Restoring agricultural biodiversity is arguably the most important strategy for the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources. This sub-set of biodiversity, developed through human intervention by countless farmers, herders and fisherfolk over the past 10,000 years, comprising varieties, breeds, species and agro-ecosystems, underpins universal food security.
Increasing knowledge about how to safeguard biodiversity in nature, agriculture, forestry and fisheries and its wider role in life-support systems.
Agricultural biodiversity is a broad term that includes all components of biological diversity of relevance to food and agriculture, and all components of biological diversity that constitute the agro-ecosystem: the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms, at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, which are necessary to sustain key functions of the agro-ecosystem, its structure and processes.
Agricultural biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of animals, plants, and micro-organisms on earth that are important to food and agriculture which result from the interaction between the environment, genetic resources and the management systems and practices used by people. It takes into account not only genetic, species and agro-ecosystem diversity and the different ways land and water resources are used for production, but also cultural diversity, which influences human interactions at all levels. It has spatial, temporal and scale dimensions. It comprises the diversity of genetic resources (varieties, breeds, etc.) and species used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture (including, in the FAO definition, crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries) for the production of food, fodder, fibre, fuel and pharmaceuticals, the diversity of species that support production (soil biota, pollinators, predators, etc.) and those in the wider environment that support agro-ecosystems (agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic), as well as the diversity of the agro-ecosystems themselves.
Farming communities have an intrinsic interest in ensuring that land use practices are sustainable and contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Some semi-natural habitats can be preserved only if appropriate farming activities are continued. In many situations where agriculture production is a key element of sustainable ecosystems, abandonment of agriculture would lead to the irreversible degradation of different habitats. There has been an increasing awareness among farmers on the gains to be made by adopting environmentally sound agricultural practices, which have been underpinned by rapid advances in "green technologies".
Agricultural biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of animal, plant and microbial organisms on earth that are important to food and agriculture. It is an important sub-set of biodiversity as it is the basis of food security. It includes all the species used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture: human nutrition, feed for domestic animals, and the provision of essential raw materials and services such as fibre, fertiliser, fuel and pharmaceuticals. It covers, inter alia: crop varieties, including forage and fodder plants and trees, animal breeds, including fish, molluscs, bird species and insects, as well as fungi, yeasts and micro-organisms such as algae and diverse bacteria. Agricultural biodiversity has been further described as including : harvested crop varieties, livestock breeds, fish species and non-domesticated ('wild') resources within field, forest, rangeland and aquatic ecosystems; non-harvested species within production ecosystems that support food provision, including soil micro-organisms, pollinators, green manures, biocontrol organisms and so forth; and non-harvested species in the wider environment that support food production ecosystems, (agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic) including landraces, 'wild' relatives of crops and livestock, environmental plants such as windbreaks for soil erosion control, etc.
Agricultural biodiversity has been described as including: a) harvested crop varieties, livestock breeds, fish species and non-domesticated ('wild') resources within field, forest, rangeland and aquatic ecosystems; b) non-harvested species within production ecosystems that support food provision, including soil micro-organisms, pollinators, green manures, biocontrol organisms and so forth; and c) non-harvested species in the wider environment that support food production ecosystems, (agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic) including landraces, 'wild' relatives of crops and livestock, environmental plants such as windbreaks for soil erosion control, etc.
While the use of the term "agrobiodiversity" is rapidly increasing, there is still no consensus on what is exactly meant by it at the global level. Work is underway to define a broad scope definition on the basis of the full range of functions of biodiversity in agriculture areas: a) production of food, fuel and other raw materials; b) life support functions and c) nature conservation, landscape protection and related tourism.
The agrobiodiversity of a place or region is largely analogous to its biological diversity: it describes the range and variety of biological diversity within the farmed landscape. As farming has altered, and come to replace, the previous pattern of habitats and communities, agrobiodiversity also describes the range of different structures in the landscape, such as hedges and trees. For example, the agrobiodiversity of an up-land farm will summarise the obvious range of biological diversity and the variety of landscape features from the meadows, the walled and hedged fields through to marshland and small wooded areas.
The Convention on Biological Diversity articulates the global recognition of the need to halt genetic erosion. Its linkage between conservation and sustainable use of biological resources supports continued development of varieties and breeds for food security that are adapted to new social, economic, physical – including climatic – environments in the next millennium. In support of these concerns, the CBD has provided the framework, through Decision III/11, agreed in November 1996, on 'Agricultural Biological Diversity', for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of agricultural biodiversity at all levels and for the control over, access to, and ownership of, these resources and the intellectual property which they contain.
Restoring agricultural biodiversity requires the participation of food producers in the in situ conservation; development of agricultural biodiversity including domestic animal diversity and aquatic diversity; utilisation of 'wild' foods and the hidden harvest; local ex situ conservation systems, seed saving and the promotion of rare breed societies. It further requires recognition of community knowledge systems; the protection of farmers' rights and indigenous peoples' rights; the elimination of "biopiracy;" developing new intellectual property rights systems; challenging the application of patents (i.e. the European Patent Directive) and other Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) to plant and animal species.
The International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (1991) (UPOV 91); improved the legislative environment on seeds and animal breeds for small-scale producers and users of 'unlisted' or 'quasi-legal' varieties and breeds.
Paragraph 38 of the UN/ECE Arhus Declaration (1998) recognises that European land use has a strong impact on biological and landscape diversity and that there are currently wide opportunities for progress as well as potential risks in this area. To take advantage of opportunities and to avoid negative impacts, the Declaration commits signatories to undertake initiatives to integrate biodiversity considerations into the agricultural sector within the EU enlargement and transition processes.
The European Biodiversity Strategy stresses that "particular attention should be given to the rural areas where, in many cases, the continuation of agricultural activities is necessary to avoid losses of biodiversity and habitat degradation" and calls for promoting "sustainable development based on an integrated spatial planning approach".
The bulk of Europe's farmland with high natural values as such is not under nature protection. Large categories like semi-natural habitats (semi-natural grassland, heathland, garrigue, etc.), Important Bird Areas (for breeding or migratory birds) and areas rich in landscape features (hedges, ditches, woodlots etc) are covered by formal protection to only a limited extent. A large area of farmland (20%) is under EU agri-environmental programmes but many of these programmes are not yet well targeted on biodiversity and many areas of high conservation value are still lacking such measures, e.g. in the Mediterranean part of Europe. Equally only a relatively limited amount of the total agricultural area is likely to be designated as Natura 2000 areas.
In spite of the dramatic decline of biodiversity on Europe's farmland, there are, varying by region, still many areas of high natural value left that urgently require efforts for their conservation and management. Agri-environmental programmes, including payments for public goods, can be expected to improve in coverage and quality in the course of time. Currently the European Commission is looking at around 150 rural development plans in all member states under EC Regulation 1257/1999. Similarly, several of the applicant countries have included pilot agri-environmental programmes in their submission of rural development plans under the SAPARD regulation. These measures can have a very important impact in these countries.
Some farming and breeding activities help to maintain endangered plant and animal species.