CBD COP11: Oil-based agriculture is creating food deserts

Rio Conventions Pavilion TV, CBD COP11 (11/10/2012) – Pablo Eyzaguirre, Senior Scientist (Anthropology & Socioeconomics) at Bioversity International’s Diversity for Livelihoods Programme, describes the importance of maintaining rich biodiversity in agriculture.

Eyzaguirre notes that although many people come into occasional contact with nature through a national park or a trip to harvest mushrooms, it is those that work in agriculture that are in touch with nature on a daily basis. He asserts that farmers’ relationships with nature are much more intimate and that they understand that their livelihoods depend on the resilience of their ecosystems. Eyzaguirre therefore sees agriculture as the natural area of priority for work on biodiversity.

Eyzaguirre sees promoting a mixture of sustainable agriculture and conserved areas as the best approach. He advocates agroforestry, noting in particular the success of ‘shade’ coffee and cacao which are able to grow alongside trees. He asserts that these small scale agroforestry projects provide a valuable habitat, in particular for birds: even better than forests for some species.

Eyzaguirre emphasises the inherent unsustainability of mega-industrial farming, referencing the case of the USA’s ‘corn belt’ where all forests, wild areas and even orchards were eliminated to make room for corn. He describes this as a ‘food desert’, where soil degradation obliges farmers to use ever increasing amounts of fertiliser. He is critical of the influence petroleum companies have had to make this kind of fertiliser-intensive farming prevalent.

However Eyzaguirre goes on to outline a simple solution to this problem implemented by the US state of Iowa, which has subsidised farmers to keep areas of prairie. Although initially doing this to earn the subsidy, Eyzaguirre affirms that farmers quickly did this for its own sake, discovering they were requiring less pesticide and gaining improved soil quality. He asserts that preserving biodiversity is not a choice: we depend on it intimately for the success of agriculture worldwide.