Biodiversity is one of the 13 principles underpinning the work of the Agroecology Coalition. On the International Day for Biological Diversity, we speak to Martin Oulu, coordinator of our member organization ISFAA (Kenya), about agroecology, biodiversity, and the challenges that the current food system presents in this respect. In this article you will also find relevant resources from WWF and CFAP, Cambodia.

Q: What does your organization do to protect biodiversity and promote agroecology?

ISFAA (Kenya) is the Inter-sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology, and our goal is the transformation of food systems through adoption and upscaling agroecology and conservation of biodiversity. We work for example on policy and law, trying to ensure a legislative framework for agrobiodiversity conservation. We are spearheading the development of a national agroecology strategy to ensure that we will have a more coordinated way of conserving biodiversity and giving incentives to farmers who adopt nature-positive solutions. So far, in Kenya, policies for biodiversity have mainly targeted protected areas, but often we don’t realize that most of biodiversity is outside of protected areas. Another area we work on is seeds sovereignty: we have a national law that criminalizes the selling and exchanging indigenous seeds if they are not certified, but the certification system does not work for indigenous seeds. We hold indigenous seeds and food fare to promote indigenous foods and advocate for more laws protecting these seeds. We also understand that transforming food systems also needs to go through the education system; for this we collaborate with schools and universities to rethink curricula and how they teach agriculture.

Q: Why is it so important to talk about biodiversity in relation to agriculture?

Agriculture depends on biodiversity. For example almost 70% of crops depend on pollinators. By conserving and preserving pollinators, we essentially support 70% of agriculture. Biodiversity is also very important for agriculture in terms of genetic diversity. For this reason, we are very interested in conserving and preserving indigenous seeds, which have lots of diversity and help ensure that our food is diverse, guaranteeing healthy human beings. Healthy soils are also very important, which depend on below-ground biodiversity (earth worms and so on). Still, this is often neglected, and the focus is more on synthetic fertilizers, forgetting that below-ground biodiversity plays a very important role in enhancing soil fertility. Generally, ecosystems services provided by biodiversity are very important for agriculture, be it climate regulation or disease regulation; this is why we promote a lot of integrated pests management that depend on biodiversity to reduce the number of pests that affect crops. Biodiversity and agriculture are very much integrated and interlinked. That’s why ISFAA is the “Inter-sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology”. We see agrobiodiversity as very critical in terms of being the bases upon which agriculture is founded.

Q: What’s the impact of agriculture on biodiversity?

A lot of conventional agricultural practices have had a lot of detrimental effects on biodiversity. This is in terms of biodiversity loss, which is a result of the many chemicals that have been used in agriculture. We also have issues to do with the loss of diversity because we only farm a few crops. If we look at grains, only 3 or 4 major grains are widely cultivated, while the other grains have been neglected. This also contributes hugely to the loss of biodiversity. A lot of the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity are negative. Still, there could also be positive impacts in reducing pollution and enhancing soil fertility by understanding issues of below- ground biodiversity and using organic fertilizers.

Q: What are the main challenges you see towards effective biodiversity conservation and sustainable land use?

There are many challenges: high population density puts much pressure on biodiversity. There’s the challenge of climate change, which is also affecting biodiversity, but is also caused by conventional agriculture. The other challenge is about the pursuit of economic growth and some of the drivers that put pressure on biodiversity, like the need to feed the world, but also the strategies that are pursued to meet that growing food insecurity or food demand. We should also question the practices that are in place for people (and farmers) to adopt practices that are not against biodiversity, and the policies that are there and how seriously we pursue them. Globally we just signed the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework last year, but many of the Aichi targets were not met. There is still a gap in implementation of some of the conventions we have signed on to.

Q: Imagine it’s biodiversity day 2033. What would you hope the food system looks like at that time?

I’d like to see a more natural food system, that mimics nature; a food system that genuinely recognizes the role of biodiversity. I imagine a food system that is in sync with nature, that harnesses synergies between agriculture and nature, and a food system where those who contribute to biodiversity conservation through the principles and practices they adopt are rewarded and incentivized.

Find out more about ISFAA’s work on agroecology:

IFSAA is one of several Agroecology Coalition members working on the relationship between agroecology and biodiversity. Other include:

WWF, the World Wildlife Fund, is committed to explore how agroecological approaches can be implemented at pace and scale in partnership with farming communities, civil society organizations, scientists, as well as public and private sectors to implement agroecological approaches as part of nature-positive food systems, for the benefit of both people and planet.

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The Cambodian Farmer Federation Association of Agricultural Producers (CFAP) works actively to amplify the voices of family farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and many other small-scale farmers in public debate. CFAP also promotes rural work in particular needs, challenges and solutions of rural people that affected by climate change, diseases, and global insecurity and beyond in Cambodia. The also particularly look at the loss of biodiversity and the consequences of this trend on agricultural production and on climate adaptation strategies.