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Scientific strategy

© IRD Jean-Pierre Raffaillac

 

Introduction

Ecosystem services are crucial in agriculture. Agrobiodiversity plays an important role in the provisioning services, i.e. production of foods, fuels, and fibres. Biodiversity in agriculture also provides cultural services that form key elements of the agricultural knowledge base, and define spiritual and aesthetic values for human societies. It also serves important functions that enhance the environmental resource base upon which agriculture depends via regulating and supporting services such as water purification, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, natural pest control, and soil formation.

Population growth, changes in food demand, conversion to modern, high-input agriculture, land-use changes, and the globalisation of agricultural markets have caused rapid loss of agricultural and wildland biodiversity. These changes have created a dichotomy between agriculturalists and conservation biologists (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005) that should imperatively be resolved in order to conserve biodiversity and maintain its potential to benefit agriculture and sustain the Earth’s life-support system.

In the economist’s approach, agricultural landscapes are part of our natural capital, and the flow of services that they provide is the ‘interest’ on that capital. Just as investors choose a portfolio of produced capital to maintain the return on capital over a range of market risks, so society needs to choose the mix of genes, species, communities, and ecosystems to maintain the flow of ecosystem services over a range of environmental and social risks. This requires understanding the risk implications of changes in that mix that will help to design adequate strategies for agricultural management and conservation biology in order to maintain an ecologically acceptable level of biological diversity, while addressing problems of poverty and food insecurity.

Science is not in a position to offer adequate support to decision makers, because it has not yet addressed these tradeoffs between food production, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services, and human well-being in agricultural landscapes. It does not account either for the large variation in biophysical and socio-economic settings under which agriculture is practiced.

agroBIODIVERSITY aims at inspiring and facilitating a new generation of research on this topic. This science agenda recognises that a fundamentally new approach to the science and management of agricultural landscapes is needed and that agricultural landscapes need to be considered as systems providing a range of services in addition to food, fuel, and fibres.

The research activities of agroBIODIVERSITY span the continuum from basic to applied research across eight benchmark agricultural landscapes across the globe (more on Implementation activities). They include adaptive land management in collaboration with local stakeholders, and represent different levels of agricultural intensification and a wide range of socio-economic conditions.

 

Scientific Strategy

agroBIODIVERSITY aims to establish the scientific basis needed to address the trade-offs between food production, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services, and human well-being in agricultural landscapes. This objective frames the agroBIODIVERSITY Scientific Strategy (Jackson et al. 2005 (pdf); Poster ) organised in three key research foci that integrate the biological and social sciences.

Focus 1. Determining the drivers of biodiversity change in agricultural landscapes

Agricultural intensification has led to an enormous loss of genetic diversity, major shifts in species communities, toxicological impacts on biota, and habitat loss. agroBIODIVERSITY assesses, measures, and monitors the biodiversity that is of high priority to production and sustainability of agricultural systems and develops information about the diversity that is most at risk to target taxa and situations that are in greatest need of conservation.

Focus 2. Understanding social-ecological factors in agricultural landscapes to assess sustainable management options

Focus 2 addresses how biodiversity influences agricultural processes in ways that can be managed to support the process of sustainable development in agriculture. agroBIODIVERSITY uses an ecosystem approach, both scientific and practitioner (including indigenous) knowledge in farmer-scientist participatory research and integrate biological and social science research across small and large spatial scales to address this question.

Focus 3. Exploring integrated social-ecological scenarios for the sustainable use of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes

Understanding the intertwined role of cultural (e.g., ethnicity, gender roles), economic (e.g., incentives offered by market prices and transfers), demographic and institutional factors behind changes in agrobiodiversity presents a major challenge, especially that theses changes are increasingly affected by externalities from the world's food production system. agroBIODIVERSITY uses interdisciplinary research to identify the institutional, market, and policy reforms needed to induce agriculturalists and other users of agroecosystem goods and services to take account of the social costs of their actions.

 

Transition to Future Earth

The agroBIODIVERSITY network is preparing its transition to Future Earth with a lot of energy and ideas. In 2013, the network has been taking an active role in developing a positioning paper as a kernel to their Science Plan. The paper will focus on food systems and measurement indicators to evaluate these systems.

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