by Pierre Echaubard, June 4, 2017
A major set of issues, such as deforestation, fragmentation of habitat, environmental degradation and Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), that contribute to poor health are related to unsustainable farming practices and rural people vulnerability with limited social and economic choices. Ultimately, this is the result of policies that are not supportive enough of rural livelihoods or that reflect the interest of more powerful economic players (i.e. agro companies, pharmaceuticals, timber companies). As rural communities are the stewards of much of the biodiversity in SEA, it is critical to adopt policies that support ‘farmers rights’ and local knowledge and opportunities in which rural communities can lift themselves out of poverty, while engaging in sustainable farming practices.
Indeed, for policy to be supportive, there is a need for farmers groups, cooperatives and other rural people’s organizations to play a more effective role in policy dialogue so that policy design can draw on relevant evidence and local experience. This dialogue could be moderated across multiple levels of local, national and global policy by the biodiversity and health community of practice we referenced above.
For example, an augmented IFAD’s Agriculture Risk Management (ARM) for resilience instrument should be a key institutional component of national, regional and local policies. IFAD’s ARM is a pro-active way of thinking that ensures that farmers are prepared to risks related to: weather, natural disasters, biological and environmental, market, logistical and infrastructural, management and operational, public policy and institutional, and political. Given the complexity of the risk scenarios, a wide variety of tools have to be combined to reduce, mitigate, and cope with risks, at the level of the farmer and its community, through the market, or under an intervention by the government. Such interventions range from adapting specific technologies or farming practices, developing contact farming and warehousing, to national disease prevention campaign, social protection schemes or access to microfinance. For example, intercropping and crop diversification can be one particular ARM option with win-win outcomes as the farmer can improve soils fertility and preserve the ecological integrity of the environment while increasing yields and income throughout the year.
Diversification strategies informed by the biodiversity and health forum, in particular in relation to genetic resources, local knowledge and resilience, can greatly contribute to strengthen risk mitigation capacity in the context of climate change. This is particularly likely when diversification is combined with access to information on biodiversity and climate smart agriculture, locally selected seeds and cultivars, green innovations and participatory/community-based natural resource management, as well as the creation of farmers associations that can absorb market driven risks, such as prices fluctuations.
The role of governments is key to enable a policy environment that incorporate such instrument and support adaptive risk management at the local level through functioning agricultural market, extension services, information systems, legal framework, social protection, sustainable chemical-less and biodiversity friendly agriculture subsidies. The biodiversity and health community of practice mentioned above could play a major role during consultative processes for policy implementation.
A policy environment that supports rural livelihoods for resilience, with biodiversity as an inherent priority, is central to the health and biodiversity sustainable agenda also because it will catalyze mutually reinforcing beneficial initiatives, such a reduction in needs and consumption of agrochemicals and the emergence of biodiverse, wildlife friendly, agricultural landscapes that are compatible with integrated biodiversity conservation strategies.