Biodiversity world tour event at Nagoya Japan –save forest for nature by working from the ground up not top-down

GMO Pundit participated in a session running in parallel with the conference of parties (COP) biodiversity discussions that occurred last week in Nagoya, Japan. He had an opportunity to frame some points to make to the delegates who are interested in conserving biodiversity, an issue the Pundit is passionate about too. He does worry that global approaches to conserving natural biodiversity may miss out on encouraging some of the most effective but not necessarily obvious pathways to long-term preservation of nature.


In his opinion we should focus on ensuring farming operations preserve nature by working from the ground up, rather than working top down by making global rules about biodiversity.

At the Nagoya session he had the opportunity to express some of these views, (see video of session here http://www.biodiversityworldtour.com/category/events/) but now he is home from the conference that he is taking the opportunity to amplify them here at GMO Pundit.

GMO Pundit thinks we could gain from the old and well-known aphorism of Rene Dubos — think globally but act locally. This catch-phrase is really relevant to how we can think about the global biodiversity issue in a more effective way. The big global issues of biodiversity are extremely important but we need to act locally at the farm level to devise policies can be successful in practice and also benefit local community welfare and people.

The way the Pundit sees it, thinking locally involves evaluating and  addressing the root causes of threats to biodiversity from farm operations.

These root causes can be spelt out as
rural poverty
poor farmer nutrition,
lack of access to land
lack of access to education especially for women
and lack of access to better technologies.

Thus the Pundit’s view is that it’s important that in all the thinking we do globally about biodiversity that we don’t compromise our opportunities to have an impact on the root causes of the damage to biodiversity that could come from farm operations.

Progress on changing these challenges such as rural poverty land access and poor rural nutrition is necessarily long-term but in his opinion is absolutely necessarily if were going to achieve global protection of biodiversity. It seems to him that  local farmer level changes are a necessary first step to achieve preservation of forest biodiversity. The connections of all of these issues listed in the above dotpoints to biodiversity are numerous and complex but they are well established and well discussed by many agricultural economists and human development specialists, for example the scholars at the International Food Policy Research Institute. But there is one central way they all help biodiversity, which is that they enable farmers to produce more food on less land and thus save forests for nature

The Pundit’s personal view is that there are lots of opportunities where access to better technology to help former poorer farmers in the developing world but he does also recognise that this is sometimes characterised as an overemphasis on food production issues, and as a  failure to take into account that access to food involves other issues apart from the amount of food produced, such as access and entitlement to food as eloquently mapped out by the economist Amartya Sen.

But it’s sometimes forgotten that farm output and farmer income and good nutrition for farmers families, farm productivity, and the ability of farmers to afford education for the children are all interlinked so that is not possible to separate out access to new technology from the many other factors that influence rural welfare. And so that an emphasis on ensuring access to technology is in fact addressing many of the aspects of elimination of poverty and malnutrition which are necessary steps to ensuring that enough land is left for nature and for biodiversity protection free from forest and wilderness clearing.

The Pundit thinks to understand what to do to preserve biodiversity and to give us hope we should go over some of the real success stories or tangible success possibilities that illustrate that technology can substantially change rural poverty. Three success stories  which the Pundit is very excited about are:

  • Example 1. The successes with revitalisation of maize farming in Malawi driven by economist Jeffrey Sachs and various collaborators particularly those from the United Nations which have produced an economic transformation in that country,
  • Example 2. The wonderful benefits to Indian cotton farmers have accrued from them taking on commercially produced seeds which is yielded more than $1.8 billion worth of extra farmer income,
  • Example 3. The potentially massive benefits from biofortified rice and wheat from countries such as the SubSahara region of Africa and Southeast Asia which Australian economist Kym Anderson has estimated to amount to several billions of dollars of actual welfare benefits per year. One of the key messages from Kym Anderson’s assessments is better nutrition is a key factor in holding back the productivity of rural workers. This link between technology health and quality of life underlines the fact that discussions about farm output, and protecting biodiversity withh small real farm land footprints are not just about output of food and biodiversity, they’re about the quality of people’s lives.
David Tribe

Written by David Tribe

David Tribe’s research career in academia and industry has covered molecular genetics, biochemistry, microbial evolution and biotechnology. He has over 60 publications and patents. Dr. Tribe's recent activities focus on agricultural policy and food risk management. He teaches graduate programs in food science and risk management as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, University of Melbourne.

8 comments

  1. Proponents of biodiversity are, in the main, dishonest, unscrupulous hucksters. I would hesitate to support anything with the word ‘biodiversity’ in it, no matter how truthful and accurate it might be.

  2. I just do not comprehend your anti-biodiversity stance. Whether we’re talking about genetic diversity, diversity in crop species, or diversity of wildlife on farms, it’s win win win. Genetic diversity within a crop provides disease resistance, ability to respond to stress, etc. Diversity in crop species provides a varied diet that’s more likely to provide a well rounded diet as well as reducing pest pressure from selective pests. Wildlife diversity provides ecosystem services from pollination to control of pests. Even if all you care about is what humans can get out of something, biodiversity serves humans well.

  3. Anastasia,
    Advocates of biodiversity are actually not in favor of biodiversity. They are, instead, opponents of modern agriculture who use biodiversity as an excuse for attacking whatever you might imagine.
    Biodiversificationists complain incessantly about what they call ‘green concrete’, i.e., corn or soybeans with reliable maturation, weed-free, etc. And about globalization. And about the lack of including a feminist perspective. And about giant corporations. And about the evils of AmeriKKKa. And the notion of ‘arable weeds’. Of course, the more weeds in a field, the more biodiverse it is.
    Many of the most recent biodiversificationists are taking that line because global warming is less remunerative than it used to be. They move from scare to scare, it’s an industry.
    Farmers have been combating biodiversity since the advent of agriculture. No weeds, no off-types, etc. Biodiversity proponents are modern troglodytes.

  4. Going to have to disagree on that one. Maybe it has gotten a bit buzzwordy, and sure there are people who get too much into it, like those who act as if the economies of scale and other benefits you’d see in a large monocultured field doen’t exist, and yeah, there are those who like to hitch their asinine cause to the name of biodiversity (like those guys who, somehow, think that genetically modifying a plant somehow decreases biodiversity….that doesn’t even make sense), but that’s no reason to dismiss the whole thing. Don’t lump that idea in with other ideas certain groups try to cling to. To use an analogy, naturopathy is certainty bollocks, but despite the support given by naturopathy’s advocates, the importance of eating right and exercising are not made less valid by association. Biodiversity and the the people I think you’re talking about have the same relationship.
    I think there’s plenty of reasons to look at the hundreds of other species of edible potential crops out there, and all the varied and unique varieties of conventional ones. A disease that strongly affects Cavendish bananas might only slightly affect a Blue Java banana, or something that hits Russet Burbank potatoes really hard might not be too bad on a Mountain Rose. Not sure how those varieties rate on disease resistance, but you get the idea.And of course, if you substitute in a different species like, say, guajilote or malanga, then you’re much more likely to weather any disease. Kinda like how you don’t want your retirement all in one stock, you want to be diversified. And the same principle applies for other things, like choosing crops better suited for one’s environment. Like instead of heavily irrigating tomatoes, maybe one could grow kutjera.
    Heck, wars have been fought over getting access to what we would now call diverse crops, just ask the Dutch East India Company 🙂 Besides, it’s always nice to have some variety; imagine a world without crops that would have once been considered ‘biodiverse’ like sunflower seeds, pecans, sweet potato, vanilla, mango, pineapples, blueberries, or turkey. If history had played out differently, I might be asking what the things would be like without lard nut, monkey puzzle nut, chufa, luohan guo, kepel,’ōhelo, goji, or armadillo. Sorghum or quinoa could be as big as corn or wheat, and I think they still can be. Given time.
    Ever had a mayapple? They’re delicious. Or go try some lychees if you haven’t, they’re something of a biodiverse crop, and I for one thing that they’re the best darned things in the world. To think that there are hundreds of plants like that, plants that have not yet been brought to their full potential, that could one day be part of the greater food supply, that, I think, really is something else. Even without any agricultural or economic benefit, that, I would argue, is more than enough reason to support biodiverse crop research.
    Course, I’m using the word to mean what it means. You might be much more right in cases where ‘biodiverse’ is being used as a euphemism for ‘low yield, inefficient, and without modern science,’ and if that’s what you were meaning, then, uh, disregard this post 🙂

  5. Great points! I particularly like the naturopathy example.
    Maybe Eric does mean to grump against biodiversity as in primitive-organic-by-default and not as in what scientists mean when they say biodiversity. I’l certainly join him in grumping about the 1st kind! Ideology + half understood science = fail when it comes to biodiversity.

  6. Speaking of advocates of biodiversity…
    Big ag are opponents of modern Ag
    I’m all for biodiversity – I think it’s a great thing – in its place (I don’t think a crop field should be particularly biodiverse in a given season – perhaps across seasons, although I’d prefer it to maintain an output as high as possible sacrificing biodiversity in the vicinity to promote biodiversity elsewhere (places freed from cropping by the productivity of a single field)) – you can’t tar everyone who is for biodiversity with the same brush – the bulk of my lecturers at university (in the biological sciences at least, the chemists and statisticians didn’t tend to offer their opinion) were advocates of biodiversity – none of them, as far as I am aware, were modern troglodytes (I recall them roundly mocking the British obsession at the time of demonizing GMOs)
    If you redefine biodiversity then I guess perhaps you have a point, otherwise not so much – your target is too broad and includes people on both sides of the debate.

  7. I credit the timely appearance of “The Compact” (which sounds very orwellian or something – fluffy nomenclature not a strength of big-ag apparently) news on our internal website – took utterly no work whatsoever on my part.

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