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Agrobiodiversity

Integrating Knowledge for a Sustainable Future

Edited by Karl S. Zimmerer and Stef de Haan

Published by MIT Press Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-262-03868-3

1 -Integrating Agrobiodiversity Knowledge for a Sustainable Future - PDF

Karl S. Zimmerer, Stef de Haan, and Julia R. Lupp

Evolutionary Ecology, Agroecology, Conservation, and Cultural Interactions

2 - Crop Evolutionary Agroecology: Genetic and Functional Dimensions of Agrobiodiversity and Associated Knowledge - Abstract

Kristin L. Mercer, Yves Vigouroux, Nora P. Castañeda-Álvarez, Stef de Haan, Robert J. Hijmans, Christian Leclerc, Doyle McKey, and Steven J. Vanek

3 - How Does Population Genetics Contribute to an Understanding of the Evolution of Agrobiodiversity? - Abstract - PDF

Yves Vigouroux, Christian Leclerc, and Stef de Haan

4 - Crop and Varietal Diversity Impacts on Agroecosystem Function and Resilience - Abstract - PDF

Steven J. Vanek

5 - Spatial Analysis for Crop Genetic Resources Conservation: Selected Approaches for In and Ex Situ Efforts - Abstract

Nora P. Castañeda-Álvarez, Robert J. Hijmans, and Stef de Haan

Global Change and Socioecological Interactions

6 - Socioecological Interactions amid Global Change - Abstract - PDF

Conny J. M. Almekinders, Glenn Davis Stone, Marci Baranski, Judith A. Carney, Jan Hanspach, Vijesh V. Krishna, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Jacob van Etten, and Karl S. Zimmerer

7 - How Do Climate and Agrobiodiversity Interact? - Abstract

Jacob van Etten

8 - How Do Global Demographic and Spatial Changes Interact with Agrobiodiversity? - Abstract - PDF

Karl S. Zimmerer and Judith A. Carney

From Food and Human Diets to Nutrition, Health, and Disease

9 - Agrobiodiversity and Feeding the World: More of the Same Will Result in More of the Same - Abstract

Anna Herforth, Timothy Johns, Hilary M. Creed-Kanashiro, Andrew D. Jones, Colin K. Khoury, Timothy Lang, Patrick Maundu, Bronwen Powell, and Victoria Reyes-García

10 - Agricultural Biodiversity and Diets: Evidence, Indicators, and Next Steps - Abstract - PDF

Andrew D. Jones, Gina Kennedy, Jessica E. Raneri, Teresa Borelli, Danny Hunter, and Hilary M. Creed-Kanashiro

11 - Exploring Pathways to Link Agrobiodiversity and Human Health - Abstract

Victoria Reyes-García and Petra Benyei

Governance, Including Policy, Cultural, and Economic Frameworks

12 - Indigenous Agrobiodiversity and Governance - Abstract - PDF

Gabriel Nemogá

13 - Seeding Relations: Placemaking through Ecological, Social, and Political Networks as a Basis for Agrobiodiversity Governance - Abstract

Guntra A. Aistara

14 - The Governance of Agrobiodiversity - Abstract - PDF

Bert Visser, Stephen B. Brush, Guntra A. Aistara, Regine Andersen, Matthias Jäger, Gabriel Nemogá, Martina Padmanabhan, and Stephen G. Sherwood

15 - How Have Markets Affected the Governance of Agrobiodiversity? - Abstract

Matthias Jäger, Irene van Loosen, and Alessandra Giuliani

16 - Bibliography - PDF

Agrobiodiversity supports agriculture globally and is used and stewarded worldwide by farming communities that possess traditional knowledge about their crops. This chapter takes an evolutionary ecological perspective on the ecology, use, and conservation of crops and proposes research objectives to advance the study of agrobiodiversity globally. In particular, research agendas are outlined (a) to determine the current state of agrobiodiversity globally and how it is changing through the collection of baseline data; (b) to improve understanding of functions of existing agrobiodiversity and how the historical, evolutionary, and ecological factors have led to that diversity; (c) to increase understanding of the interactions and factors that drive change between crops and their associated agrobiodiversity (i.e., the multitude of organisms that interact with the primary crops); (d) to clarify the role of in situ conservation of agrobiodiversity in farmers’ fields and how better to link ex situ collections to in situ use of agrobiodiversity; and (e) to generate a theoretical framework for agrobiodiversity to help us better understand past and future dynamic change. Pursuing such lines of research will enhance humanity’s ability to face uncertainty, such as that expected with climate change.

Agrobiodiversity results from the domestication and continued selection of crop and livestock species. Understanding the evolution and population dynamics of agrobiodiversity in terms of its genetic, reproductive, ecological, or anthropogenic dimensions, requires both long-term and contemporary perspectives. Population genetics can supply valuable information about the short- and long-term dynamics of agrobiodiversity by describing the trajectory of the frequency of an allele (a genetic variant) within and among given populations. The resultant information makes it possible to understand the relationship between populations and individuals within populations. It is also particularly pertinent to an understanding of how agrobiodiversity has evolved on different timescales. Advances in modeling population genetics enable hypotheses to be tested on the different drivers that shape crop and animal diversity. With the increasing availability of genomic markers, population genetics offers new opportunities to assess, test, and understand agrobiodiversity dynamics.

This chapter identifies major areas of impact from agrobiodiversity at crop inter- and in-traspecific levels on agroecosystem functioning relevant to management and resilience of cropping systems. Impacts from biodiversity on agroecosystem function are summarized as are impacts from pollination services, pest and disease impacts and resistance, soil biota and soil nutrient cycling, and abiotic stress resistance. The distinction between production characteristics related to plant phenotypes (provisioning services of ecosystems) and functional traits that support ecosystem services (supporting services of ecosystems) is highlighted, including the tendency for there to be trade-offs between these two and the need to harmonize them to a greater degree for agroecosystem resilience. Discussion follows on how these production and supporting services are linked also to wider social and economic contexts and ecosystem resilience. Important questions, challenges, and research areas are raised that may be productive in the scientific framework for sustainability proposed in this volume.

In and ex situ conservation are two approaches that can support each other and benefit from spatial analysis to inform about genetic resources distribution, change dynamics, and conservation priorities. This chapter reviews approaches that integrate spatial analysis to support in and ex situ conservation and their linkages; specifically, the map-ping of crop diversity patterns at various scales, identification of conservation gaps, modeling to reveal unique or uncovered diversity, participatory cartography, and the identification of candidate sites for establishing conservation networks. It highlights areas for future research and action, which include improving data quality and availability, establishing baselines of the spatial distribution of intraspecific diversity, experimenting with remote sensing tools and citizen science, as well as further work needed to explain spatial patterns in crop diversity and develop models to elucidate how crop diversity responds to different drivers of change. Finally, it argues that integrating different spatial scales, such as field, local, regional, and global is a major challenge that requires attention.

How a group relates to agrobiodiversity differs greatly within and between user groups. This chapter explores the socioecological changes that are driven globally by migration and urbanization, agrarian change (de- and reagrarianization) market pressures, and climate. It introduces the concepts of intentionality by default and conscious intentionality to explore how two archetypical smallholder farmer groups, traditional / Indigenous and neoagrarian farmers, use agrobiodiversity. These groups represent the extremes of smallholder farmers for whom agrobiodiversity plays an important role in their lives. To increase understanding of how the use of agrobiodiversity can vary in response to the effects of global change, knowledge gaps and entry points are identified for different groups of actors (e.g., smallholder farmers, public breeders, private companies, NGOs, international organizations, and governments).

Current drivers of global change affect these groups on a local level in unique ways, and responding to them provides the potential for novel initiatives that can form the basis for a compelling overarching narrative to support the use of agrobiodiversity in multiple ways. Such a narrative would connect the wide diversity of agrobiodiversity users and provide a critical mass to reinforce ongoing efforts to find solutions to the challenges of global change. Important gaps in our knowledge remain to be considered by this new, integrative science, including the way in which participation and empowerment of vulnerable groups will be incorporated.


The interaction between climate and agrobiodiversity is framed in different ways by different scientific disciplines and researchers. These diverse frames inform climate action by defining the main questions that are being asked and the solutions that are attempted. This chapter explores these frames through select discussion of studies in archaeology, environmental, climate, agricultural, and social sciences. Archaeological and environmental studies frame the interaction between climate and agrobiodiversity as part of a historical coevolutionary process. Agricultural and climate sciences have focused away from systemic interactions between climate and agrobiodiversity, devoting limited attention to genotype–environment interactions and diversification. Another relevant frame is to see agrobiodiversity as an informational resource, which is undermined by climate change as local information about adaptation rapidly becomes obsolete. Knowledge generation then becomes the central engine of economic growth to counteract loss of information due to climate change. Climate action needs to confront climate change and agrobiodiversity management as “ wicked problems”—problems that demand attention to the systemic nature of the problem, uncertainty, and the role of human values. Integrated scientific approaches are needed to design processes that explicitly address these aspects, contribute to climate action, and accommodate opposing values.

This chapter seeks to identify the linkages between agrobiodiversity and global demographic and spatial changes. Using an interdisciplinary approach, it reviews research models and empirical studies that link demographic and spatial changes to socioecological interactions involving agrobiodiversity at different spatial and temporal scales. Concepts are employed from the frameworks of geographic synthesis, socioecological systems, global change science, coupled human–natural systems, agroenvironmental history, development studies, and political ecology. Seven globally predominant linkages are identified: demographic change and population effects; urbanization and peri-urban expansion; migration including refugee movements; agricultural trade, markets, and food systems; spatial and land-use planning, zoning, and territorialization; food security, food sovereignty, seed movements, sustainable intensification, ecological intensification, and agroecology; and ongoing historical, cultural, and social network influences. Conditions of the major drivers bear complex relations to agrobiodiversity that range from loss and genetic erosion to continuing utilization, the emergence of expanded or innovative new uses, and conservation contributing to the sustainability of food systems. Linking the causal drivers of change to the range of possible outcomes depends on assessing the context-dependent roles of intervening and intermediate-level factors rather than ironclad mechanisms. Several intermediate-level factors are evaluated for each topic and recommendations are offered for future policy-relevant scientific research.

Food systems large and small around this planet are changing more quickly and more profoundly than ever before in human history. If the same processes and priorities continue, we can expect more of the same results: the last fifty years of a productionist paradigm have resulted in increased production of a small set of calorie-dense crops, increased calorie availability, and increased global homogeneity of diets, while environmental sustainability, human health, and equity issues remain unresolved. Food system sustainability is threatened by soil erosion, fertilizer pollution, water overuse, tropical forest degradation, climate change, and genetic uniformity in agricultural production. Meanwhile, access by all to healthy, diverse, and safe food choices is far from realized, and food-related noncommunicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are now epidemics as the world increasingly partakes in a diet high in sugar, fat, and salt. There is reason for hope, as eaters on every continent are demanding healthier, more diverse, safer food. This chapter argues that agrobiodiversity will help to improve sustainability, equity, and nutrition outcomes in food systems. We briefly review the current evidence on the linkages between agrobiodiversity and sustainability, equity, and human health and nutrition, differentiating between linkages at different geographical and temporal levels. We next identify research gaps in understanding the impact of agrobiodiversity on health. Because of the urgent need for action to create more sustainable, just, and nutritious food systems, we further propose tasks for the public sector as well as strategic alliances that support agrobiodiversity’s contributions to sustainability, equity, and human nutrition.

This chapter synthesizes key findings on how agricultural biodiversity influences diets, and, based on this evidence, provides both policy recommendations as well as priorities for a future research agenda that can help to inform the promotion of diverse food systems for healthy diets. Empirical evidence is reviewed of the linkages between terrestrial agricultural biodiversity, both cultivated and wild harvested, and the diversity and quality of human diets. Further, the principal pathways through which agricultural biodiversity may influence diets are identified. An assessment is provided of the research challenges inherent in linking agricultural biodiversity and nutrition. Diet diversity and quality indicators are reviewed and analyzed relevant to understanding the relationships between agricultural biodiversity and diets. The chapter concludes with a set of policy recommendations for driving change at global and country levels to inform policy aimed at producing more diverse foods and improving diet quality through the mainstreaming of biodiversity into overall development objectives.

Growing evidence indicates that the overall reduction of biodiversity in agricultural systems is concomitant to dietary simplification and related health effects, yet our understanding of the complex relationship between agrobiodiversity and health is still poor. This chapter explores pathways that could mediate this relationship at the local level. It begins by revisiting the definition of agrobiodiversity to disentangle its social components. In addition, the concept of health is broadened from the physical perspective. Pathways are then explored to link agrobiodiversity with physical health (diet, nutrition, and beyond) and mental health, including considerations of how food culture and traditional agrobiodiversity management knowledge contribute to identity and self-esteem. Discussion follows on the social aspects related to the production and consumption of agrobiodiversity that promote health and well-being. In conclusion, the chapter contextualizes how issues addressed at the local level fit within a broader political context.

Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development. —Article 3, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008)

This chapter addresses agrobiodiversity as experienced by Indigenous Peoples in the context of current policy and legislation, and aims to broaden understanding of how current agrobiodiversity governance impacts Indigenous Peoples worldwide. To date, the ability of Indigenous Peoples to determine agrobiodiversity governance has not been fully recognized, and thus is not covered explicitly by international policy and legislation. This chapter develops a biocultural perspective to expand the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ practices regarding agrobiodiversity—one that takes into account their worldviews and rights. It reviews the epistemological and political barriers that inhibit recognition of the distinct characteristics and relevancy of Indigenous agrobiodiversity; these barriers must be overcome before a research agenda can be advanced that truly contributes to the development of a consistent policy for agrobiodiversity use and in situ conservation. It also analyzes policy and legal instruments related to Indigenous agrobiodiversity in both international and national contexts. At the global level, self-determination for Indigenous Peoples has been recognized. Still, work remains to ensure that the role and contributions (past and present) of Indigenous Peoples to agrobiodiversity are recognized globally and nationally. Proper recognition and protection are necessary for the development of more robust approaches to a broad definition of agrobiodiversity governance, which will contribute to overcoming worldwide hunger and malnutrition.

Agrobiodiversity governance is often guided by estimates of countable and measurable objects, from the number and diversity of heirloom seeds or landraces grown in a certain location, to the frequency of seed exchange among actors and rates of disappearance of varieties. Such variables provide important information about conservation status at different scales but do not necessarily capture the dynamic social roles and relationships of seeds and agrobiodiversity to local cultures and communities. This chapter explores (a) the cultural roles of seeds in agrobiodiversity governance as a set of interwoven processes that are mediated by, and which in turn mediate, relationships between people, their practices, and knowledge systems; (b) networks with other people and other species; (c) attachments to cultural landscapes and histories or places; and (d) the broader politics of agriculture and rural development. It argues that relational processes are a necessary part of an analytical framework and crucial for understanding the role that social networks play, at multiple scales, in agrobiodiversity governance, including creating, managing, preserving, or “losing” diversity in the long term.

Agrobiodiversity relates to humans and their environments. It is the result of interactions between humans and nature, and thus is simultaneously social and biological by nature. Without humans, agrobiodiversity would not exist. Seeds, as carriers of major agrobiodiversity components, are not mere material objects that exist outside of social relations: they are also sociobiological artifacts embedded in these relations. The multifaceted, highly dynamic realities of agrobiodiversity mean that those interested in questions of governance need to understand the limitations and political implications of the complementary and sometimes contradictory instrumental and relational perspectives on seeds; that is, the understanding of seeds as a production input or as the subject of a social network, in which agrobiodiversity brings together production and social linkages. International instruments aim to provide a legal basis for mediating competing interests and methodologies. In addressing governance, the global framing of these instruments reflects the dynamics of agrobiodiversity in global socioeconomic and environmental changes. From the earliest recognition of the potential value of crop diversity, crop genetic resources were treated as public goods in the public domain. Breeding companies have opposed this treatment. Breeders sought exclusivity and reward for their creative activities in using genetic resources to create novel varieties. Governance of agrobiodiversity—defined by a set of relationships that influences the access to and conservation, exchange, and commercialization of agrobiodiversity—reflects underlying value systems. Conflicting approaches (e.g., “stewardship” vs. “ownership” approaches) toward governance based on divergent value systems and rationales can be distinguished. It is important to identify the actors involved, from local to global, to understand the power dynamics that influence the interactions among these various actors and their ability to influence or control the management of agrobiodiversity. The governance of agrobiodiversity and the power dynamics involved are increasingly crucial in the context of rapidly changing farming and food systems, especially in the context of globalization, migration, and urbanization. This chapter elaborates an emergent research agenda, focusing on aspects of power relations in agrobiodiversity governance, agrobiodiversity and food systems, nutrition, taste and health, and the governance of genetic information.

This chapter focuses on the role of markets (especially those of agricultural products) in agrobiodiversity governance. Over the past two decades, expansion of global agricultural product markets has, in general, furthered the simplification of agricultural and food systems, reducing the diversity within crop and animal species. Farmers who continue to conserve on-farm agrobiodiversity are providing global public goods in terms of food security and environmental sustainability insurance for the world’s population, both currently and in the future. Yet because markets or other global institutions are not compensating farmers for conserving high levels of agrobiodiversity, these farmers face little private incentive to maintain on-farm conservation practices and may resort to practices that result in reduced levels of agrobiodiversity, which in turn could lead to the destruction of local food systems and general biodiversity loss. To enhance both agrobiodiversity conservation and income generation through market-based instruments, endeavors to place a value on agrobiodiversity that signal its true production cost and contributions to genetic resource usage should be further developed. It is proposed that payments for agrobiodiversity conservation schemes and niche market development through differential marketing, labels, certification schemes, and agrotourism are needed in concert to provide a robust foundation for agrobiodiversity conservation activities, building on both private sector investment and government funds. Depending on the context, these measures hold great potential for the successful marketing of agrobiodiversity and agrobiodiversity niche products through collective action. Constraints and potential unintended consequences of market-based approaches to agrobiodiversity conservation need, however, to be taken into account.