Agricultural biodiversity’s role in the convention on biological diversity 

Biodiversity, by its very essence, is characterised by plenty. It is a brimming reservoir of life, full of diversity and abundance; some of it still unknown to humans, and constantly evolving. Agricultural biodiversity is a very important part of overall biodiversity. The peasant food web has bred 7,000 species of domesticated plant species (with 2.1 million varieties), and maintained 50,000–60,000 crop wild relatives. In contrast, the ‘industrial food chain’ works only 137 crop species, just 16 of which account for 86% of the world’s global food production. Agricultural biodiversity underpins the food system and also provides fibre, feed, fuel, pharmaceuticals, and materials or shelter; it is a vital subset of biodiversity that includes the seeds, breeds, and ecosystems within which food and other goods are grown and harvested by people.

However, agricultural biodiversity’s story at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been one of continuous decline. From an all-important framing of agriculture at the heart of sustainable development, use, equity and conservation in the post-Rio early years of the CBD, agricultural biodiversity has been sidelined, and lost its central place in the Convention. In the failure of the Convention and its Parties to implement policies to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agriculture has been equally neglected.

As negotiations on the Global Biodiversity Framework are ongoing, it is essential that agriculture is brought back centre stage. It needs to be dealt with both as a destructive force, and in its ability to nurture and restore biodiversity. Today’s industrially driven, large scale agriculture and intensive livestock production is identified as the biggest driver of land use change, ecosystem exploitation and destruction, and a significant contributor to climate change. However, agriculture is also a solution: In contrast to industrial agriculture, peasant agriculture and food provision, practiced by the majority of the world’s small-scale farmers, nurtures and safeguards agricultural biodiversity.  

This report explores the importance of agricultural biodiversity as an important contribution to saving biodiversity, as well as the ways in which the CBD and the international community can bring it centre stage to help build a biodiverse and just world.