Vegetables at the Kandal market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Agrobiodiversity Ensuring food security through agricultural biodiversity

Agrobiodiversity is an important area of biodiversity, encompassing the numerous agriculturally used plant and animal species and agro-ecological systems. Agrobiodiversity plays a key part in ensuring healthy and varied nutrition, especially in the developing countries.

A large gene pool makes it easier for agriculture to adapt to global environmental changes such as climate change and desertification. Large genetic diversity also increases the likelihood of there being a sufficient number of plant and animal species that are able to withstand situations such as lengthy periods of heat and drought.

Agrobiodiversity is also becoming increasingly important in industry in areas such as the production of foodstuffs and of plant-based raw materials for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, building materials and renewable energy generation.

Species loss in agriculture

There were once large numbers of regional crop varieties and farm animal breeds, but this diversity has been declining sharply for more than a century. In the industrialised countries this process occurred primarily in the 20th century. The trend in those countries has now slowed, but the process of loss continues unchecked in developing and emerging countries.

The reasons for the loss of species diversity in agriculture are varied and complex. The main culprit is modern agriculture itself, which has made a major contribution to the loss of agricultural diversity through the intensification, rationalisation and specialisation of production. Other important factors that have played a part in the loss of species and varieties are the introduction of genetically modified varieties, the lack of economic incentives to conserve biodiversity and the progressive privatisation of genetic resources.

German activities Promoting agrobiodiversity and rural development

Potato varieties at a market in Cusco, Peru

Potato varieties at a market in Cusco, Peru

Potato varieties at a market in Cusco, Peru

German development cooperation promotes the conservation of agricultural diversity and rural resources through numerous measures in the area of rural development – measures in which agro-ecological elements and a focus on local eating habits and regional cycles are important principles. For example, rural communities in partner countries are helped to use traditional methods of farming and livestock breeding that are adapted to local conditions. Such methods are usually environmentally friendly and also accessible for poorer sections of the community.

In addition, the rights of farmers to conserve, propagate and sow their local seed are being strengthened. Small farms, in particular, receive assistance with plant breeding and seed production.

Germany works to ensure access to land

German development cooperation works to ensure equitable access to land and its natural resources – especially for marginalised groups such as women, smallholder families and indigenous groups – since this is vital for the sustainable economic, ecological and social development of rural areas.

Support is provided to partner countries to enable them to create the necessary conditions for a responsible policy on land. A key reference framework in this area is provided by the Voluntary Guidelines (External link) on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Germany is pressing for the guidelines to be enshrined in international processes and initiatives.

Supporting seed banks and knowledge transfer

Germany is the largest donor to the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust (External link)), which was founded in 2004 by the FAO and the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The trust fund aims to help seed banks preserve global seed diversity and thus contribute to sustainable agriculture and long-term food security.

As well as promoting agricultural diversity, German development cooperation also supports knowledge of the value and use of traditional food plants in a sustainable and healthy diet. For example, activities such as cookery demonstrations with local foods and the creation of biodiverse home gardens encourage diversity on the plate.