By Paul Zuckerman, Chairman of the Bioversity International Board of Trustees
I have some investment advice to share. It’s not rocket science, but this investment is one of the best choices we can make and we all should find ways to contribute to it.
This investment is in sustainability.
Fortunately, 50,000 people are making sustainability the focus of this week at Rio+20, the UN conference on sustainable development that is looking ahead for solutions to global issues we are facing: hunger, a growing population, climate change and malnutrition.
Among the many representatives from around the world will be several from an organization looking at sustainability and food security through a unique lens that has largely been ignored. I’m referring to agricultural biodiversity, which is about ensuring we have as much diversity in our agriculture as possible. The organization is Bioversity International, which is building the evidence through research partnerships in order that agricultural biodiversity can help lift smallholder farmers out of poverty, provide better diets, and limit the damage we are doing to the environment.
The stakes are high. Smallholder farmers – often women – largely are in deep poverty in developing countries and operating in very risky environments. Despite this they produce 60 percent of the world’s food. But every day poses new challenges to their crops – less rain, more rain, pests, diseases. For these farmers, seeds might even be a luxury. They are working with the land and they are some of the greatest innovators in our world.
When I talk to the scientists and leadership at Bioversity International, I learn more about the entrepreneurs of the field. These are farmers and rural innovators who are partners in projects, sharing their perspectives and insights, identifying and saving plants, re-introducing traditional varieties of plants, bringing new products to market, and sharing their knowledge with their communities.
These scientists tell me about farmers like Peninah Mwangangi in eastern Kenya, a member of the Kyanika Adult Women’s Group who has re-introduced African leafy greens in her field. This vegetable is a tool for her to keep the effects of climate change at bay and the sales from the product boost her income. This is a powerful investment.
They tell me about other examples, from Nepal to Bolivia and many places in between where they work. It’s inspiring, and it’s really happening. Now we need much more of it. As world leaders, policy makers, and funders gather at Rio+20, I urge them to consider agricultural biodiversity as part of the solution.
I have always believed strongly in the importance of conservation for our future, and that future depends on the continued availability of agricultural biodiversity.
Paul Zuckerman is the Chairman of the Bioversity lnternational Board of Trustees. He is retired from full-time investment banking and a longtime career in finance and agricultural economics, including six years as a Senior Economist at the World Bank.