Biodiversity loss and climate change pose a real threat to our agri-food systems
The piece has been authored by Konda Chavva, officer-in-charge, FAO Representation in India
The agri-food systems across the world face twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change. Urgent responses are needed to protect the agrobiodiversity for food and nutrition security, and to climate-proof livelihoods, especially of the marginalised and vulnerable communities.
Biodiversity, whether at the level of genetic, species or ecosystem, strengthens the capacity of smallholder farmers, livestock keepers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, fishers and fish farmers to produce food and a range of other goods and services in a vast variety of different environments. It increases resilience to shocks and stresses, provides opportunities to adapt production systems to emerging challenges, such as those posed by climate change. For instance, India is mindful of the importance of mangrove ecosystems and their biodiversity in supporting coastal fisheries and hence the livelihoods of local rural communities . This also finds mention in FAO’s First Report on The State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture released in 2019 highlighting the extent of the problem of biodiversity loss.
At the intergovernmental level, at the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), the first draft of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) has been developed. The framework’s theory of change assumes that transformative actions are taken to deploy solutions to reduce threats to biodiversity. It reiterates the need for action that biodiversity is used sustainably in order to meet people’s needs. The aim of the GBF is to put the world on a path to reach the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. Target 10 of the GBF Target emphasises the need to ensure that all areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, in particular
through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, increasing the productivity and resilience of these production systems.
Agrobiodiversity in India is under threat. Agrobiodiversity includes the diversity and variability of plants, animals, microorganisms and in situ and ex situ conservation of genetic resources linked with agriculture. Genetic erosion in agricultural biodiversity results due to homogenisation/intensification of agricultural systems, specialisation, of plant and animal breeders, and increasing levels of genetic vulnerability of specialised crops and livestock. Modern monoculture agriculture reduces inter-cropping resulting in the loss of several traditional varieties that were grown interspersed with the main crop for soil fertility. The challenge is to sustain agricultural biodiversity necessary for agriculture and to mitigate negative impacts of agricultural systems and practices.
Loss of habitats and overexploitation have led to depletion of genetic diversity of several wild animals and cultivated plants. The number of crop varieties grown under different agro-ecosystems has severely declined in recent decades reducing agrobiodiversity in diverse farming systems. Shrinking genetic diversity has led to more vulnerability to diseases and pests and lesser adaptability to environmental changes. The loss of biodiversity threatens the capacity of eco-systems used for agri-food systems to sequester carbon and reduces the options available for modifying production systems in the light of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
FAO’s Regional Conference for the Asia and the Pacific Region 36th session (APRC36) to be held in March 2022, also emphasises the need to strengthen the climate resilience of agrifood systems. Climate change and associated severe weather, droughts, fires, pests, and diseases are already threatening agri-food systems across the world. According to IPCC projections increase in climatic variability will exacerbate seasonal/annual fluctuations in agricultural production. The loss of farm revenue due to extreme temperatures and rainfall shocks is estimated to be 12% for monsoon (kharif) and 6% for winter (rabi) crops with more impacts on non-irrigated systems. Similarly, extreme temperatures caused a farm revenue loss of 4% during kharif and 5% during rabi (The Economic Survey, 2018). Productivity is expected to decrease for about half of fisheries worldwide as a result of climate change impacts on stock productivity and on fish migration patterns.
At the COP26 of the UNFCCC, Governments agreed on the need to continue working on Agriculture under the Convention process with a view to adopting a decision at COP27 to be held in 2022. At COP26, 45 governments pledged urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming, and 95 high profile companies from a range of sectors commit to being ‘Nature Positive’, agreeing to work towards halting and reversing the decline of nature by 2030. Agrifood systems have to be made not simply ‘Nature Postive, but ‘Biodiversity Positive’ too. Twenty six countries, including India, set out new commitments to change their agricultural policies to become more sustainable and less polluting, and to invest in the science needed for sustainable agriculture and for protecting food supplies against climate change; these are laid out in two Action Agendas.
Together both climate change and biodiversity loss continue to adversely affect farm incomes and nutrition and food security. Decisive actions to address both can ensure the sustainability of our agri-food systems.
(The study has been authored by Konda Chavva, officer-in-charge, FAO Representation in India)