Thursday, 9 October 2008

Does the IUCN take agricultural biodiversity seriously?

The IUCN World Congress has been taking place this week in Barcelona and this is a question that has crossed my mind more than once. If one was to answer this question based on the range of events taking place to do with agriculture, food security and sovereignty and agrobiodiversity then one might be tempted to answer in the affirmative. But I have come away with the impression that there is much that needs to be done including a greater need for better joined up analysis and advocacy. There still appears to be a massive disconnect between the global conservation and agrobiodiversity communities. But we need not be in conflict, from the evidence presented here there is much we could and should be doing better. The challenge is how we find better and more effective ways of working together. How do we address this disconnect between those of us working in agricultural biodiversity and conservation?
There are many opportunities and entry points for both communities. The responsibility for the current situation does not lie solely at the door of either community. There is much that the agricultural and agrobiodiversity community could and should be doing to improve an important partnership. Some participants pointed out that the agrobiodiversity community was actively looking for collaboration with the conservation community. I am sure they are but how effectively are they doing this? I am convinced there is room for improvement. This would involve a much more coherent and evidence-based approach, an approach that is much more inclusive and strategic, much more thought through than is currently taking place. Other participants have stressed the need for creating more awareness on the benefits of agrobiodiversity. While important, this is only one element of a much more concerted effort that is required in order to break down a very entrenched mindset.
Some suggestions that have emerged from this meeting include the IUCN having a more active role in promoting that biodiversity in agricultural systems has a function, is useful and can support food security and sovereignty. Enhancing integration of the relevant commissions and member organizations of IUCN to promote a higher profile for agricultural biodiversity, so that the IUCN can better articulate a position on this. Jeff McNeely suggested that maybe there was a need for conservationists to better understand agriculture and to have a better historical perspective on land use. Clearly there is. There was allusion to how this might trickle down to a new level of ‘professionalism’ among conservation workers and practitioners. I certainly hope so. There were many other positive suggestions, too many to go into any detail here.
However, I just wanted to add that we, as the agricultural biodiversity community, might want to look inwards and reflect on what we have been doing recently to change this disconnect. I am sure there is more that agrobiodiversity organizations, programmes, projects and individuals could be doing so they are better organized and positioned to engage the global conservation community and effect change. It will take much more than an awareness campaign to change the current disconnect.

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