Biodiversity matters in farmers’ fields, too

July 24, 2017

A new report says Canada lags in biodiversity conservation. What about the biodiversity on your plate? It’s time to recognize the need to conserve crop diversity, starting with the National Food Policy.

In its latest report, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society found Canada lags on its biodiversity pledges. Beyond wildlife, there is another urgent biodiversity gap: the rapid and silent loss of agricultural biodiversity, i.e. the crops and animals bred over 10,000 years by farmers worldwide.

Canada does not have national targets to conserve and replenish agricultural biodiversity — despite signing on to a number of international agreements that recognize its critical importance, like the UN Biodiversity Convention.* It’s time to take action. SeedChange is asking the federal government to take the historic step of recognizing the importance of agricultural biodiversity in its upcoming National Food Policy.

Agricultural biodiversity strengthens the food system, bringing better, more stable incomes for farmers, and greater food security for consumers. Planting a diversity of crop varieties together is a risk management strategy that makes a farm more resilient to environmental stresses. Selecting, saving and replanting seeds year after year also allows varieties to continue evolving, adapting to local conditions as they change.

With climate change already happening, the world needs agricultural biodiversity more than ever. But in the last 100 years alone, we lost 75 per cent of our crop varieties, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

This tremendous loss of agricultural biodiversity exposes us to crop failure and food shortages in unpredictable and rapidly changing environments. Canada urgently needs measures to support on-farm seed conservation across the country, including funding for public research and breeding programs. Farmers must be at the centre of this work, because unlike wild biodiversity, agricultural biodiversity hinges on the people who grow and steward it.

“Farmers and seed-breeders working with The Bauta Family Initiative for Canadian Seed Security have developed strong and innovative strategies to conserve agricultural biodiversity,” says Marie-Eve Levert, National Program Manager of our domestic program.

“Whether it be vegetable seeds in B.C. and Ontario, or grain in the prairies, we are increasing the supply of locally-adapted, ecological seeds. With more programs like these, Canada could become a leader in sustainable agriculture. But we have to invest in farmer-led seed conservation and participatory plant breeding programs.”

The National Food Policy will be the first time our federal government develops a comprehensive vision for our country’s food system. If our political leaders are serious about laying a path that will lead to secure and plentiful food for generations of Canadians, even in the face of climate change, they must put agricultural biodiversity at the centre of their strategy and farmers at the center of this work.

*Others include the Sustainable Development Goals and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.