By: CEEweb for Biodiversity, a network of 64 non-governmental organizations in the Central and Eastern European region. Our mission is the conservation of biodiversity through the promotion of sustainable development.
Editors note: This is part two of a 6 article series on policy recommendations on climate change, regarding some critically affected sectors. If you missed it, read the introduction on the the interrelation between climate change and biodiversity and the ecosystem-approach in adaptation to climate change
Ecosystem-based approach in agriculture
Agriculture is multifunctional: yield is just one piece of the agricultural system’s outputs. There are several other direct products such as fibres and compost, but also services such as maintaining soil biodiversity, water supply and carbon sequestration, many of which are critically important for long-term sustainability. There are several possibilities in agricultural management to enhance the efficiency of these services at marginal costs, provided that the right management techniques are recognized and implemented. Yet yield receives unbalanced big priority in today’s agriculture allowing intensive techniques to maximize production, while soil biodiversity is not considered to be a productive factor.
Intensive agriculture involves huge externalities in terms of its demand for energy and natural resources, which, besides its significant carbon emissions, makes farming vulnerable to future changes in supply of these resources. Beside their external costs, fertilization regimes negatively influence soil biodiversity and soil organic carbon (SOC) content, which is reflected in the soil’s decreased productivity and resilience against climate change. A clear signal of soil depletion can be seen globally, yet this signal is often hidden by using even more fertilizers to balance against the loss in the soil’s own organic fertility. Intensive agriculture in water stressed areas often results in unsustainable level of water extraction.
In CEEweb’s view, in order to adapt to climate change agricultural systems need to become more sustainable and balanced between the provision of food and many other goods and services at the same time. Techniques should be applied which enhance the soil’s natural productive capacity through increasing its SOC (examples for such techniques: integrating crop residues into the soil, reduced tillage, cover crops and crop rotation, mixed cultures, smaller field size with fields edges and hedgerows, and diversity of management). Enhanced SOC content increases carbon sequestration, water and nutrient retention and decreases the risk of erosion, therefore contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as to long-term food security.
A sustainable agricultural system is diverse also in terms of spatial structure as well as species and breeds of crops and animals. Structural diversity is resulting in a mosaic-like landscape, where cultivated lands alter with grazing lands and semi-natural habitats (e.g. forest patches, hedgerows, grassland stripes). This diversity is of key importance, making such systems – also called as integrated agricultural systems – much more resilient to extremes than monocultures, be it weather event, invasive alien species or pest outbreak.
Cultivating locally adapted breeds enhances crop diversity at regional scale, and represents the most resilient way of farming in the face of climate change, since they are the result of long-term selection and adapted to specific local circumstances, and furthermore, they can serve as basis for increasing genetic diversity, selecting resistant forms and creating new breeds. Traditional local breeds represent an invaluable part of our natural heritage.
Example: ex situ and on farm conservation of local crop breeds by the National Institute for Agrobotany, Tápiószele, Hungary
Intensification of agriculture has significantly decreased agricultural biodiversity in Hungary since the Second World War. Several species and breeds of cultivated as well as natural plants traditionally occurring in agricultural ecosystems have become rare or extinct, while large-scale farming has accelerated soil deterioration and soil compaction.
As a response to this and following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, genetic resources activities have been extended and updated according to the recommendations of Agenda 21, and a National Centre for Agrobiodiversity was organized within the framework of the already existing National Institute for Agrobotany. National Base Collection for seed-propagated crops and their wild relatives was established and the National Database for PGRFA (Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture) was compiled. The Institute for Agrobotany also acts as a Technical Co-ordination Centre and provides secretarial support for the Hungarian Genebank Council.
Besides maintaining central base collection for seed propagated as well as vegetatively propagated cultivated plants, the Institute supports on farm conservation of agrobiodiversity in three pilot regions: Szarvas, Nyírség and Zselic. Their long-term objective is to widen the on farm conservation programme to national level. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to link ex situ and in situ conservation activities through providing “back up” storage services and preserving random samples from consecutive years to assist monitoring of changes in genetic composition of local varieties planted under traditional conditions.
Source: the official webpage of the National Institute for Agrobotany, http://www.rcat.hu
Check back for the next critical area of climate change adaptation: Water