Agrobiodiversity is a key component of overall biodiversity. It is the result of natural selection processes and creative thinking of farmers, herders and fishers over millennia. Agrobiodiversity is a vital, fundamental part of biodiversity. Food and livelihood security and people’s health depend on the sustained management of biological resources. Agricultural biodiversity, also known as agrobiodiversity, includes three fundamental, interacting components:
Variation within species (crops and livestock) of agricultural interest, their wild relatives, and natural species occurring in the agroecosystem.
The pool of plant and animal species being part of the agroecosystem. They are either deliberately introduced by farmers/land managers or naturally occurring.
The structure and configuration of agroecosystem elements at field, farm or landscape scale. It includes cropland as well as natural and semi-natural habitats within or nearby cropland.
Agrobiodiversity components play a vital role for the functioning of agroecosystems and the provision of agroecosystem services. Here it is useful to highlight some further concepts:
All agrobiodiversity components, at genetic, species and/or habitat level, that are deliberately introduced in the agroecosystem by farmers/land managers. Examples are: (i) cultivated crop varieties or reared animal breeds (genetic level); (ii) crop species included in a rotation or livestock species reared in a farm (species level); (iii) field margins, hedgerows or wildflower strips planted in or around cultivated fields (habitat level).
All agrobiodiversity components, at genetic, species and/or habitat level, that are present in the agroecosystem without being deliberately introduced by farmers/land managers. Examples are: (i) populations of wild plants (including weeds) or natural enemies of crop pests (genetic level); (ii) communities of wild plants (including weeds) or natural enemies of crop pests (species level); natural woodland or natural hedgerows (habitat level).
If a farmer deliberately introduces a species which is a natural enemy of a crop pest, this is part of planned agrobiodiversity. Instead, any endemic (i.e. non introduced) species of natural enemies of crop pests is part of associated agrobiodiversity.
The ability of a given agrobiodiversity component to provide an agroecosystem service (function). Examples: (i) ladybirds (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) predate aphid pests (agroecosystem service: biological pest control); (ii) arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi mobilize phosphorus to crops (agroecosystem service: soil fertility/nutrient cycling).
The ability of a group of agrobiodiversity components (at genetic, species and/or habitat level) to provide an agroecosystem service (function), which is fostered by the diversity within the functional group. Examples: (i) when a higher number of ladybird species (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) increase predation of aphid pests (agroecosystem service: biological pest control, level: species); (ii) when a higher number of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi strains/species mobilize a higher amount of phosphorus to crops (agroecosystem service: soil fertility/nutrient cycling, level: genetic/species).
PRODUCTION-RELATED AGROECOSYSTEM SERVICES
Crop/livestock production and all agroecosystem services (functions) directly or indirectly related to them. Examples: soil fertility/nutrient cycling, soil water holding capacity, biological pest control, weed suppression, livestock well-being.
NON PRODUCTION-RELATED AGROECOSYSTEM SERVICES
All agroecosystem services (functions) unrelated to crop/livestock production. Examples: conservation of High Nature Value species and habitats (e.g. rare arable flora or fauna); historical, cultural/traditional, aesthetic or amenity value of agricultural landscapes.
Please note that other ways of classifying (agro)biodiversity and service provisions have been proposed. For example, read the The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005)_Biodiversity synthesis.
Agrobiodiversity is the result of complex interactions across space and time between the environment, genetic resources and sustainable management systems and practices. Human assets, like local/indigenous knowledge and different cultural views are therefore essential parts of agrobiodiversity. The very nature of agrobiodiversity implies that solution to global problems, like food security, mitigation of/adaptation to climate change or soil quality degradation, should come from locally available resources and knowledge.
Agrobiodiversity has full potential to solve food crises and meet people’s demands in every corner of the world as well as to solve problems caused by overly simplification of agricultural systems and unwise globalization. Awareness-raising and knowledge exchange among local farmers is therefore key to empower them and make them active players in the overall game of agricultural and environmental sustainability.
THE ROLE OF AGROBIODIVERSITY
Undeniable benefits of agrobiodiversity include those listed below. In fact, experience and research have shown that agrobiodiversity can:
- Contribute to increase productivity, food security, and economic returns
- Reduce the pressure of agriculture on fragile areas, forests and endangered species
- Make farming systems more stable, robust, and sustainable
- Contribute to sound pest and disease management
- Conserve soil and increase natural soil fertility and health
- Contribute to ecological intensification
- Diversify products and income opportunities
- Reduce or spread risks to individuals and nations
- Help maximize effective use of resources and the environment
- Reduce dependency on external inputs
- Improve human nutrition and provide sources of medicines and vitamins
- Conserve ecosystem structure and stability