Reconciling food security and biodiversity: acting locally, thinking globally

Event 10 March 2020
The intensification of agriculture has resulted in the collapse of biodiversity, which could become irreversible. Moreover, for the last four years, the number of people suffering from hunger has been rising again, even though the world has never produced so much food per person. This paradox led CIRAD and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD -French Development Agency) to organise a conference on the occasion of the Paris International Agricultural Show: “Can we reconcile food security and biodiversity?”. The goal: identifying solutions for successful transitions to agroecology in harmony with biodiversity.
© Delphine Guard, CIRAD
© Delphine Guard, CIRAD

© Delphine Guard, CIRAD

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“The impact on biodiversity of industrial agriculture in the North and the green revolution in the South initiated in the 1960s is now reaching critical levels”, said Michel Eddi, CIRAD’s President Managing Director, at the opening of the conference “Can we reconcile food security and biodiversity?”. “There is thus an urgent need to reduce all negative externalities of agriculture on the environment, and to mobilise this incredible, as yet free resource, biodiversity, in order to produce more and better”. Solutions do exist, but this transition to agroecology is set to be long and complex, since it is multifactorial. From seeds to consumption, we need to act locally and think globally.

Seeds: protecting and promoting local innovations

First, the goal is to protect the rights of farmers to their seeds. This is the objective of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), signed in 2004 by almost 80 countries. It aims to protect and disseminate the diversity of seeds, while ensuring the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. Its application is the responsibility of the governments of the signatory countries. However, in practice, “many farmers, who could be sources of innovation and the guardians of agrobiodiversity, especially in the countries of the South, are poorly informed, unrecognised, and their contribution to food security is undervalued. Protecting their rights therefore calls for international treaties to be adapted to the national level and the farm level”, says Juanita Chaves Posada, Senior Adviser on Genetic Resources for the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR).

Producing differently: scientific agroecology

In terms of production, “recent studies show that the simplification of agricultural landscapes, through its impact on biodiversity, adversely affects agricultural production”, says Pierre-Marie Aubert from the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). “The challenge today is therefore huge, because we need to increase the capacity to produce biomass to meet growing demand, at least without increasing agricultural areas [in order to avoid negative climate impacts, editor’s note], while restoring their biodiversity”.But, “yes, we will be capable of properly and sustainably feeding a growing population”, says Marc Dufumier, an agroecologist at AgroParisTech, and President of Commerce Equitable France. According to him, the solution is “the most extensive possible permanent plant cover to cover soils all year round”, which uses solar energy, nitrogen from the air, soil carbon, atmospheric water and rock minerals, through informed intercropping. However, “this transition must be based on scientific agroecology that studies the complexity and functioning of global agrosystems, from the plot level to the country level”, adds the ecologist.

Addressing the diversity and complexity of food products

The specialisation of agriculture also stems from the massification of food. To halt this phenomenon, there are several options. “Creating territorial networks of small rural agrifood companies makes it possible to produce local specificities and to promote know how”, suggests Nicolas Bricas, an agroeconomist at CIRAD, based on the French example of the “appellation d’origine contrôlée”, or protected designation of origin. Moreover, “the plasticity of processing tools should make it possible to address food products in all their diversity and complexity. Finally, concerning distribution, the alternative to the group purchasing organisation is the wholesale market, which sells far more varieties of a given product”, adds the economist.

Social and economic realities that are part of a globalised ecosystem

Reconciling biodiversity and food security certainly requires local solutions, but “agriculture and biodiversity are not just agronomy and biology. They are also social and economic realities that are part of a globalised ecosystem”, says Gilles Kleitz, Director of AFD’s Department of Ecological Transitions and Natural Resources. “The work of states, farmers’ organisations, donors and the Common Agricultural Policy is therefore to protect a certain localism, while benefiting from globalised agriculture and markets, without forgetting to place farmers’ life plans at the heart of this equation”.

“Moreover, there is not yet any funding to support more biodiversity-friendly agriculture. One of the challenges for COP15 Biodiversity and the European Green Deal will therefore be to develop new funding models, without which this transition will fail”, stresses Elisabeth Claverie de Saint-Martin, CIRAD’s Director General in charge of Research and Strategy. “This transition calls for a paradigm shift in the production-based agricultural model and leads us towards a new system which must be built from scratch and for which CIRAD is already providing its scientific expertise”.

CIRAD will participate in the 2020 World Conservation Congress organised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) , to be held in Marseille from 11 to 19 June. This Congress will bring together several thousand leaders and decision-makers from government, civil society, indigenous peoples, business and academia. Sessions within the Forum and discussions in the pavilions will address the conservation of remarkable ecosystems, imported deforestation, the restoration of forest landscapes, agroecology, the shared governance of natural resources and commons, citizen science, ethics and the rights of nature.
CIRAD will be at the 15th meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP15 , to be held from 15 to 28 October 2020 in Kunming, China. The aim of COP15 is to define a roadmap in order to protect ecosystems by 2030. This could include agriculture. Indeed, in a draft text published in January 2019, one of the key objectives to be considered for validation between the parties is to “Conserve and enhance the sustainable use of biodiversity in agricultural and other managed ecosystems to support the productivity, sustainability and resilience of such systems, reducing by 2030 related productivity gaps by at least 50%”.