Why investing in agricultural biodiversity is crucial to feed the planet
30 October 2015
I welcomed the call in the Forum discussion paper to preserve and restore biodiversity, to develop multi-use landscapes including for provision of ecosystem services, as well as the need to characterize and properly exploit local biodiversity.
The collection and long term storage of the multitude of varieties developed by farmers is a key step to keep our options in an uncertain future. Beyond that the world needs to invest in agricultural biodiversity to tackle a range of global bads from malnutrition to adaptation to climate change, from making farming cater for increasingly urban food demand to reducing the use of agrochemicals. Expanded use of agricultural biodiversity can contribute significantly to tackling these issues in a sustainable way.
Most of the useful agricultural biodiversity is located in tropical and subtropical regions, mostly in developing and emerging economies. We must engage these countries and their farming communities in participating in the global effort, we need to develop simpler, more effective ways of sharing these genetic resources within and between countries and finding ways to share the benefits derived from their use equitably. Major investments are needed to enable farmers, public and private plant breeders around the world to know about these materials and to have access to the planting material. Information technology and genomics are providing game changing opportunities to match geographic, climate, crop and genetic suitability data with farmer preferences in radically more efficient and equitable ways. Let us make sure we put in place the necessary investments to reap the multiple benefits better stewardship and use of agricultural biodiversity can deliver.
A key purpose for the World Food Research and Innovation Forum could be to help nudge agri-food systems to evolve in sustainable directions. Bringing together representatives of the stakeholders from the North and the South and presenting them with the scientific evidence would facilitate the discussion of how to drive the required changes. It would be challenging but a role Italy with its strong food culture is well placed to broker, building on the success of Expo. The CGIAR Consortium of international agricultural centres could contribute scientific research and information particularly about the South building on its strong partnerships with national research systems.