Hivos International


This report reflects on the results of a three years knowledge programme of Hivos, Oxfam Novib, civil society organisations and academics from around the world. It reveals stories of change - changes within people and changes within the programmes of their organisations - related to agricultural biodiversity.   

Biodiversity is the cornerstone of our very existence. Also in agricultural systems, biodiversity plays an important role in providing important goods and services to farmers, for example in crop pollination and maintenance of soil fertility. In coffee cultivation systems, layers of shade trees used to be very common. Shade trees play a key role in providing timber and fruits, storing carbon, maintaining a favourable microclimate, and harbouring biodiversity. Nevertheless, coffee farmers across the tropics have often removed these shade trees, in search of higher coffee productivity.

The knowledge programme supported the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS) in India to conduct a pilot study on nutritional and therapeutic properties of indigenous paddy varieties. The project yielded insights into the integration of diverse knowledge sources as an innovative approach to promote the conservation, development and use of agricultural biodiversity and its potential for scaling up.

Ideas seem to happen to us. Like the flashing light bulb in a cartoon. The intention behind this paper is to explore how new ideas that exist outside the mainstream discussions about development can be brought into its narrative and influence its course. And, how food in general, and agricultural biodiversity in particular, can help facilitate this process.

India has a great and rich diversity of folk knowledge and there are over four thousand ethnic communities in India who have a deep knowledge and understanding of the properties of natural products particularly plants with which they live in close communion. However, while tribals and local communities continue to have a knowledge of some of these properties and use them in a limited manner there has been no effort for a thorough or systematic study of this area namely the traditional knowledge and understanding of the nutritional and therapeutic properties of traditional varieties of plant

Mapping Agrocultural Biodiversity Initiatives

Agricultural biodiversity truly is a global public good. The variety and variability plants, animals and micro-organisms, developed and managed by farmers over generations, forms the basis of our food system and the cornerstone of food and nutrition security, climate change adaptation and sustainable rural livelihoods. A growing body of evidence indicates that the single-minded focus on production that fuelled the drive for large scale monocultures has produced a food system that isn’t future proof. The ongoing homogenisation of crops, livestock and farming systems renders the industrial agri-food system prone to changes in both the natural as well as the socio-economic environment. There is growing recognition that agricultural biodiversity and the associated knowledge and practice of smallholder farmers, are essential for resilient food systems. Yet for the first time in human history, the last century has seen a dramatic decrease in agricultural biodiversity.

Worldmap Agrocultural Biodiversity Initiatives

Making the case for agricultural biodiversity and biodiversity-based farming systems requires a robust evidence base. Although collections of case studies exist, there is no overview of the actors involved and the scale at which locally driven transformation is occurring. A mapping of agrobiodiversity initiatives was developed, presenting a global overview of local and informal-sector initiatives that support conservation, development and use of agricultural biodiversity for resilient farming systems and sustainable livelihoods. The publication builds on initiatives from the agricultural biodiversity community and beyond and features a map and case studies to support the narrative of the different local and informal sector entry points for global change.

In addition to the two-page columns issued in the Farming Matters magazine of the past two years, the joint Hivos and Oxfam Novib agrobiodiversity @ knowledged programme has co-produced the recently released issue of Farming Matters on agricultural biodiversity. The issue looks at initiatives that promote and enhance the use, management and conservation of agricultural biodiversity, and at the insights gained from the efforts to scale up these experiences. 

The experience of Peruvian organizations of civil society in the struggle against the entry of living modified organisms -in this document interchangeably called GMOs or transgenic, clearly stands out in Latin America. Transgenic crops have expanded greatly in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, even in the Bolivia of Evo Morales.

From 1-5 October 2014, 41 change makers from the growing agricultural biodiversity community came together in the Netherlands for the fourth abc meeting. Participants included farmers, pastoralists, practitioners and scientists and came from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America (Annex 1).