ITDG's 8 page illustrated Briefing for WSSD on Agricultural Biodiversity "Preserving
the Web of Life" outlines the origin, through the ingenuity of farmers and
other food producers, and the importance of agricultural biodiversity for both
food production, from plants, animals and aquatic organisms, and ecosystem
It calls on governments to implement agreements already made since 1992 and
to make explicit the links between agriculture and biodiversity in the WSSD
Plan of Implementation.
In addition, it calls on governments to reject: patents and other IPRs on
genetic resources for food and agriculture; GURTs/Terminator Technologies; and
GMOs in agriculture, especially, ban these in Centres of Origin and Diversity
And calls on governments to support: agroecological approaches to food
production; the precedence of agricultural biodiversity agreements over trade;
and ratification of the Biosafety Protocol and the International Seed Treaty
(International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture).
PRESERVING THE WEB OF LIFE
ITDG briefing for WSSD
Agricultural biodiversity, the vast number of locally-adapted seeds and
animal breeds, underpins the food security of our planet. This interdependent
life-support system helps sustain local ecosystems that provide, not just food
to eat, but also clean water, healthy top-soils, living landscapes, clean air,
and even a sink for excess carbon dioxide.
Agricultural biodiversity is the product of the application of the knowledge
and skills used by indigenous peoples, women and men farmers, forest dwellers,
pastoralists and fisherfolk to develop agriculture, livestock production and
aquaculture. It is both a product of agriculture and food production and an
essential component of ecosystems and their sustainability.
Ten years ago, at Rio, there was recognition that agricultural biodiversity
was fast disappearing and that this was contributing to poverty and
environmental degradation. Pat Mooney and Cary Fowler highlighted this in
'TheThreatened Gene' - "We are called to help preserve the diversity
handed down to us. The manner in which we meet this challenge will largely
determine how, or whether, future generations will live on this planet."
10 years later, agricultural biodiversity is still disappearing rapidly. The
effects of industrialised agricultural production threaten in particular,
agricultural biodiversity. Mono-cropping, genetic modification and increasing
restrictions on access to genetic resources diminish agricultural biodiversity.
International action to arrest this decline and restore agricultural
biodiversity has resulted in a Treaty, a Protocol, a Code of Conduct, and
action plans and programmes. In all, ten international
agreements* to preserve agricultural biodiversity have been negotiated
since 1992, an indication of the importance attached by the UN to this issue.
Together these agreements could go some way to arrest the decline in
agricultural biodiversity. However, none of their measures have yet been
effectively implemented and they have, so far, failed to deliver reductions in
losses of agricultural biodiversity.
The WSSD Plan of Implementation should call for immediate implementation of
all the existing agricultural biodiversity instruments and
programmes*. Their combined impact could go some way to restoring the
agricultural biodiversity that preserves the web of life on earth. It should
specifically cite them in both the 'Agriculture' and 'Biodiversity' sections of
the Plan of Implementation.
It is also an opportunity to agree further action in key areas. Governments
- Take immediate action to ratify the Biosafety Protocol and the
International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and
implement these and other existing agreements that concern the conservation,
sustainable use and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of
- Ensure the 'free flow' of agricultural biodiversity without threats of
privatisation through patents, and other intellectual property rights that
restrict access to plant, animal and aquatic genetic resources. Agricultural
biodiversity was developed through the free exchange of seeds and other genetic
resources and is better conserved and utilised through common access
arrangements and the realisation of community, Farmers and traditional Rights.
- Agree a global moratorium on the release of GM crops, livestock, fish and
other aquatic organisms in the form of grain, food, food aid, animal feed,
seeds, embryos, live animals or living organisms, in accordance with the
Precautionary Principle. In particular, implement an immediate ban on the
release into the environment of GM crops in centres of origin and diversity of
those crops, and prohibit the development and use of Genetic Use Restriction
- Prioritise agroecological approaches in agricultural research, development
and extension policies.
- Ensure that existing environmental and agricultural agreements which
preserve agricultural biodiversity have precedence over trade agreements, where
WSSD must rise to the challenge of sustaining the agricultural biodiversity
of the food crops, livestock breeds and aquatic organisms that feed us and
sustain the biosphere.
* 10 AGRICULTURAL BIODIVERSITY AGREEMENTS SINCE 1992
Agenda 21 highlights the importance of the sustainable use of agricultural
biodiversity, and this is echoed in many other agreements developed in
subsequent meetings organised through the Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO),
· FAO Leipzig Global Plan of Action on the Sustainable Use and
Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (1996);
· FAO World Food Summit's Commitment 3 to Sustainable Agriculture
· FAO Global Strategy on Farm Animal Genetic Resources (1997);
· FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (1995);
· Four CBD Decisions on Agricultural Biodiversity (III/11 (1996), IV/6
(1998), V/5 (2000), VI/5 and VI/6 (2002)) which mandate the Programme of Work
on Agricultural Biodiversity, managed by FAO;
· CBD Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000);
· FAO International Seed Treaty (ITPGRFA)(2001).
-- ends --
ERRATUM: The Photo on page 1 of the Briefing has been wrongly credited. It
was not taken by Patrick Mulvany but by William Kaumbuthu, a highly skilled
photographer from Kenya. ITDG extends its sincere apologies to him for this
error. Postcards with this image correctly credited - part of our "Seeds
for Life" series - are available from