Agrobiodiversity – the vast array of varieties and species of the crops we grow – is a quintessential example of biocultural diversity in the sense that such varieties are biological entities that only exist because of on-going active selection by societies who variously seek in them agronomic, taste, storage, processing and aesthetic qualities that are in turn shaped by changing cultural and economic needs. As in other arenas of diversity, agrobiodiversity is unevenly distributed across the planet, and it was the great Nikolai Vavilov who deduced that it was highest in the regions where the different plants had first been domesticated – by what he called ancient agricultural civilizations of Indigenous peoples – mostly in mountainous areas where their descendants still live and evolve with them today, typically viewing those food plants as part of their communities. The extinction crisis in agrobiodiversity is yet another expression of the homogenizing drive of modern societies who believe we can live beyond our evolutionary history, and it has set off alarm bells about reduced resilience across the relevant international institutions and among grandmothers everywhere.
Important efforts are underway globally to preserve varieties in a network of gene-banks and the Svalbaad vault while at the same time calling for keeping agrobiodiversity alive in landscapes where under the active hand of farmers it can continue to evolve and adapt to changing climates, pests and conditions, while meeting livelihood needs and remaining part of community life.
As The Christensen Fund explored with the communities of our Program areas we found that they pinpointed that the threat to the agrobiodiversity of their landscapes was undermining prospects for their livelihoods, diets, cultural expression and spiritual wellbeing. Without vibrant agrobiodiversity rooted in dynamic and adapting agro-ecological systems, they argued, beautiful, bountiful and resilient landscapes would not be possible as their societies changed. Thus we set out to support them and their allies to restore what was being lost, to tackle the root causes of these threats while celebrating what remained, and to help them deploy agrobiodiversity with creativity to building a future for their local agricultural systems. As usual we found that there was no one solution and that a vast amount of knowledge, innovation and passion was everywhere to be found that was receiving very little support from the outside world.
Our engagement with agrobiodiversity has therefore been varied, and very interesting. Mouse over the images below to discover some of the experiences of our grantees and partners.