The key issues for global agricultural research were heard at the IUCN World Conservation Congress

Event 22 September 2021
The World Conservation Congress organized by the IUCN, of which CIRAD is a member, closed its doors on 10 September. In calling for a raft of transformations, the congress recommended building long-term agricultural research partnerships, stepping up dialogue between scientists and policymakers, and continuing to work for greater impact.
The IUCN Congress in Marseille allowed scientists to share their messages with politicians and representatives of IUCN members © D. Bazile, CIRAD
The IUCN Congress in Marseille allowed scientists to share their messages with politicians and representatives of IUCN members © D. Bazile, CIRAD

The IUCN Congress in Marseille allowed scientists to share their messages with politicians and representatives of IUCN members © D. Bazile, CIRAD

The pandemic pushed the IUCN World Conservation Congress back more than a year, but it was eventually held a few months ahead of two major international events: COP26 (climate), to be held in Glasgow, UK, from 1 to 12 November 2021, and COP15 (biodiversity), scheduled in Kunming (China) from 25 April to 8 May 2022, after an initial virtual summit from 11 to 15 October 2021.

"The decisions taken here in Marseille will drive action to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises in the crucial decade to come. Collectively, IUCN’s Members are sending a powerful message to Glasgow and Kunming: the time for fundamental change is now", said IUCN Director General Dr Bruno Oberle.

"For CIRAD, protecting biodiversity is one of our priorities" says CIRAD CEO Élisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin. "It is one of the six priority research topics set by our contractual objectives, and we fully own it, we are proud to say so. And we are working on a whole range of topics covered at this IUCN Congress."

CIRAD was heavily involved in the congress, notably through several events that it organized or co-organized, on: cultivated biodiversity for sustainable, resilient agriculture; management of protected areas; One Health; tropical forests; imported deforestation, etc. It was a chance for the organization to discuss its research in partnership in tropical and Mediterranean countries. CIRAD also contributed directly to drafting some ten of the 148 resolutions and recommendations voted by the General Assembly of Members during the event.

Cultivated biodiversity as a means to sustainable, resilient agriculture

Three sessions allowed scientists, policymakers and stakeholders from the farming sector to discuss the links between biodiversity and the resilience of farming and food systems, and good practice for managing the different aspects of biodiversity.

For scientists, agricultural issues and biodiversity issues are inextricably linked. Both call for better integration of practices, organizations and governance structures. Local communities are key players in managing biodiversity. The priority for scientists is to take a fresh look at our relationship with nature, working with the entire range of stakeholders and for the benefit of all.

These messages were supplemented by the institutional viewpoint presented by representatives from the IUCN, CIRAD, IRD, INRAE and AFD at a round table on 5 September. They highlighted the importance of the question of what type of agriculture should be funded and how to optimize what biodiversity can provide on a territory level. They also stressed the need to look at contributions to and moves in favour of agricultural transformation in terms of support for each and every stakeholder, from public policymakers to farmers. "This transformation calls for both time and science", said Élisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin. "But also forums, within which scientists and policymakers can talk freely." This means bringing science and policy closer together, by gearing our operations towards impact.

Protected area management: there is room for improvement

According to a recent IUCN report, “State of protected areas in Central Africa: 2020”, co-published by CIRAD, Central Africa is close to meeting the international targets set for the post-2020 period in terms of protected areas. The region has more than 200 protected areas covering a total of 800 000 km², or around twice the area of Cameroon. In the ten countries in the region, protected areas have doubled in terms of both their number and their size in the past 20 years. However, those areas are often neglected, and their management could be improved. Moreover, different biomes receive very different degrees of protection. In Central Africa, 70% of mangroves are protected, but the figure is just 20% for rainforests and 15% for dry forests and grasslands.
The report contains an inventory of protected areas, which are central to biodiversity conservation policies. Regular inventories serve to monitor the network of protected areas in Central Africa, assess the effects of past policies, and steer future policies, such as those due to be implemented globally post-2020.


The choice between land sharing and land sparing

Do we have to choose between using some land intensively while preserving the rest, and integrating crop and livestock farming into nature? This is a complex question and a crucial issue, as what is at stake is how to feed the ten billion people expected on Earth by 2050.
At a session on land sharing v. land sparing on 7 September, CIRAD presented its research in partnership in Paragominas (Para state, Brazil), where farmers have abandoned land first cleared in the 1960s. Scientists are now observing natural forest regeneration, with forest occupying up to 50% of land cleared in the past.

The link between biodiversity and One Health

The congress provided an opportunity to shine the spotlight on an international initiative, PREZODE, launched by France at the One Planet Summit on 11 January 2021. It is coordinated by CIRAD, INRAE and IRD, and involves more than a thousand scientists in 50 countries across all five continents. It is advocating for co-building of socioecosystemic strategies aimed at preventing pathogen transmission from animals to humans, while allowing people to benefit from ecosystem resources.

CIRAD contributed to a round table on this issue as part of the first summit of French-speaking parliamentarians committed to conservation, with the participation of Thierry Lefrançois, Director of its Biological Systems Department, who is a member of the French Scientific Council on Covid-19.


The link between biodiversity and food security

This link was illustrated at a session on sustainable wildlife management, organized by the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme (SWM). The session served to promote the programme, which is led by a consortium comprising FAO, CIRAD, CIFOR and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). It is a novel programme of unprecedented scope, aimed at reconciling wildlife conservation and food security for local people, by means of a One Health approach. This means building management skills within indigenous and rural communities, promoting healthy, sustainable wild and domestic animal production chains, and revising legal and regulatory frameworks.

CIRAD's Alain Billand presented a white paper drafted by the SWM programme, proposing solutions for preventing, detecting and responding rapidly to zoonotic diseases, to reduce risks and limit adverse impacts on societies.

The programme covers fourteen countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Its scientific teams are working closely with local authorities, national universities and local stakeholders. They are testing sustainable governance and management models in those countries, which have very different social and ecological contexts. As a result, the solutions proposed are widely applicable.

Tropical forests

The Alliance for the Conservation of Rainforests, founded in 2019 and associating 31 countries, is pursuing a strong political ambition broken down into practical actions to slow and reverse forest degradation.

CIRAD contributed directly to several sessions on this crucial topic. "The area of tropical forest lost between 1990 and 2020 is estimated at 400M ha, including 218M ha (7.3M ha/year) of tropical rainforest", Plinio Sist, Head of CIRAD's Forest and Societies research unit, said on 8 September at a session devoted to the issue in the France pavilion. According to him, "It is mutual cooperation between countries rather than sanctions that will lead to solutions".

As regards forest landscape restoration, CIRAD co-organized a session on the prospects for the Barometer of Restoration, a tool launched by the IUCN to measure progress on programmes and identify obstacles. It is being used within the framework of the Bonn Challenge, a global drive to restore 350 million hectares of degraded, deforested land by 2030.

The challenge website, managed by the IUCN, is monitoring the commitments made, country by country.

El Salvador, Belize, Pakistan, Chile and the South of France region have committed to restore a total of 5.5 million hectares, bringing the total commitment made as a result of the Bonn Challenge to more than 215 million hectares.


Imported deforestation

Among their many vital functions, forests play a major role in preserving biodiversity on Earth. While on a global scale, tropical forests are shrinking rapidly (10 million hectares lost per year, according to the latest FAO report on the issue), temperate zones are gaining some 5 million hectares of forest a year.

According to CIRAD economist Alain Karsenty, around a third of forest losses are due to global trade. By fighting imported deforestation, it should be possible to fight deforestation and thus biodiversity losses.

To do so, he considers that we need to:

  1.  know how to quantify and monitor the phenomenon, which means being able to define what a forest actually is, and at what point it can be seen as degraded or deforested. However, there are as many thresholds beyond which forests are seen as deforested as there are countries;
  2. keep degradation within viable limits, rather than trying to prevent it at all costs.

This approach involves choices that are necessarily covered by public policies and legal frameworks.

The fight against imported deforestation was the topic of a motion (no. 12) passed at the congress. The motion was put forward by the French government and the IUCN French National Committee, and clearly defines imported deforestation as the import of goods whose production contributed, whether directly or indirectly, to deforestation or to the conversion of natural forest ecosystems. It also stresses the responsibility of firms that import agricultural goods (particularly soybean, palm oil, etc.). Lastly, it recommends that importing countries introduce regulations to put a stop to imported deforestation and that firms seek out supply chains that do not involve deforestation.

Numerous prominent politicians were present

With almost 6000 participants on site and 4700 on line, the hybrid event attracted many prominent representatives from political spheres and local authorities, and provided an opportunity for CIRAD to interact with them. In particular, Élisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin was able to talk with several French government members:

  • Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, concerning the IUCN report on protected areas in Central Africa, co-published with CIRAD, and CIRAD's presence in tropical and Mediterranean countries;
  • Minister Frédérique Vidal, about the links between science and society, particularly the way in which science can support decision making;
  • Minister Julien Denormandie at the session on cultivated biodiversity, about the issue of plant proteins and the role of biodiversity in the agroecological transition;
  • Secretary of State Bérengère Abba, following the session on the Great Green Wall;
  • Environment Ambassador Sylvie Lemmet, on CIRAD's contribution to the National Biodiversity Committee's International Working Group.

As well as Pacôme Moubelet Boubeya, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Gabon, following a France-Gabon event on the creation of a business forum to build sustainable value chains in Africa.

However, the health situation meant that very few international representatives from the global South were present. For CIRAD, the aim was therefore to make their voice heard in the debates.

"This IUCN session was held in a complex health situation that prevented many of our scientific partners from coming", Élisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin stresses. "It was therefore up to us, along with other organizations working in the global South, to act as their spokespersons and make their concerns heard in the debates, notably by talking about our research in partnership."

As an IUCN member and given the place of biodiversity in its scientific strategy, CIRAD scientists were directly involved in drafting several motions passed at the congress:

  • Conservation, restoration and sustainable management of mangrove ecosystems
  • Ensuring the compatibility of human activities with conservation objectives in protected areas
  • Increasing funding for biodiversity in developing countries
  • Generalizing alternative practices and techniques to the use of synthetic pesticides
  • The fight against imported deforestation
  • Combatting soil degradation and artificialization

In addition, the French government submitted a further six motions, three of which involved the French National Committee and CIRAD:

  • Developing agroecological practices as nature-based solutions
  • Integrated solutions to the climate change and biodiversity crises
  • Deforestation and agricultural commodity supply chains

A final raft of so-called urgent motions was submitted in the summer of 2021, of which CIRAD helped to draft two: one on ethics and the other on health.

The IUCN Congress focused on three main themes:

  • the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which is due to be adopted by the parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity this year;
  • the role of nature in the post-pandemic recovery;
  • and the need to transform the global financial system and direct funding towards projects that foster nature.

It ended with the publication of the "Marseille Manifesto", a declaration adopted by IUCN members expressing hope despite the decline in animal and plant species.


Read the Marseille Manifesto