Conserving agrobiodiversity through payments for ecosystem services (ISEE2010)

Development Policy31 Aug 2010Ulf Narlochfrom

Taking into account the many contributions to the 11th ISEE conference, there appear to be three main lessons for further work on payment for ecosystem services (PES) and on-farm conservation of agrobiodiversity, which could significantly contribute to advancing sustainability in a time of crisis.

Firstly, the application of the concept PES to reward land users to conserve that which benefits wider society is still gaining rising attention. However, it appears that PES is not anymore understood as a purely market-based solution, but that more and more examples include reward mechanisms with funds not generated through private transactions. The generally rather limited life-span of such non-privately funded programs casts doubt on the permanence of such programs. As farmers may not be able to self-sustain certain land-uses once payments dry up, there is much more work to be done on the demand side of ecosystem services. Especially for biodiversity conservation services we need to identify sources of private sector funding and thereby to ensure the sustainability of such programs.

Secondly, PES have been hailed as a promising solution for conservation dilemmas. Yet tend to focus on carbon sequestration and storage, watershed protection, protection of landscape aesthetics and non-domesticated biodiversity. Recently, there are a few examples of PES-like schemes promoting ecosystem-friendly farm management practices in agricultural landscapes, such as silvopastoral farming, shade-grown coffee cultivation and improved fallow systems. Interestingly, the consideration of PES for the promotion of specific plant and animal genetic resources is very limited. Given the benefits arising from conserving crop and animal genetic diversity there is urgent need to assess the potential of payments for agrobiodiversity conservation services.

Thirdly, despite being widely acknowledged the conservation benefits associated with crop and livestock genetic resources may often be difficult to quantify, particularly with regard to indirect use and option values. Nevertheless, maintaining access to a wide portfolio of plant and animal genetic resources may play a key role for traditional farmers and commercial breeders in times of environmental as well as economic change. Given the co-evolutionary nature of agro-ecological and socio-economic systems, in-situ conservation would be an indispensable complement to ex-situ conservation strategies (i.e. gene banks). That said, I wonder why so few of the numerous conference contributions have dealt explicitly with the on-farm management of crop and livestock genetic resources. Therefore, more attention should be drawn on the importance of in-situ agrobiodiversity conservation strategies in order to enable farmers to respond to further crises.

It is in this context that Bioversity International, with support from the CGIAR’s Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi) programme and the Syngenta Foundation, is currently undertaking a series of case studies in India, Peru and Bolivia. Potential payment for agrobiodiversity conservation services instruments, such as direct reward mechanisms, competitive tender approaches and market chain development activities are being compared and contrasted in terms of their effectiveness, efficiency, and equity impacts.