Agricultural biodiversity and farmers’ knowledge, innovations and practices are intimately linked, and at the heart of locally adapted food systems and diverse and nutritious diets. People’s livelihood, food and health are tightly interconnected, and food sovereignty contributes to endogenous development. Resilience thinking can be a great help and support in shaping the global agricultural systems so that we can feed 9 billion people in a few decades’ time.


Agriculture – on land and in water

More than 3 billion people – almost half of the world’s population – live in rural areas. Roughly 2.5 billion of these rural people derive their livelihoods from agriculture. This includes the diverse practices of cultivating crops, raising livestock, farming or catching fish and seafood, gathering fruits and other trees crops, and utilizing natural resources such as timber, reeds and wildlife. Approximately 500 million people in Africa, Asia and the Pacific depend on aquatic agricultural systems[i] for their livelihoods. Situated along the world’s floodplains, deltas and coasts, these systems provide multiple opportunities for growing food and generating income.

However, factors like population growth, environmental degradation and climate change are affecting these systems, threatening the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people.


Rapidly rising food demand

An increasing world population will put further pressure on food production systems through rapidly rising food demand – expected to increase by 70 per cent by 2050 – in order to eradicate hunger in a world population of 9 billion people by 2050. The expected increase in food demand is to a large extent attributed to a change in diets, with the global population consuming food with a higher content of meat than before.

With “food” we associate everything from the act of nurturing seeds, crops, livestock and non-cultivated wild foods, fish and other aquatic resources and their land- and seascapes, to cultivating and preparing food, and to eating together and speaking and thinking about it.

Food is at the heart of livelihoods, biodiversity and culture everywhere. Thus, food is also a useful tool to break down power relationships and gain a deeper understanding of a place and its culture. Endogenous ideas about possible futures, and initiatives to change undesired conditions, or protecting things people are proud of, could easily be found through food.

Across the developing world, there is rapid growth in commercial agricultural investment to feed new urban and agro-industrial markets, often using input-intensive, monoculture production that pays little attention to the objectives of environmental sustainability, climate risks or impacts, or the range of products and services from the land and water resources that local people depend upon. There is a need to reorient agricultural investment strategies to reflect these multifunctional objectives. Approaches that substantially improve and stabilize yield levels need to be developed.

Urban development is a major driver of land use change in rural areas, and faces its own challenges of managing land and water resources to meet the full set of needs of urban populations in a sustainable way. Conceiving of city-regions as landscapes for people, food and nature can help integrate different strands of action for sustainable cities, and across the rural-urban continuum.

Land- and seascape approaches are important for ensuring that ecosystem services are maintained. This underpins the capacity of farming systems, including aquaculture, to maintain stable productivity. Ill-health and poor or inadequate nutrition are challenges that must be addressed as part of a holistic land- and seascape approach to sustainable development.


Food sovereignty and resilience thinking

Although many urgent challenges pertain to a need for the transformation of the complex global and interlinked food production system at larger scales, change plays out in people’s sense of place and their livelihoods. This explains why local conditions are an equally valid starting point. Consequently, SwedBio’s focal area for Livelihood, Food and Health is embracing activities in which smallholder farmers, fisherfolks or pastoralists reclaim their right to their resources and knowledge. Food sovereignty as a tool for endogenous development is a key focus, along with efforts to connect science and practice and to integrate resilience thinking in the design of the global agricultural systems to meet the challenge of feeding 9 billion people.

SwedBio is collaborating with organisations that promote these diverse aspects at land- and seascape and local level, for example through supporting communities in their work with agroecology, in situ conservation and sustainable use of traditional crop varieties and breeds, and promoting food sovereignty and farmers’ rights. This includes the crucial work done in relation to seed systems, to ensure that the needs and priorities of small-holder farmers are taken into account in Plant Variety Protection and other kinds of Intellectual Property Rights linked to agricultural biodiversity, seeds and related knowledge. Experiences and learning are brought from local level to national or global level, enabling informed and successful policy recommendations and decisions across scales. Agricultural biodiversity and local and traditional knowledge and practices are at the heart of locally adapted food systems, and contribute to diverse and nutritious diets.

[i] These are diverse farming systems that include a mix of cultivation, livestock, aquaculture, fishing, and gathering natural resources such as fruits, seeds, timber and wildlife.