Agricultural biodiversity, or the genetic resources for food and agriculture, is the result of the interaction between the environment, genetic resources, and management systems and practices used by culturally diverse peoples. It encompasses the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are necessary for sustaining key functions of the agro-ecosystem, including its structure and processes for, and in support of, food production and food security (Sajise, 2015). It comprises the diversity of genetic resources (varieties, breeds) and species used for food, fodder, fibre, fuel and pharmaceuticals. It also includes the diversity of non-harvested species that support production (soil micro-organisms, predators, pollinators), and those in the wider environment that support agroecosystems (agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic) as well as the diversity of the agro-ecosystems (FAO, 1999a). Local knowledge and culture are also considered as integral parts of agrobiodiversity, because it is the human activity of agriculture that shapes and conserves this biodiversity.
Southeast Asia is home to many of the world’s most important crops such as mango, banana, and coconut, as well as a wealth of crop-wild relatives (Sajise, 2015). It has several major agro-ecosystems that include crop-based production areas such as rice, corn, vegetables, palm oil plantations, banana, pineapple, to name a few. Hence, the more that agro-ecosystems and its underlying agro-biodiversity should be conserved for crop production to be sustainable and food security to be achieved.
The Aichi Biodiversity Targets specify some targets for food and agriculture, such as Targets 4 (Achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption); 7 (Areas under agriculture (and aquaculture and forestry) are managed sustainably; 13 (Genetic diversity maintained and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding genetic diversity); and 18 (Traditional knowledge, innovations and practices and customary use of biological resources, respected and fully integrated and reflected in implementation).
In the ASEAN region, striking a balance between increasing food production for its significantly increasing population while conserving the rich biodiversity and the ecosystem services essential to agriculture remains to be a big challenge. There exists an inevitable competition between demands on agriculture and pressure on biodiversity. Current threats to agricultural biodiversity include the decline of pollinator species and populations; genetic erosion due to the use of high-yielding varieties and breeds to increase production; expansion of agricultural area versus encroachment of other habitats; conversion of agricultural lands; climate change impacts; and invasive alien species competing with agricultural crops.
A balancing act between producing more food in the region while consciously protecting agricultural biodiversity is therefore needed. ASEAN Member States have been implementing various programmes addressing these, such as reinforcing ex-situ conservation and the practice of agro-ecological farming systems, and these should be further promoted and incorporated into public awareness campaigns to showcase good practices. Crucial information about these practices as well as technical information and data about agricultural genetic resources should be made readily available and accessible. A region-wide programme on regionally important agro-ecological heritage systems is also proposed, in line with the ASEAN Heritage Parks programme of ACB. This regional programme is being proposed to address the growing recognition and need to conserve and protect such agricultural heritage systems distinct to ASEAN countries, and that which is proven to be sustainable in spite of the increasing modernization of agricultural production. Although still in the conceptual stage, the proposed ASEAN Regionally Important Agro-Ecological Heritage Systems (ARIAHS) in the ASEAN will be closely linked and integrated with the ASEAN Heritage Parks. The criteria for such will be patterned after the FAO Global criteria and the UN-CBD Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Sites (GIAHS), modified in a way as to be adapted to the region and incorporating the AHP criteria.
All Ex-situ and In-situ conservation recommendations mentioned above should be supported by strong regional policies that will balance the demands on agriculture and the pressures on agrobiodiversity, taking into account financial incentives and capacity building activities; championing the best practices of custodian farmers; supporting the ARIAHS; and helping farmers adapt to changing climates.
Reference: Sajise, Percy E. 2015. Empowering Communities and Countries to Conserve Biodiversity at the National and ASEAN Levels: Status, Challenges, and Ways Forward. ERIA – DP – 2015 – 81
Programme Specialist for Conservation Policy and Research
The first Regional Workshop on Agrobiodiversity opened on 12 September 2017 at Maejo University, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The event was jointly organized by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), and Maejo University. The workshop was made possible with financial assistance from the Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN (BCAMP) Project of the European Union (EU) and technical support from Nagoya University, International Center for Tropical Agriculture, World Agroforestry Center, and Bioversity International.