EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Linking Agriculture and Biodiversity Can Help Feed the Planet

Jun 14, 2013 5:30 AM ET

By Emile A. Frison, Julia Marton-Lefèvre  and Kanayo F. Nwanze

(Emile A. Frison is Director General of Bioversity International, Julia Marton-Lefèvre is Director General of IUCN, and Kanayo F. Nwanze is President of IFAD.)

Agricultural biodiversity is the basis of our life on Earth. It is also the basis of healthy and resilient ecosystems. Yet it is under threat. Biodiversity provides more options for dietary diversity, can help smallholder farmers grow more food and earn more income, while protecting the natural resource base upon which their—and our—lives depend. It is time to redesign farms as productive, healthy, resilient ecosystems that conserve diversity within a broad landscape that provides food.

 Conserving biodiversity makes nutritional, ecological and economic sense. Targeted development projects can leverage these benefits to reduce hunger and poverty. For example, ancient grains high in quality proteins and rich in micronutrients such as quinoa and finger millets have been grown for generations, but in some places farmers were struggling to conserve and use these grains because there were limited markets. From 2001 to 2010, an international effort supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and coordinated by Bioversity International in Bolivia, Peru and India helped to enhance the sustainable conservation and use of such underutilized species, in order to unlock their potential value for income generation and nutrition.

Bioversity International and its national and local partners researched high-yielding Andean grain varieties, reintroduced lost species, ensured a wide diversity of genetic resources were preserved in seed banks, and introduced technologies to process grains for markets. The result was not only improved livelihoods but enhancement of cultural identity for communities.

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