Promoting Crop Diversity and Protecting Indigenous Farmers’ Rights

Promoting Crop Diversity and Protecting Indigenous Farmers’ Rights

Farmers’ rights (meaning the rights of smallholder and family farmers to save, use exchange and sell farm-saved seeds and propagating material; protect their traditional knowledge, innovations, and practices; participate in legislative decision-making; and benefit from the use of seeds and associated knowledge) are crucial for the conservation of plant genetic resources as the raw material for food, nutritional security, and crop genetic improvement.

The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) actively supports the implementation of farmers’ rights at local and national levels, and into international policies and research programs. Technical and legal support is given to the Latin American and African Region (Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Malawi); and soon will be offered to other countries in the Near East and Asia.

Stakeholders in GFAR have worked through collective actions to realize the value of crop diversity for smallholder producers. The Association of Agricultural Research Institutions in the Near East and North Africa (AARINENA) supported the implementation of the Regional Near East North Africa Plant Genetic Resources (NENA PGR) Strategy, and established a regional network for promoting the conservation and use of medicinal and herbal plants in NENA region.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), in partnership with other GFAR stakeholders including the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Bioversity International, addressed these issues and ways of directly enhancing South-South cooperation through a consultation, among participants from 32 countries, on the Use and Management of Agrobiodiversity for Sustainable Food Security. The meeting identified a range of policy and practical requirements to improve the management and use of agrobiodiversity. The FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO RAP) and APAARI also jointly organized a Regional Expert Consultation on Promotion of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

GFAR commissioned, through GlobalHort, a study to document the importance of under-utilized plants and crops for achieving agro-ecosystem sustainability in addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This report was used to make the case for Development Opportunity Crops (DOCs) at the CGIAR Science Forum in Beijing. This movement took a new form as the Diversity for Development (D4D) alliance at a new meeting in FAO, in January 2012.

The FAO reports that crop diversity is imperative to global food security. The world’s food supply has become reliant on an increasingly narrow selection of crops, particularly rice, wheat, maize, and potatoes. In addition, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) has found that the average global diet has become increasingly homogenized over the last five decades, as the agricultural sector focuses its efforts on dominant crops at the expense of regional crop varieties. The study suggests that reliance on a few food crops may accelerate a global rise in obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Using wild and regional crops on a global scale will help alleviate these problems.

Understanding the status of the diversity of local crops and their wild relatives on farms and in wild areas and how they are used and managed by men and women is a priority research task also for Bioversity International, in collaboration with other CGIAR national partners, in order for these resources to be effectively and efficiently valued, used, and conserved.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture’s (ITPGRA) National Programs on Plant Genetic Resources in Latin America (CAPFITOGEN) program has released a set of technical tools that will be used by conservationists in Latin America to promote and sustain regional crop diversity as a means of achieving food security.

These tools reduce the time and effort needed for the staff of national conservation programs and institutions to implement and utilize georgraphic mapping and information systems in their conservation programs. Thus far, there have been two workshops promoting these tools and training users: the first in Bogota, Colombia in March 2013 and the second in Florianópolis, Brazil in May 2014.

Each tool is designed to enable users to master tasks that previously required expert knowledge of computer programming to complete. For example, the ITPGRA's Multilateral System places 64 of the world's most important crops, or 80 percent of the plant-derived food supply, into a global database that can be used by individual countries to diversify their crops. However, the database is only available to countries that have adopted ITPGRA’s treaty, which ensures that this information is distributed fairly and complies with international laws. All system users consent to use the materials exclusively for research, breeding, and training for food and agricultural purposes, not for proprietary purposes.

According to the ITPGRA, "The conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture is key to ensuring that the world will produce enough food to feed its growing population in the future."