Agrobiodiversity is extensively utilized by both rural and urban populations, with a significant economic value to society. Plant products provide society with a wide range of essential consumer goods, including fruits, housing material, fuelwood, craftwork and traditional medicines. In addition to consumer goods, the plants provide important trade goods, with numerous enterprises dependent on trading plant products. One strategy to enhance the value of plant products and to meet the needs for sustained supply is by `conservation through cultivation'. The sustainable use of plant products can be evaluated by assessing the economics of production, informing people of the implications for commercial cultivation and adoption of a value chains approach.
Changes in climate have the potential to affect the geographical location of ecological systems, the mix of species they contain and their ability to continue providing the wide range of benefits on which societies rely for their continued existence. Available studies reveal that a sustained increase in mean ambient temperatures beyond one degree Celsius would cause significant changes in forest and rangeland cover, species distribution, composition, migration patterns and biome distribution.
The release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fourth report in 2007 confirms once again — with strong scientific consensus — that the global climate is changing, and that humans are causing and will be adversely affected by this change. The ability of ecosystems to provide the most basic types of services to humans, such as food and water, will be affected by climate change.
Agriculture, on which many African economies depend is under threat from climate change. There is no doubt that agricultural systems will therefore have to adapt as millions of people in African nations face a very real and direct threat to their food security and livelihoods. African nations need to urgently respond to the threat climate change poses to agriculture, agrobiodiversity and food security by institutionalizing the necessary adaptation and mitigation strategies.
While farmers manage agro-ecosystems primarily for the direct agricultural benefits they provide such as crop yield, it is now widely acknowledged that agrobiodiversity found in agro-ecosystems provides numerous ecosystem services as joint products, including the regulation of pests and diseases, soil and water conservation, air purification, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration and landscape conservation.
In addition, increased on-farm inter and intra-specific diversity, including mixed crop systems, broadens the agricultural genetic base and enhances environmental resilience to adverse climatic conditions.
Moreover, agrobiodiversity enhances the productivity and profitability of land units by diversifying the crops and tree species grown on-farm.
The impetus for conservation has been inspired by several recent global initiatives such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UNCED and more recently, the Global Plan of Action and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Traditionally, conservation of genetic resources has primarily been through ex situ conservation. However, there is increased realisation that this method of conservation is not sufficient for the adequate conservation of the various gene pools due to increased and diversified user demands and requirements. The CBD and the Global Plan of Action have specifically called for both in situ and ex situ conservation measures for biodiversity and genetic resources conservation. The decision on the choice(s) of conservation methods is not only a matter of available technology and resources but it is also influenced by biological, economical, management, socio-economic, cultural and political considerations.
ABCIC develops capacity for agrobiodiversity conservation in African local organizations through institution building and adopting a training-of-trainers approach to human resources development. Institution building is undertaken by providing technical assistance in the development of national programs, frameworks and infrastructures for conservation and sustainable utilization of agro-biodiversity. ABCIC engages in policy advocacy in order to enhance sustainability of national programs through development of appropriate policies and budgetary allocations for agrobiodiversity activities. Technical assistance is also provided to relevant government ministries, gene banks as specialized institutions and NGOs in the development, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of agrobiodiversity programs and projects. In addition, ABCIC organizes short training courses, workshops, seminars, field training and study tours for stakeholders as a conventional means of building human capacity through impartation of skills in biodiversity conservation. In training activities, ABCIC facilitates a participatory knowledge sharing approach in order to encourage and ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas between environmental conservationists in the government institutions, local and international NGOs and communities. This will create synergy and innovations convergence while respecting tacit conservation knowledge in the custody of local communities.
Effective biodiversity preservation requires that those that are entrusted to its conservation and utilization are equipped with the necessary capacities though institution building, training and education. Integrated national programs and institutional frameworks and infrastructures for agro-biodiversity conservation and utilization in Africa need to be created where they don’t exist and strengthened where they are weak. This should be coupled with policy advocacy to ensure that governments allocate financial resources and that agro-biodiversity policies are developed, strengthened and enforced to enhance sustainability of conservation efforts. At the corporate level, capacity building needs to be broad based and well targeted to ensure that the skills provided to the recipients are well matched with conservation needs through a training-of-trainers approach. The many non-governmental organizations and relevant government ministries working on biodiversity conservation need to equip their staff adequately with the necessary skills and expertise. Biodiversity conservation requires that those that are entrusted to its conservation and utilization are equipped with the necessary capacities through training and education.
One of our current Capacity Building projects is the Graduate Research Support Project