Agrobiodiversity off-site session at the Resilience 2014 conference

Participants to the agrobiodiversity off-site session at Resilience 2014/Photo: Sarah Doornbos

From 4-8 May 2014, the French node of the Resilience Alliance (CIRAD – CNRS – IRSTEA- INRA), Agropolis International and their partners of the campus of Montpellier, organized the third Resilience conference, in Montpellier, France.

Building on the highly successful conferences in Stockholm (2008) and in Phoenix (2011), Resilience 2014 provided a platform to explore and reinforce the multiple links between resilience thinking and development issues. The conference was attended by 900 participants from research institutes, government and practice from all over the world.

Agrobiodiversity off-site session

Off-site sessions were organized on the first day of the conference, to stimulate discussions between researchers, practitioners and local stakeholders in a relevant setting. These sessions provided an opportunity for dialogue while highlighting the application of resilience research in a variety of social-ecological systems surrounding Montpellier.

The Agrobiodiversity off-site session was organized by CIRAD and the Hivos-OxfamNovib agrobiodiversity@knowledged programme in Restinclières, the oldest and most documented agroforestry experiment in Europe. The idea for this session emerged from a warm-up scientific event in March 2013: “Biodiversity and Resilience of Agroecosystems” coordinated by Bioversity International.

Agrobiodiversity is more than genetic resources and includes the diversity of agricultural ecosystems shaped by human activity over millennia. The conservation and promotion of agrobiodiversity increasingly depends on the empowerment of local communities to sustainably manage heterogeneous landscape mosaics for greater resilience. During a short field trip, the 40 participants got to know each other and learned about the role of biodiversity in an integrated socio-ecological agroforestry landscape. John Walsh (Les Ecologistes de l’Euzière, NGO) set the scene for the session by sharing his experience with participatory science projects as a way to defend biodiversity and enhance resilience in the Restinclières.

Following the field trip, two sub-sessions chaired by Didier Bazile (CIRAD) addressed the role of institutions and civil society to defend and promote agrobiodiversity for resilient agricultural landscapes.

Spare Me, Share Me

Harnessing biodiversity’s contribution to resilience in agricultural landscapes can be elusive due to trade-offs between production and conservation objectives. These trade-offs play a key role in “land-sparing” versus “land-sharing” approaches: either the separation or integration of agricultural and natural ecosystems. Emmanuel Torquebiau (CIRAD) et al. provided the context for the first sub-session that explored how the value of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes can be harnessed and trade-offs reduced, while transforming landscapes. Two cases from South Africa and Chile illustrated the role of scales, stakeholders and institutions. Scale affects the risk associated with different land-use scenarios. Land sharing for agriculture, biodiversity and increased resilience is possible, but it requires stakeholder coordination and commitment and new institutional arrangements.

Marion Desquilbet (INRA) et al. evaluated how agricultural markets affect the outcomes for biodiversity of land sharing and land sparing scenarios, using bio-economic models. By incorporating the dynamics between supply, demand and prices, they demonstrated the benefits of a land sharing approach for biodiversity under certain scenarios when demand reacts to prices.

Cibele Queiroz (Stockholm Resilience Center) et al. focused on socio-ecological shifts in agricultural landscapes with farmland abandonment as a driver of threats and opportunities for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Insights from a case study in Portugal were combined with an analysis of 276 published reports of impacts of abandonment across world regions. This showed that with good management, both farmland and forests can bring benefits for species richness, functional diversity and ecosystem services.

From Framework to Farm work

The resilience lens offers an interesting perspective on the dynamics that lead to adaptation, change and transformation in complex socio-ecological systems. The second sub-session explored the relevance of resilience thinking in analyzing the potential of agricultural biodiversity for positive change in agriculture and the factors that contribute to the adoption of practices and their scale-up to a complete transformation of agricultural systems or landscapes.

Sara Elfstrand (Swedbio/Stockholm Resilience Center) analyzed the knowledge constraints to releasing the potential of agricultural biodiversity for resilient farming systems. Knowledge constraints were identified based on an extensive literature study and stakeholder survey. This showed that there is need to both generate new knowledge (e.g. to understand processes of change and transformation) as well as improve knowledge flows (e.g. between researchers, practitioners and policy makers).

Sarah Doornbos (Hivos-OxfamNovib) discussed the different entry points for change towards biodiversity-based farming systems and the role of civil society. Local and informal sector initiatives can catalyze change through in- en ex-situ conservation of agricultural biodiversity, participatory breeding, marketing and exchange of seeds and diverse food, training and knowledge sharing, lobby and advocacy.

Ramanjaneyulu (Center for Sustainable Agriculture) shared his experience of scaling up sustainable agriculture in India. In three years’ time, the programme scaled up from 225 acres in one district to 7000 acres in 18 districts. Key factors for success included working at different scales and through various entry points, providing multiple incentives, investing in learning and knowledge sharing, fostering community ownership and building strategic partnerships with government.

Insights and conclusions

The agrobiodiversity session aimed to bring together researchers and practitioners from different regions in the world to explore what is needed to harness agricultural biodiversity for resilient agricultural landscapes. Important insights emerged from the presentations, the ensuing discussion and the reflections provided by Louise Jackson (University of California).

  • Interventions to enhance agrobiodiversity should target crop and livestock germplasm, but also biodiversity related to pest management and soil functioning, and diversity at the farm and landscape level.
  • Landscape mosaics can be multi-functional and multi-purpose, supporting both biodiversity as well as production. There is a need to move away from the polarizing terminology and argumentation in the land sharing versus land sparing debate.
  • For resilient farming systems, agricultural biodiversity needs to be both spared and shared.
  • We need to build on human and social capital together with the natural capital of agrobiodiversity. New terminlogy is needed that recognizes that it is human decisions and interactions that determine outcomes for biodiversity and resilience.
  • Bottom up needs to meet top down – local and context specific grassroots efforts to enhance agrobiodiversity need to be supported by appropriate policies.
  • Participatory research is needed to connect researchers and practitioners from different regions and backgrounds. Civil-society actors can act as bridges between different knowledge paradigms and levels of intervention.
  • Collective action is needed across all scales, local to regional to global.
  • Our theories are stuck and we are re-hashing old paradigms – we need new theories that are informed by the practical reality of today.
  • Just do it – don’t wait for research and policy to catch on!