Trees on farms: a biodiversity assessment tool
Researchers have created a new tool to measure biological diversity in farm land, which will prove useful for the purposes of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The United Nations Biodiversity Conference held 17–29 November 2018 in Egypt, which included the Fourteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP14), called on decision makers from more than 190 countries to increase efforts to halt loss of biodiversity and protect ecosystems that support food and water security and health for billions of people.
One of the important policy discussions in view of developing the successor of the Global Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 is innovative ways of mainstreaming biodiversity into core sectors of national economies, including agriculture. As forests are declining and so are the ecosystem services they provide, we need to restore at least some of these vital services on managed land.
Trees on farms play a critical role because they provide high levels of landscape biodiversity through in-situ conservation, connecting fragmented wild habitat, and conserving soil biodiversity and agrobiodiversity. Trees on farms have attractive co-benefits for climate-change mitigation and adaptation through carbon sequestration, income diversification and adaptive strategies in communities facing increased climate variability and climate-related crop failures. While trees on farms are an important instrument to restore and maintain biodiversity and other ecosystem services and directly support Aichi Target 7 (‘By 2020, areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity’), they are not well featured in any national biodiversity strategic action plans. Trees on farms need to be included as one of the indicators for monitoring the status of sustainably managed agricultural landscapes. Seeking to fill that gap, a team of experts from many countries have gathered to develop a purpose-built tool.
Creating the tool
Working with a team of 30 national biodiversity experts from Rwanda, Uganda, Indonesia, Honduras and Peru, the Harnessing the Potential of Trees on Farms for Meeting National and Global Biodiversity Targets project has developed a Trees on Farms Biodiversity Assessment Tool that is about to be field-tested through farm inventories. The project is funded by the International Climate Initiative of the Federal Government of Germany.
At a workshop held 12–16 November 2018 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the team presented the parameters of the tool and scheduled its path to release. Following the field testing, there will be a consultation with the national focal points of the Convention on Biological Diversity of the five pilot countries — Rwanda, Uganda, Indonesia, Honduras and Peru — to ensure complementarity with their approaches. Next will be a wider consultation with experts outside of the five countries.
The workshop addressed key questions: 1) what do we need to understand about biodiversity on farms to improve agricultural sustainability and conserve biodiversity? 2) which components provide the most information and how can these be most efficiently measured? and 3) how can protocols be integrated with existing government data collection and reporting, especially to the Convention on Biological Diversity?
The participants also reviewed the main components of the tool: 1) an inventory of trees on farms; 2) monitoring birds; and 3) options for assessing and monitoring other taxa (pollinators, pest and diseases and their natural enemies, and soil biota). This included considering the draft protocol for monitoring biodiversity in agricultural land; the approaches used to assess tree biodiversity in agricultural landscapes; the value of using birds for monitoring ecosystem health (the data would also be combined with that on trees on farms to calibrate models of connectivity and matrix permeability, which could be used to assess the conservation value of an agricultural landscape. Optional modules on pollinators, pests and their natural enemies, and soil biota should also be available); the robustness and efficiency of the World Bird Index for monitoring the birds themselves; the different types of biological corridors that can be used to connect farm land with forest patches; the Amazonian experience of monitoring and sustainable use of wild fauna by indigenous communities, including their experience in reporting on Aichi Target 7 and REDD+; and the institutional and legal arrangements in place in the Peruvian Amazon that regulate the use of forest resources.
Mauricio Guevara, Honduras’ Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, highlighted the importance of capacity development to support the Government achieve its national and international biodiversity targets and mitigate the impact of climate change on farmers. He cited recent droughts and floods that have devastated farms, saying that it was of critical importance to make farmers aware of the benefits of trees. More trees on farms could not only contribute to providing habitat for threatened species but also act as corridors for movement of long-ranging ones. He also highlighted the need to educate young people, with curricula that included climate change and biodiversity conservation.
Anabel Gallardo, Vice-President of the Federación Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos de Honduras (FENAGH/National Federation of Farmers and Ranchers of Honduras), explained how the agriculture and livestock sub-sectors were working with the Government on sustainable livestock production. The 2018 National Biodiversity Strategy is also being updated. Gallardo highlighted the process of creating the National Sustainable Livestock Platform, to ensure better organization and sustainable management of livestock.
‘We recognize that trees on farms are important both for ecological health and for improving the sustainable production of agriculture in Honduras,’ said Gallardo.
Francisco Aceituno, representative of the Dirección de Biodiversidad (DiBio/Directorate of Biodiversity) of Ambiente y Minas (MiAmbiente/Environment and Mines), said that they were convinced of the role of trees on farms to help conserve biodiversity and, consequently, was ready to adopt the methods and recommendations of the project and to incorporate them in reporting to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The project presented an excellent opportunity to engage the Government and private sector in improving farm management.
Eduardo Somarriba, leader of the Programa de Agricultura, Ganadería y Agroforestería (PRAGA/Agriculture, Livestock and Agroforestry Program) of Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE/Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) emphasised that the project bridged both the Government’s agricultural and environmental areas as well as between the Government and the private sector.
During a field visit, the participants reviewed the protocols and considered how they might apply to two very different types of landscape: open pasture land with forest patches and boundary trees; and ‘bird friendly’ coffee plantations growing in the understorey of a secondary forest.
Broadly, there was strong agreement on the content and its complementarity with national monitoring systems although more information was required to guide implementation.
The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.