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• 20•08•2002 •

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ITDG Briefing for WSSD on Agricultural Biodiversity

Get Acrobat Reader "Preserving the Web of Life". Full text as PDF file

Preparatory meeting on Agricultural Biodiversity

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 integrity.

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 of crops.

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).


ITDG briefing for WSSD

[Full Text]


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 must:

  • 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 agricultural biodiversity.
  • 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 Technologies.
  • 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 these conflict.

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.

--ends --


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), for example:

· 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 (1996);

· 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 ITDG.

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