Reflections from the Wednesday parallel session on “Reconciling food security and biodiversity conservation in farming landscapes”

I am honestly stoked for this session as I brought some heavy baggage (please do take that literally, I have a flight to catch immediately after) from my graduation project around sustainable food production. Research generally tells us that food security is improving overall, while biodiversity is decreasing rapidly, and reconciling the two is a hard match. There are two clusters within this research; a biophysical-technological cluster focusing mostly on increasing production with sustainable intensification, and a social-political cluster focusing on aspects such as food sovereignty and biodiversity. Today, speakers with different perspectives and disciplinary backgrounds were brought together to overcome the usual conceptual barriers and biases. So much will be said that I am left with the challenge of giving you the speedy version of speed talks without falling into a telegraph. So let’s just delve into what key message the speakers taught me:

Line Gordon from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, started the plea. The way consumers make decisions is very much shaped by the context they live in. Globally, we went from many local, small-scale food systems to an industry with fewer but larger players, high connectivity through global trade, less transparency and a decoupling of producers and consumers. This new food situation has important implications for biodiversity. Gordon states we need a changed value system that makes producers and consumers act as biosphere stewards. She proposes gastronomy as a way into the search for positivity in the transition to sustainable food production taking biodiversity conservation into account.

From Teja Tscharntke from Göttingen University, Germany, I learned that fostering biodiversity conservation within agriculture requires a different approach depending on the level you are looking at. At a local level, we should minimize agrochemical input and develop adapted crop diversification in small fields. At a landscape level, we should combine land sharing with land sparing in a multifunctional landscape. Globally, we should focus on adapted, small-scale solutions for smallholder farms, they are the backbone of global food security.

Kristoffer Hylander from Stockholm University, Sweden, addressed some interesting myths and truths with his case study in Ethiopia, such as the very common statement in policy documents: “There is a positive synergy between promoting ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation and vice versa”. In Ethiopia, there are definitely synergies but also trade-offs in promoting biodiversity conservation. Many species are rare cases, and may actually not contribute to the farmers agricultural activities. Land use change, and mostly agriculture, is threatening wild biodiversity so we should understand the drivers of deforestation. However, we should acknowledge the trade-offs of biodiversity conservation as well as the unique biodiversity present in farming systems, so that we don’t fall into naïve conclusions that are actually not true.

Roseline Remans from Bioversity International presented a case-study that counters the common belief that market access increases dietary diversity. In her case-study, she found a positive relationship between households living closer to the forest and dietary diversity. This is not because of use of the forest products as you would be tempted to think, but rather because of their successful home gardens, and finally, the secret of shit. There is a higher plant diversity in gardens closer to the forest, and their livestock thrives better because of the access to the forest for feeding. This gives them more livestock products and manure, and ultimately, a more biodiverse production system in their home gardens. Remans proposes to add a nutrition dimension to conserving biodiversity, and agrees with Hylander that real monitoring of agricultural and natural biodiversity is a key research priority.

Jahi Chappell from United Kingdom Washington State University, argued that we have to acknowledge that science is often evidence-based, and once the evidence is there, it is put into the policy production cycle. However, what is the evidence that evidence is important and do scientists see that policy making doesn’t necessarily work the way they would like to? There are so many gratifying misconceptions out there, that may lead to bad results, bringing in the food production paradigm that more productivity is the way to food security, while so many other important factors are left aside. Good ideas may lead to bad results, and you have to remember that you are working with real communities, asking them to change often without reciprocity. Instead, scientists should get highly social, work with communities as other people and contribute themselves, to avoid citations becoming a source of oppression.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Elke Markey is a former Master’s student from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where she earned a degree in Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development. Her roots lie in political science and in Belgium, where she gained another Master’s degree in Comparative and International Politics from KU Leuven University. To complete these endeavours, she packed her backpack for field work on forest governance in the Amazon region as well as on food systems in South Africa.


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