Agricultural Biodiversity

Why is it Important?

Biodiversity and agriculture are strongly interdependent

Biodiversity is the basis of agriculture. It has enabled farming systems to evolve ever since agriculture was first developed some 10,000 years ago. Biodiversity is the origin of all species of crops and domesticated livestock and the variety within them. It is also the foundation of ecosystem services essential to sustain agriculture and human well-being. Today's crop and livestock biodiversity are the result of many thousands years of human intervention.

Biodiversity and agriculture are strongly interrelated because while biodiversity is critical for agriculture, agriculture can also contribute to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Indeed, sustainable agriculture both promotes and is enhanced by biodiversity. Maintenance of this biodiversity is essential for the sustainable production of food and other agricultural products and the benefits these provide to humanity, including food security, nutrition and livelihoods.

Importance of agricultural biodiversity

Biodiversity is essential to:
  • ensure the production of food, fibre, fuel, fodder...
  • maintain other ecosystem services
  • allow adaptation to changing conditions - including climate change
  • and sustain rural peoples' livelihoods

Agricultural biodiversity provides humans with food and raw materials for goods - such as cotton for clothing, wood for shelter and fuel, plants and roots for medicines, and materials for biofuels - and with incomes and livelihoods, including those derived from subsistence farming. Agricultural biodiversity also performs ecosystem services such as soil and water conservation, maintenance of soil fertility and biota, and pollination, all of which are essential to human survival. In addition, genetic diversity of agricultural biodiversity provides species with the ability to adapt to changing environment and evolve, by increasing their tolerance to frost, high temperature, drought and water-logging, as well as their resistance to particular diseases, pests and parasites for example. This is particularly important regarding climate change. The evolution of biodiversity, and therefore both its and our survival, mainly depends on this genetic diversity.

The importance of agricultural biodiversity encompasses socio-cultural, economic and environmental elements. All domesticated crops and animals result from human management of biodiversity, which is constantly responding to new challenges to maintain and increase productivity under constantly varying conditions.

Special nature of agricultural biodiversity

The Conference of the Parties has recognized "the special nature of agricultural biodiversity, its distinctive features, and problems needing distinctive solutions" (COP decision V/5, appendix). Indeed, several features set agricultural biodiversity apart other components of biodiversity:
  • Agricultural biodiversity is essential to satisfy basic human needs for food and livelihood security.
  • Agricultural biodiversity has been - and is still - shaped and developed through human activities and practices over generations. Farmers’ communities play a key role as custodians and managers of agricultural biodiversity. This is why local and traditional knowledge and culture are considered as integral parts of agricultural biodiversity management.
  • Because of the degree of human management, conservation of agricultural biodiversity in production systems is inherently linked to sustainable use.
  • Nonetheless, much agricultural biodiversity is now conserved ex situ in gene banks or breeders' materials.
  • For crops and domestic animals, diversity within species is at least as important as diversity between species and has been greatly expanded through agriculture.
  • Many farming systems are based on alien crop species introduced from elsewhere; this creates a high degree of interdependence between countries for the genetic resources for food and agriculture.
  • The interaction between the environment, genetic resources and management practices that occurs in situ within agro-ecosystems often contributes to maintaining a dynamic portfolio of agricultural biodiversity.