Knowledge Exchange Program Addresses Threats to Agricultural Biodiversity

From foodtank.com, by Emma Tozer
Knowledge Exchange Program Addresses Threats to Agricultural Biodiversity

Modern agricultural practices, particularly intensification of food production systems, threaten agricultural biodiversity, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Motivated by the importance of agricultural biodiversity in supporting smallholder farmers and sustainable food production systems, Hivos and Oxfam Novib partnered to run a program called Agrobiodiversity@Knowledged (A@K), facilitates international and intercultural knowledge flow. A@K also strove to gain perspectives on the challenges of scaling up and broader transformation for agricultural biodiversity. Healthy food production systems require biodiversity to bolster climate change resilience, sustain ecosystem services, support rural livelihoods, and benefit food, fiber, fuel, and fodder production. “The diversity of knowledge,” a report published in December 2015, chronicles the experiences of this knowledge exchange program, which ran between 2012 and 2015. 

A@K included civil society organizations and academics from around the world including the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment, the Stockholm Resilience Center, and the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement. The program’s operations were divided into three main working groups: open source seed systems, policy influence, and resilience. To develop the program, Hivos and Oxfam Novib provided various communication mediums for participants, including four annual meetings, smaller strategy meetings, a digital discussion group, and specialized Hivos and Oxfam Novib webpages.

"The diversity of knowledge" was published at the conclusion of the program and provides a reflection of insights and experiences gained from A@K. The document contains interviews with twelve global members of A@K, who are also referred to as the Agricultural Biodiversity Community (ABC). Willy Douma, who works with Hivos and helped to initiate A@K, elaborates in one interview that “our efforts mainly went into building a community…During this process, mutual appreciation among ABC members started to grow, and we realized that forming part of a knowledge network not only benefits our knowledge but also means that we belong to a platform that supports us in our respective struggles and advocacy.”

According to the report, the ABC members were integral to “co-create and broker knowledge to catalyze a transformation towards biodiverse, resilient, and just food systems.”

The report indicates several unique instances of knowledge sharing within the ABC, while providing a behind-the-scenes coverage of the members’ collaborative efforts to further agricultural biodiversity initiatives. In some cases, the knowledge-sharing network allowed for the enhancement of organizations’ operations. In one reported interview with Maryleen Micheni, who represents the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association in Kenya, she describes such an instance. During one of the annual A@K meetings, representatives from PELUM Kenya learned of a youth incubation program used by another organization, called Green Net. Inspired by the program, PELUM Kenya developed a similar market incubation initiative with Kenyan youth.

Similarly, Michael Commons, representing Green Net and Earth Net, reports learning—via the ABC—of an Evolutionary Plant Breeding (EPB) model used by the Center for Sustainable Development in Iran, which allowed farmers access to biodiversity in a short amount of time. Through this model, farmers’ crops became better adapted to climate change. Inspired by the EPB model, Commons took this experience and is now looking to integrate a similar style into his work.

The twelve interviews document numerous experiences of knowledge exchange, as well as experiences of intercultural communications and challenges of the program. One such future challenge, as explained by Commons, is the need to include more youth and Latin American members in the ABC. Although A@K has come to an end, numerous interviewees expressed hopes of continuing and expanding the network. As told by Elizabeth Katushabe, a farmer and member of the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa, “I think we recognize that the members have effectively become a community and fostered a spirit of working and learning together. We are now trying to find a way of continuing in that spirit.”