Agrobiodiversity – Sustaining Life for The Future
This essay was selected as the best entry among all essays, presentations, poems, and posters based on the theme ‘Building a shared future for all life’ and submitted as part of the International Day for Biological Diversity 2022 celebration organized by the ICRISAT Genebank.
Hunters-gatherers were the first to begin farming in the Fertile Crescent by domesticating wild grains and animals. Then, agriculture spread into different areas at different rates depending upon the congenial climate and fertility of the land. As agriculture evolved, the social, economic, and cultural life took the shape of civilization which led to an increase in population and growth of settlements creating incentives and means to produce more food on more land.
Primitive folk had abundant locally available resources to manage the diverse and complex community ecosystems for living harmoniously with nature. A system of subsistence farming evolved along with the traditional social system. Gradually, the crop management practices started symbolizing new cultural and ritualistic beliefs of the people, and collective social, and traditional knowledge systems evolved with a new language, livelihood, and human relationship, giving rise to new rural communities.
Rural folk started utilizing environmental resources and managed unique landscapes and biodiversity for the welfare of people. These indigenous and traditional farming communities worldwide are the real guardians and curators of agrobiodiversity.
Agrobiodiversity is the lifeline of agriculture. It not only includes farmers’ fields, but also home gardens, forests, grazing, and pastoral landscapes. Agrobiodiversity, if managed sustainably, would make this world free from hunger and malnutrition, through diversified and integrated farming systems.
As technology advanced, the face of agriculture also transformed from primitive, subsistence farming to hi-tech agriculture to feed the rapidly increasing human population. In doing so, ethical and moral values that had evolved and were imbibed during the transformative age of agriculture were eroded and led to a mega diet of monocrops. Meanwhile, farming became an enterprise resulting in the destruction of the agro-ecosystem leading to the loss of habitat for weedy and wild crop relatives, which were acting as a reservoir for novel plant types that are a rich source for minerals and nutrition. Growing more and feeding more has overburdened the agro-ecosystem, which led to the gradual loss of foods we love. It took thousands of years to evolve and what we eat and what we grow today is the outcome of a series of decisions our ancestors made.
No country is self-sustaining, we need to feed each other, and we need to respect each other’s socio-cultural values and ethics to protect and conserve our rich heritage of agro-biodiversity.
Irrespective of our diverse food habits or where we lived, all of us clearly remember that our diet is not the same as what it used to be. The erosion of agrobiodiversity exacerbated the vulnerability of rural and semi-urban people’s livelihood, not only what we eat and how we eat, impacting global food security. On farm-management of biodiversity and diversification of production systems with improved crop, soil and water management practices with enhanced inter and intra-species diversity not only sounds like a resilient model to mitigate global climate change but also guarantees food security to marginalized, poor, and smallholder farmers in resource-poor regions.
To protect and conserve our rich agrobiodiversity, the initiative should be at the community level by restoring watersheds, reintroducing traditional crop varieties fitting into agroforestry, multistorey and multi-cropping systems, in-situ conservation of species diversity, and evolution of the continually adapted population. Food sovereignty should be the slogan to protect natural resources, reorganize food trade, and end hunger to foster democratic peace and prosperity for the privileged as well as the under-privileged population of the world.
About the author
Vinod Kumar, Senior Scientific Officer