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

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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.
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David Tribe is an applied geneticist, teaching graduate/undergrad courses in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne.