Using Agro-Biodiversity for Food Security and Combating Climate Change

Jun 27, 2013

Ethiopia’s versatile and widely recognised agro-biodiversity resource is still largely threated and has not been fully harnessed to contribute to the country’s economic development.

This was the subject of discussion at a national workshop held in the town of Adama on the 27th of June 2013 under the theme Identification of Gaps and Formulation of Recommendation on Policies and Institutional Frameworks for Mainstreaming Agro-Biodiversity into the Agricultural Production Systems of Ethiopia.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation hosted the workshop as a means for promoting multi-stakeholder dialogue across the various sectors. Representatives from the Ministry of Trade, Environmental Protection Authority and Investment Authority took part in the workshop. Close to 80 participants from the various regions, key government offices and community based organisations met to identify gaps and to formulate recommendations on policies and institutional frameworks for mainstreaming agro-biodiversity into the different sectors.

The problem is that there is very little in economic theory on the use of underutilized species to boost conservation and economic development simultaneously,” noted H.E. Sileshi Getahun, State Minister for Sustainable Land Management at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Ethiopia is recognized as a centre of agro-biodiversity that harbours important gene pools of cultivated crops and wild crop relatives. Ethiopia’s indigenous landraces are also highly prized for their potential value as sources of important traits for crop improvement, food sources and a risk-aversion strategy against crop failure. Forest coffee, teff, durum wheat and enset are all important crops with a vast potential of driving both sustainable and economic development in Ethiopia.

It is believed that the potential of these wild varieties can be further unleashed by encouraging their production, distribution and marketing. The initiative to brand Ethiopian forest Arabica coffee and work on agro-businesses is said to have shown the first glimpse of the magnitude of this untapped potential.

Mainstreaming agro-biodiversity  relates to agricultural practices and sustainable land management and also calls for a strong engagement and clear commitment of a number of other key stakeholders.

The government of Ethiopia believes that agricultural-led development can co-exist with, and complement, agro-biodiversity if policies and programs supporting agro-biodiversity conservation are locally informed and properly designed.

The country is already stepping up efforts to tackle these root causes and to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem objectives into multiple sectors;  promote more sustainable production practices that maintain land and water ecosystem services; and conserve biodiversity.

UNDP has partnered with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to support the Ministry of Agriculture and Institute of Biodiversity Conservation in their effort to advocate for on-site conservation of agro-biodiversity and cultivation of wild crops; create markets that provide incentives for farmers to take up agro-biodiversity friendly practices; and promote cultivation methods that ensure conservation of wild crop relatives and farmer varieties.

Highlighting the importance of the work currently being undertaken, Ms. Bettina Woll, the Deputy Country Director of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), highlighted that, “Integrating biodiversity and ecosystem management into development planning can help to safeguard biodiversity and maintain ecosystem services that sustain human wellbeing.”

A study identifying policy gaps and overlaps of institutional mandates in mainstreaming agro-biodiversity was commissioned by the government of Ethiopia and its findings and recommendations, presented at the workshop, suggest ways forward for the country.

The study discusses the need for revisiting and amending potential overlaps and gaps amongst the different institutions that are aiming to address climate change and to take agro-biodiversity into account. Its recommendations include: building processes for stronger community empowerment;  creating wider awareness of the value of agro-biodiversity and usage of wild farmers varieties;  clarifying mandates of the various institutions working on agro-biodiversity;  elaborating the linkage between food security and agro-biodiversity and presenting them as complementary when tackling climate change; and strengthening the institutional capacity through improved coordination and training of staff.

Participants at the workshop discussed and underlined the need to update the document and include the recently revised institutional arrangements and mandates. They also decided to revisit the document with a smaller group of key stakeholders and to further discuss both the way forward and constraints in mainstreaming agro-biodiversity as well as continuing the collaboration amongst all stakeholders. The conversation served as a vehicle to strengthen the commitment of several ministries to review and revamp the institutional arrangements for mainstreaming agro-biodiversity.

Wubua Mekonnen

GEF Program Analyst, Climate Resilient Green Growth Unit, UNDP Ethiopia

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