Saturday, May 23, 2015
The role of biological diversity in sustainable development
22 May 2015 – As the post-2015 development agenda emerges, this year's theme for International Day of Biological Diversity reflects the importance of biodiversity in achieving sustainable development. Smallholder farmers in rural areas of developing countries produce much of the food in the developing world, and given that food availability needs to increase by 60-70 per cent by 2050, in the future we will depend on them to produce even more. Biodiversity plays a vital role in smallholder farmer food production systems and contributes to increased crop yields and incomes, maintaining healthy ecosystems, mitigating climate change, and securing sustainable livelihoods and access to clean and safe water.
Restoring the Niger Delta's natural biodiversity
Since 2001, IFAD has been working in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to deliver important environmental and socio-economic benefits to rural women and men across the developing world. In regions such as the Inner Niger Delta, in Mali, this partnership has helped revive the area's natural biodiversity and improve nutrition and food security for rural people in the surrounding areas.
One of the largest inner deltas in the world, with a unique ecosystem, the Inner Niger Delta was considerably affected by a number of socio-economic and environmental problems including land and soils degradation, dwindling fisheries and unpredictable water resource flows.
A native grass found along the river and in ponds and lakes, known as bourgou has changed all that, however. Bourgou once covered vast areas of the region and provided a rich breeding ground for fish. But due to droughts, overgrazing, competition with agricultural crops and the increasingly intensive harvesting of bourgou for sale, its presence had dwindled considerably. However, as a result of the joint IFAD-GEF project Fonds de développement en zone sahélienne – also known as FODESA – the return of bourgou pastures has had a major impact on the environment's biodiversity. Plant, bird and particularly fish species have reappeared.
Through the IFAD-GEF programme, participants have learned how to cultivate, dry and store bourgou. The grain is eaten by locals while bourgou grasses are used as livestock feed. The results have been impressive. Project participants have reported increased fish catches and livestock productivity, greater volumes of more nutritious milk, improved incomes from the sale of fish, meat and milk, and a drop in the proportion of households experiencing hungry periods.
The supply of bourgou is now enough to allow participants to sell and earn income during the pre-harvest period where they were unable to before. Furthermore, the warehouse and machine to compact the bourgou – obtained through the programme – enable them to store and sell it later when it can fetch higher prices. Incomes have improved. In fact, revenues from the cultivation of bourgou have increased substantially. For women, this has translated into greater economic power and status in their homes and has helped them address household food security issues and nutritional needs.
Biodiversity stops pests
In another IFAD grant-funded project known as Improving Productivity and Resilience for the Rural Poor through Enhanced Use of Crop Varietal Diversity in Integrated Production and Pest
Management, biodiversity is being used to reduce the impact of pests and disease and thus increase yields. Implemented by Bioversity International in China, Ecuador, Morocco and Uganda, the global programme is co-sponsored by IFAD, GEF, the European Commission (EC), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
Although intercropping to prevent pests and disease is nothing new, findings indicate that planting different varieties of the same crop in mixtures can have the same effect. In fact, they found that mixing varieties resistant to certain pests and diseases with those that are more susceptible significantly reduces the incidence of the particular disease or pest. Trials using different varieties of beans and bananas have produced consistent results. For instance, Ugandan farmers who used different banana varieties reported a 75 per cent decrease in the rate that banana weevil attacks increase over the cropping season.
Tapping into the diversity of traditional varieties of crops also brings additional benefits. In Uganda, many farmers prefer to grow traditional varieties because they taste better and are more suitable to local preferences for cooking and eating. For this reason, traditional varieties can fetch considerably higher prices. Also, given that different varieties have various maturation times, farmers can plant varieties that mature at different times, thus guaranteeing food security and a stable income throughout the year.
As the experiment in mixing varieties continues, IFAD and its partners are working to improve access to and awareness of traditional resistant varieties and how they can improve yields. The experience of IFAD and its partners, whether in Uganda or the Inner Nile Delta, demonstrates the integral role preserving biological diversity plays in sustainable development and increasing the resilience of food production systems.