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Daily News Blog

09
Dec

UN Again Calls for Action as Biodiversity Deterioration Worsens Worldwide

(Beyond Pesticides, December 9, 2022) Representatives from more than 195 countries have descended on Montreal for the December 7 start of COP15 — the United Nation’s (UN’s) Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UN Development Programme sets out the context for this summit: “Despite ongoing efforts, biodiversity is deteriorating worldwide, and this decline is projected to worsen with business-as-usual. The loss of biodiversity comes at a great cost for human well-being and the global economy.” Beyond Pesticides has documented many aspects of this decline in biodiversity, and the implications for ecosystem, human, and planetary health. In this COP15 context, the data points to the importance of broad adoption of organic regenerative / agroecological systems, which can very significantly address the interactive health, biodiversity, and climate crises.

Close on the heels of November’s UN COP27 summit on climate, COP15 has commenced, with the goal of adopting a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (CBF) to provide “a strategic vision and a global roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration, and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade.” The first such summit was called the Convention on Biological Diversity and was held in 1993. Out of it and subsequent meetings have come several international agreements — the 2003 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (focused on environmental protection from potential risks of genetically modified organisms), and the 2014 Nagoya Protocol (aimed at sharing benefits of the use of genetic resources in equitable ways), as well as other actions related to environmental integrity, community rights, and rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Prior to that, in 2010 the conference adopted a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity — the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for the 2011–2020 period. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, “[a]t the global level none of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets agreed by Parties to the CBD in 2010 [were] fully achieved.”

Subsequently, CBD focus shifted to the development of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework via the current (through December 19) meetings in Montreal. NGOs, such as Friends of the Earth and the CBD Alliance — the latter a network of civil society organizations — are engaged in the COP15 process. The CBD Alliance has forwarded equity and transparency concerns about that process, as demonstrated in this letter, and has set out its long list of “ingredients” it wants included in a successful COP15 GBF.

Among those is a serious and ambitious focus on the role of agroecological approaches to agriculture (and forestry) operations around the world. Agroecology overlaps broadly with organic regenerative agricultural approaches — for which Beyond Pesticides advocates strongly, and which it has described and explained here, here, and here (at 46:55). Agroecological approaches are generally described as: holistic and diversified; integrating ecological principles into the design and management of food production systems; incorporating social justice and cultural concerns; and embracing of multiple kinds of outputs, as well as spatial and temporal diversification. In addition, they center the health of the soil, the organismic ecosystems beneath the soil surface, and the resultant ability to drawn down and hold carbon.

Such approaches show up “on the ground” in multiple strategies, including crop rotation; no (or very limited) chemical inputs, such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; interplanting and succession planting; use of cover crops; no- or low-tillage (without use of herbicides); and no or few off-farm inputs (and in the former case, typically because crop production is supported by and integrated with maintaining some on-farm livestock). The UN Food and Agriculture Organization provides a primer on the elements of agroecology.

Many organic producers operate according to a majority of these principles, although U.S. organic standards (i.e., U.S. Department of Agriculture Certified Organic) do not mandate use of all the practices described above. Some consider organic farming practices to be roughly synonymous with agroecological practices, but agroecology, as it is practiced in some parts of the world, also attends to the health of forests and their management. (See an illustrative case study, of an agroecological farm in Ethiopia, in an Organic Without Boundaries blog entry.)

According to Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman, U.S. “organic” does not require and codify all of those agroecological features in its National Organic Standards (NOS). But the NOP (National Organic Program) “does have defined standards that are enforceable and subject to public review. Because issues of cost are not factored into producers’ meeting OFPA [the Organic Foods Production Act] standards, and because scale is often based on inputs or practices that are not allowed in organic, the USDA National Organic Program has, embedded in it, standards that are generally not friendly to industrial agriculture. At the same time, with agribusiness pushing for entry into the organic market, we are vigilant in Keeping Organic Strong.” (For more on what is allowed and not allowed in organic production, see the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.)

The global transition to these approaches to agricultural production is imperative. In addition to Beyond Pesticides’ long-standing and ardent endorsement of the transition, The Rodale Institute has studied and advocated for organic systems for decades, and in 2016, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES) issued a report calling for a “paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems.”

In recent years, multiple national and international entities have encouraged the transformation of food and agriculture systems, including aspects of the European Union’s Farm to Fork strategy, and the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, which issued a 2019 report — Our Future in the Land — calling for radical transformation of the UK food and agricultural system to sustainable, agroecological farming by 2030.

In his introduction to Beyond Pesticides’ recent 2022 Forum Series seminar, Tackling the Climate Emergency, Mr. Feldman said, “We [in the U.S.] don’t have to be theoretical about this. We have organic systems in place, governed by a clear definition and requirements for compliance with standards. Under the OFPA in the U.S. (and similar statutes worldwide), those selling products as organic are required to adhere to a legal definition of soil management practices, a list of allowed and prohibited substances, a certification and inspection system that establishes compliance with defined organic standards, and a participatory public decision-making process for continuous improvement. This approach, whether in agriculture or in our parks and playing fields, eliminates the reliance on fossil fuel-based toxic chemicals that release greenhouse gases. It also employs the ability of healthy soil, rich in biodiversity, to draw down atmospheric carbon.”

Seminar speakers emphasized the need for, and evidence of the many benefits of, the critical transition to organic regenerative / agroecological agriculture for rescuing and sustaining biodiversity, health, and climate. One of the seminar presenters was Dr. Rachel Bezner Kerr, PhD, a researcher and expert on sustainable African agriculture, and on climate change adaption, who is also participating in COP15 discussions. (See Dr. Kerr’s presentation at Beyond Pesticides’ climate seminar, beginning at 5:48.)

Dr. Kerr recently Tweeted: “Agroecology is key to ensuring the success of the Global Biodiversity Framework,” and pointed to a recent study of agroecological practices in Ethiopia as demonstrative of their potential benefits. That research paper calls agroecology “key . . . [to] meeting significant increases in our [future] food needs . . . while ensuring no one is left behind. . . . [A]groecology can promote the transition towards social-ecological sustainability. Unlike other approaches to sustainable development, agroecology helps to deliver contextualized solutions to local problems. It is based on bottom-up and territorial processes, involving the co-creation of knowledge, and combining science with the traditional, practical, and local knowledge of producers. It is characterized by its participatory approach,” and enhances farmers’ income, achieves food security, and protects the environment.

A report by another agroecology expert, Faris Ahmed of Carleton University, has been core to the case, pressed by advocates at COP15, to re-center the role of agriculture in recovering and supporting biodiversity, and in the GBF. His report for Friends of the Earth, Replanting Agricultural Biodiversity in the CBD, maintains that “agriculture needs to be dealt with both as a destructive force, and [for] its ability to nurture and restore biodiversity. Today’s industrially driven, large-scale agriculture and intensive livestock production is identified as the biggest driver of land use change, ecosystem exploitation and destruction, and a significant contributor to climate change. However, agriculture is also a solution: in contrast to industrial agriculture, peasant agriculture and food provision, practiced by the majority of the world’s small-scale farmers, nurtures and safeguards agricultural biodiversity.”

Beyond Pesticides concurs. We have recently underscored the benefits of organic practices for biodiversity, drought resilience, climate, farm operation economics, and soil health, and amplified our call for a rapid phase-out of the use of toxic, petrochemical pesticides within a decade — a critical component in progress toward restored biodiversity and health for ecosystems and humans. Mr. Feldman adds, “The agroecology movement is critical. We need a big tent to bring communities together worldwide and eliminate petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers in a short timeframe. At the same time, we need strong domestical and international standards, and governmental systems — with legal requirements and enforcement — that move agriculture to sustainable, agroecological / organic regenerative practices that can restore biodiversity and, simultaneously, address the climate and health crises.”

Source: https://www.foei.org/what-we-do/forests-and-biodiversity/convention-on-biological-diversity/

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

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