack of cross-sectoral linkages among agriculture, health, and environment agencies, and the lack of direct involvement of practitioners, SEARICE recommends that the implementation of the GSPC include the initiation and catalyzation of these cross-sectoral linkages. This linkage should lead to a joint elaboration of research and development agenda, and seed management policy as tools for structural reform of health services.


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