Integrating agriculture and conservation

15 September 2012 | Article

The need for the conservation community to engage more directly with agriculture to help boost global food security is firmly on the minds of participants at the IUCN Congress.

Matthew Fielding, Project Manager at the Stockholm Environment Institute noted some interesting discussions on this topic during one of the sessions.

“While debate on this topic is quite limited as there has been very little research done incorporating both sectors, it was clear that the indigenous participants at the Congress had become the specialists in aligning the agricultural and conservation sectors,” says Fielding.

Presentations on agriculture included Peru’s Potato Park and an example of swidden (slash and burn) agriculture from the Philippines, where one seemingly abandoned area actually contained eight different cultivation zones all in one “landscape.”

“It was interesting to see the increasing use of the term “anthropocene” to describe the combination of new environmental factors,” says Fielding. “One idea that stayed with me was about Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and agricultural subsidies in developed countries. There are USD 300 billion in subsidies per year, or just under USD 1 billion per day, given to agriculture. This has created the dysfunctional system we have today. Imagine what indigenous farmers could do with that 1 billion per day if the money was given to them."

A session on agriculture, food security and biodiversity discussed the 70 global agri-food leaders from the business, policy, green and social arenas that were consulted for a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report that exposed unforeseen areas of consensus and possible solutions for the challenges.

Presenters from UNEP, Syngenta, the African Wildlife Foundation and the Keystone Centre outlined the areas of consensus and contention from the report.

“There is no single view within the UN on agriculture,” said Dr. Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Director of Environmental Policy at UNEP. “According to the UN, availability, access, utilization, stability and environmental sustainability are the five pillars of agriculture.”

“One third of Africa is food insecure,” said Andrea Athanas, Senior Program Design Officer for East Africa at the African Wildlife Foundation. “It will be both large and small scale farming that will deliver food security. Food insecurity is driven by degraded land, lack of water, lack of nutritional knowledge, ill health and poor infrastructure. These challenges lead to post-harvest losses and lack of access to capital, market access and transportation.”

Matthew Fielding is also Programme Officer for the Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative (SIANI).