Four Things You Should Know about Agricultural Biodiversity
by Emily McLendon, ABC Gardener-Writer
Agricultural biodiversity refers to the variety of life in our world that nurtures people in some way, and exists in the genetic resources of fish, forests, plants, and animals. The diversity of creatures and organisms in this world is vast, and it is upon this variation that complex ecosystems are built, with each organism holding a specific role in supporting its environment.
Today, Earth is experiencing a biological meltdown, as genetic resources are disappearing at an alarming rate. Crop diversity is diminishing, tropical forests are shrinking, marine fisheries are collapsing, and soil is being depleted. Without these life-supporting forces, our species will soon be defenseless against issues that are already taking place, such as global food insecurity, human diseases, and environmental dangers.
As we move forward in teaching younger generations about the world and creating policies to manage it, here are a few things you should know about agricultural biodiversity:
(1) We cannot conserve the world’s biodiversity without conserving the world’s human diversity.
Traditional knowledge of indigenous people and farming communities holds the information necessary to survive oncoming health and environmental threats. Life in these communities are based on ecological and awareness, and people who live in these areas hold vast knowledge about the plants and animals upon which their culture is built. In our Western world, we mostly interact with these people through the pharmaceutical industry, when representatives are sent into indigenous communities to extract this knowledge for the innovation of drugs. The problem is, when an indigenous culture’s knowledge us used for pharmaceutical innovation, the community is then often exploited in during production of the drug. Monoculture is suddenly encouraged to increase production of one piece of traditional knowledge, while other culture diminishes and, eventually, disappears. In order to conserve the world’s biodiversity, we must nurture the human diversity that protects and sustains it.
(2) We must prioritize the needs and capabilities of farming and indigenous communities.
Many areas that are so often characterized as “resource poor” are remarkably rich in plant and animal diversity, and in traditional knowledge. Because of their perceived resource poverty, these areas were most susceptible to the Green Revolution’s approach to agriculture: promoting quantity over quality with an emphasis on monoculture. This tactic has destroyed traditional farming culture and, along with it, the traditional knowledge and reservoirs of carefully selected plant and animal diversity. In order to support existing traces of traditional knowledge, we must make the needs and experiences of farming communities central in the creation of food security policies.
(3) We need to combine the traditional knowledge of farmers and indigenous people worldwide with scientific innovation.
The success of our global food security will reflect the biodiversity we conserve and support, which means we must make traditional knowledge conservation from all nations a priority. Innovative approaches combining international cooperation and scientific innovation will be necessary to protect the traditional knowledge remaining today. Biodiversity conservation is not a national issue, but a global necessity.
(4) Agricultural biodiversity must be approached as an interconnected a whole rather than independent parts.
Historically, policy-making bodies have approached issues of agricultural biodiversity in fragments, launching action plans that focus on solving one part—forests, animals, plants, or fish—of the issue. We must move forward by creating plans that target agricultural biodiversity as a whole, we must teach awareness to younger generations of our earth’s interconnections, and we must begin soon.
In the Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation (ABC) project at Berry College, we are committed to providing opportunities for students to support and understand the value and necessity of maintaining agricultural biodiversity.
First, we practice traditional farming methods, and support the farmers behind them. Our plants are grown chemical-free, from saved seeds, in untilled beds. We seek connections with farmers and gardeners and maintain relationships with them through seedswaps and garden workdays. These connections are vital to the success of the ABC project, and allow us to protect traditional knowledge maintained by these people.
Second, we value the needs and experiences of farming communities. The ABC project teaches students that order to support existing traces of traditional knowledge, we must make the needs and experiences of farming communities central in the creation of food security policies.
Third, the ABC project teaches global conservation from a local scale, imparting that biodiversity conservation is a global issue that must be confronted within each individual community. This means we are committed to preserving traditional knowledge present in our own community, and recognizing its global implications.
And fourth, the ABC project approaches agricultural biodiversity conservation holistically, rather than in sections. One example of this integrated approach is the use of chickens, rabbits, and worms at Dogwood Gardens, providing a complete cycle that nurtures both plant and animal life.
As a species, we humans must recognize that the genetic variation we are steadily obliterating is the very thing that can save us from the coming age of global food insecurity, human diseases, and environmental dangers caused by our recent behavior. By understanding the value of traditional knowledge, the interconnectedness of life on Earth, and our necessary role as the stewards of both, we can change the course ahead. We must respond to this knowledge by voting for policies that center on these truths, and teaching our children to value earth’s life-giving forces as they are.