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Making a PAC: payments for agrobiodiversity conservation services

Traditional crop varieties are being lost at a rapid rate (© Bioversity International)
Traditional crop varieties are being lost at a rapid rate
© Bioversity International

The majority of the planet's food comes from a very small number of crops: only around 30 account for more than 85 per cent of global crop production. Of the about 350,000 plant species known to exist, fewer than 20 per cent are eaten and only some 150 have been domesticated for farming. Furthermore, crops' genetic diversity within species is very narrow and existing agrobiodiversity is being lost at a rapid rate. However, a recent pilot scheme to pay farmers for conserving traditional crop varieties has provided a promising way to stem the loss.

To support the creation of conservation incentives whilst improving smallholder livelihoods, Bioversity International and collaborating partners have been assessing the potential of Payment for Agrobiodiversity Conservation Services (PACS) in three countries. The teams have worked on selected sites in Peru and Bolivia with quinoa, and on minor millet in India.

Defining PACS - a pilot study

PACS is a form of Payments for Ecosystems Services (PES), which provide farmers with financial remuneration for the ecosystem services they provide. However, most PES schemes are largely focused on forests, carbon sequestration and wild biodiversity and, as Adam Drucker, Bioversity International senior economist, points out, "Most PES schemes have ignored domesticated biodiversity conservation issues."

In Bolivia and Peru, community-based organisations are conserving landraces of quinoa (© Bioversity International)
In Bolivia and Peru, community-based organisations are conserving landraces of quinoa
© Bioversity International

In Bolivia and Peru, Bioversity International invited 38 community-based organisations to tender for competitive contracts to conserve one or more landraces of quinoa, which was identified as a priority crop for the region. The aim of the competitive tender was to identify the most cost-effective way to maintain not only genetic resources but also traditional knowledge, and other key socio-cultural factors (e.g. seed systems) required to sustain them. It was also important to consider potential trade-offs between cost-efficiency and equity. For example, the lowest costs per land unit may not necessarily correspond to those per farmer. "We therefore based our choice on a combination of selection criteria: land area cultivated, number of participating farmers and number of communities," Drucker explains.

The pilot study revealed important differences in the costs of participation. Minimum payment value demanded by communities to secure one hectare of a priority landrace ranged from US$143 in Bolivia to US$2,400 in Peru. Factors affecting the size of each community's demand included the local degree of farming sophistication and the opportunity costs of replacing missing income from the previously planted crops. "The considerable differences in demanded value create opportunities to minimize intervention costs," Drucker notes. "In-kind community-level rewards, rather than cash to individuals, provide sufficient incentives. Some PACS could therefore be provided through existing government agricultural and educational development programmes." Community rewards paid to match the value of demands in the PACS pilot included fertiliser, farm machinery, construction materials or school supplies.

Harnessing enthusiasm generated

"The pilot research has generated enormous enthusiasm among smallholders to maintain the threatened crop genetic resources, regardless of any further such payments," says Dr. Yuan Zhou of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, which supported the project. "The farmers have also shown interest in earning income by selling the traditional varieties in local or national markets. There may be scope here for premium pricing, for example through special conservation certification." In the PACS pilot, yields of traditional landraces were often equal to or better than modern commercial varieties. Bioversity International also organised information events and other communication activities about PACS. "As a result, policymakers are now much more aware of the opportunities and constraints of the scheme," notes Zhou.

Challenges remaining

Economic sustainability is a key consideration for the success of PACS (© Bioversity International)
Economic sustainability is a key consideration for the success of PACS
© Bioversity International

Nonetheless, some challenges remain. As Drucker observes, "For threatened traditional crop genetic resources, further rigorous research is urgently required on the most worthwhile conservation goals. PACS partners will also need to develop baseline conservation measures and the necessary monitoring, probably often by the farmers themselves."

One key consideration for the success of PACS is its economic sustainability. "Future research should additionally explore the potential range of private and public financing options," emphasises Zhou. "There are already good examples around niche market development for traditional crops, such as indigenous coloured potatoes in Peru," Zhou points out. "Future value chain activities could also integrate PACS." Some conventional agricultural subsidies could also be reallocated to finance PACS.

With contributions from: Paul Castle (Syngenta Foundation)

Date published: January 2012


Have your say

This is very essentail for maintaining the thin balance of A... (posted by: Srivalli Krishnan)

It is not surprising at all about the initiative of Syngenta... (posted by: Dr. Kudrat)

It is really surprising that this project has been supported... (posted by: jui pethe)

Instead of paying, Syngenta would do better stopping conta... (posted by: gabriel)


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