Sustaining Local Food Systems, Agricultural Biodiversity and Livelihoods

- a project of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

The decentralised management of agricultural biodiversity by farmers and their communities is increasingly seen as a prerequisite for sustaining food systems, livelihoods and environments. ( The term “farmers” is used here to include people who grow crops and harvest tree products as well as those who work with livestock such as pastoralists and fisher people.)

For example, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity call for the “Mobilization of farming communities, including indigenous and local communities, for the development, maintenance and use of their knowledge and practices in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the agricultural sector” and encourage countries “to set up and maintain local level forums for farmers, researchers, extension workers and other stakeholders to evolve genuine partnerships.” (COP CBD Decision III/11, 1996). Moreover, the “ecosystem approach” endorsed by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity stresses that management should be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level and that the objectives of management are “a matter of societal choice”. Both cultural and biological diversity are viewed as central to the ecosystem approach, which emphasises greater responsibility, ownership, accountability, participation and use of local knowledge (COP CBD V/6, May 2000).

Although the international community does emphasise the need to involve farming and local communities more centrally in the management of agricultural biodiversity, there are huge gaps in knowledge and institutional constraints that limit national capacities to scale up these approaches. In order to help fill these gaps, this research seeks to analyse how and under what conditions can decentralised governance, farmer participation and capacity building promote the adaptive management of agricultural biodiversity in the context of localised food systems and livelihoods.

This collaborative action research is informed by the following concepts and shifts in understanding:

  • Multiple functions of agricultural biodiversity.
  • A livelihoods focus.
  • Adaptive ecosystem management.
  • A rights based approach.


The overall objectives of the action research are to:

  • Identify forms of decentralised governance, co-management agreements, markets and property right institutions that can sustain agricultural biodiversity and livelihoods in the context of localised food systems and rural economies
  • Identify ways of strengthening the capacities of farmers and other actors, including producer organisations and local fora, for the adaptive management of agricultural biodiversity so as to increase their benefits, and promote awareness and responsible action by producer organisations, agro-enterprises and policy makers
  • Identify and develop indicators (social, ecological, economicā€¦) to analyse the dynamic links between livelihoods and agricultural biodiversity, with a special emphasis on the indicators used in local adaptive management and local definitions of well being, equity and culture
  • Develop and apply Participatory Assessment Methodologies for comprehensive valuations of agricultural biodiversity and the various systems (livelihoods, food systems, rural developmentā€¦) in which local biodiversity is embedded
  • Identify and recommend effective policies and processes based on the research findings that may be used to build capacities and institutionalise the adaptive management of agricultural biodiversity in the context of localised food systems and rural economies.

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