Does biodiversity matter to small-scale producers?

Above: an Asian Glossy Starling, one of the birds that are present in Mindanao cacao farms (Photo credit: Philippine Eagle Foundation).

International Development Week in Canada takes place from Feb 5-11th this year. This week, MEDA will examine several key themes, including the role of localization, biodiversity, gender equality and social inclusion, and market systems.

This post discusses biodiversity’s role in building economic and environmental resilience for small-scale farmers and producers in Mindanao, Philippines.

It would be simple for most development organizations, including the UN, to say that biodiversity matters to everyone. This is why most high-income countries, particularly those involved in COP15, provide investment support to tackle biodiversity problems. For lower to middle-income countries such as the Philippines, the question is, does biodiversity matter to political leaders?

The Philippine delegation to COP15 says biodiversity matters to the government and its people. The Philippines is one of only 17 megadiverse countries and hosts the center of global marine biodiversity. This international recognition, however, does not necessarily translate into tangible actions and benefits for small-scale farmers and fishers. There is no question that the majority of these small-scale farmers and fishers who depend on natural resources would agree that biodiversity is important. Initiatives at the higher level, though, may be less relevant to them. It needs concrete evidence with their greater participation to demonstrate that actions at the farmers’ level address their family needs. This sounds more economic than environmental and social. But if we dig deeper, we see the intersectionality of economic, environmental, and gender relations and social inclusion considerations. Taking the Resilience and Inclusion through Investment for Sustainable Agrikultura (RIISA) project of MEDA in the Philippines as an example. We can understand the relationship of biodiversity to the economic indices and gender relations and social inclusion factors in cacao farming enterprises of small-scale producers.

The relationship between biodiversity health and economic benefits to smallholder farmers

There is a clear connection between biodiversity and crop productivity in four cacao farming sites in Mindanao by using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Cacao farms with higher bird richness and abundance have diverse crops and trees. As birds feed on worms, rodents, pests, and other destructive insects, naturally, farmers would reduce the cost of pesticides and labor to eliminate pests. As birds give natural fertilizers through their dung, it also reduces the cost of fertilizers and efforts in applying fertilizers to crops and trees. These, in turn, lower production costs for farmers and increase farm productivity and income. The result of the study showed that in areas with less bird biodiversity, such as in mono-crop farms, farmers cut down their cacao trees in favor of bananas, which further degrades biodiversity due to chemical inputs. However, in multi-crop or cacao farms intercropped with forest trees and fruit trees (see Figure 2, the sign of farmers cutting down their cacao trees is remote as they have other sources of income from intercrops).

Above: The abundance of bird species in four different agrifood ecosystems (Photo credit: Philippine Eagle Foundation).
Above: Four survey sites in Davao Region, Mindanao, Philippines. A) A cacao farm intercropped in a riparian and high-altitude forest is dominated by Dipterocarp trees. B) A cacao farm is situated in a limestone area. C) A mono-crop plantation of cacao also surrounds a mono-crop banana plantation. D) A farm dominated by cacao, coffee, and fruiting trees with a few remnants of forest trees alongside streams and riverbanks. (Photo credit: Philippine Eagle Foundation).
Above: FGD with women, men, Indigenous peoples, and youth cacao smallholder farmers (Photo credit: Philippine Eagle Foundation).

As birds aid in the propagation of cacao, forest trees, and other crops, it was noted that the abundance of birds and their species’ richness are directly proportional to the diversity of crops and trees in an agricultural farm.. In cacao farms with rich species and greater abundance of birds, there is diverse and lush vegetations (Figure 1&2). It tells us that if a farm aims to maintain and improve farm vegetation for climate change mitigation, bird biodiversity health should be considered. Healthy bird biodiversity in an agricultural farm would mean reduced burden and efforts for small-scale farmers to propagate and improve vegetation for climate change mitigation. This is substantiated by the narrative and actual experiences of women and men cacao small-scale producers and indigenous peoples in a birds’ assessment site in Mindanao. According to them, with reduced vegetation in their community, they experience less water flow from watersheds, prolonged rainy seasons, and more frequent warmer weather.

The intersection of biodiversity conservation and gender relations and social inclusion in agrifood ecosystems

Focus Group Discussion (FGD) participants in the four birds’ assessment sites agreed that forest guards (volunteer park rangers) are most involved in biodiversity protection. This could be a misconception of other ways to protect biodiversity, such as through farming methods where women, men, and youth have regular activities. While both indigenous groups and non-indigenous groups work as forest guards, they are all men. In two of the four areas, young men (both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples) were involved. This is an opportunity for the local government units and cooperatives to include women and youth as forest guards intentionally. It can be formalized through a policy or integration into local development plans and programs. As there is no deliberate planning or programs for biodiversity conservation in the agrifood ecosystem in study sites, participation and equal access by women and men and youth to information, training, and biodiversity conservation activities are non-existent. The gendered sociocultural norms also play a factor as it limits women’s participation despite their strong interest and willingness to participate in biodiversity conservation efforts. Their good understanding of birds’ cultural, conservation, and agricultural importance does not answer the issue. Integrating based constraints analysis and gender roles into the local agriculture programs and biodiversity protection plans and activities of local government units and cooperatives, especially the involvement of women and youth, is worth exploring. It will likely have a positive influence on biodiversity conservation processes.

Biodiversity matters differently to small-scale producers. So does the response.

Economic benefits, such as greater yields and income, tend to drive both women and men to engage in biodiversity conservation. Honorariums and allowances encourage participation in forest protection for men, while sociocultural norms limit women’s engagement in this aspect. With biodiversity and climate change mitigation being integral to MEDA’s Environment and Climate Change framework, it is essential to analyze their relationship. In the birds’ assessment of the RIISA project, there is a strong correlation between biodiversity and climate change mitigation. Biodiversity health specific for birds is directly proportional to the richness and diversity of farm vegetation, which corresponds to sound climate change mitigation.

The role of MEDA as a facilitator in market systems development in the agrifood system is to develop local partnerships that explore [and optimize] the market for biodiversity and how to incentivize lasting [market] behavior change that ultimately benefit and support the small-scale producers by either contributing to their decent work or living income.

MEDA’s RIISA project is an initiative with an expected significant impact that shows biodiversity matters not only to the environment, the economy, and most importantly, to women and men and youth farmers who work to create solutions for agrifood system resiliency.

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  • Roderick Valones

    Market Systems Technical Lead / Environment and Climate Change Focal Person, RIISA, MEDA. Roderick has over 11 years in leading and managing programs and development and emergency response initiatives involving multi-disciplinary teams.

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