Asean raises need for ‘agrobiodiversity’

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RAISING awareness on the importance of agricultural biodiversity or agrobiodiversity for sustainable development and food security was the basic concern at the recently held Regional Workshop on Agrobiodiversity at Maejo University (MJU) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Gil Saguiguit Jr., head of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), said there is a lack of clear and adequate articulation of agrobiodiversity in existing regional and national policy frameworks and programs for agriculture or biodiversity, despite its essential links to food systems and nutrition, and its importance to local livelihoods.

The workshop was held on September 12-14 and was participated in by 70 individuals from environment and agriculture ministries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member-states, selected universities across the region, research organizations, non-government organizations and development partners.

It was a partnership among the Philippine government-hosted SEARCA, Asean Center for Biodiversity (ACB) and MJU, of which agriculture and rural development are the focus of SEARCA and MJU, and biodiversity for ACB.

Saguiguit said that while others assert the crucial link between gender, capacity-building and the local knowledge systems and their relevance to sustainable development, there are initiatives on the ground from which significant lessons can be learned.

He said these initiatives are traditional ecological knowledge and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity, the integration of agrobiodiversity into local development programs and related initiatives for building capacities of communities and governments, and the integration of conservation of plant genetic diversity with landscape-level planning and decentralized government programming.

“These are challenges and opportunities that provide impetus for the development of a regional action plan on agrobiodiversity mainstreaming, conservation and sustainable use,” Saguiguit said.

The participants have also identified and discussed strategic action points along the four elements of the Convention on Biological Diversity program of work, namely assessments, adaptive management tweaked to innovations and best practices for purposes of the workshop, capacity-building and mainstreaming.

“Their output, with fine-tuning, fleshing out, and further general processing, would serve as inputs to the regional action plan. There is yet much work to be done. However, this workshop is the important first step towards a strategic plan of action,” Saguiguit said.

In his keynote paper, SEARCA Senior Fellow Percy Sajise stressed the importance of agrobiodiversity as a basic element of sustainable development, emphasizing its multi-functionality, serving as link to productivity and resilience of ecosystems; buffer for climate change; and basic foundation for food security, human health and ecosystems services.

His recommendations to mainstream biodiversity in agriculture were as follows: documentation of good practices in deploying and managing agrobiodiversity in Asean; research on the “hidden values” of agrobiodiversity, and sustained and properly valued agrobiodiversity services; developing a regional agrobiodiversity database; and networking of seed banks at the community, national and regional levels to better respond to disasters and climate change for food and nutrition security.

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