The world was watching Montreal last week for the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Early this morning, conference leaders announced a deal to protect 30% of the planet’s biodiversity by 2030 and restore 30% of degraded ecosystems. The deal wasn’t without its controversy – some African countries argued it didn’t go far enough to allocate funding for biodiversity conservation – but it’s largely considered a positive outcome. Dennis Tessier, MEDA’s Technical Director of Environment and Climate Change wrote about the conference’s goals and the Government of Canada’s funding response.
Biodiversity is fundamental to MEDA’s market systems work because it’s critical for people’s livelihoods and well-being. The small-scale food producers that generate biodiversity depend on healthy soils and waters to produce the world’s food and earn a living. So do the companies involved in the agri-food sector whose business models depend on the same healthy environment. If agricultural systems break down, so do the companies.
The problem we grapple with in market systems work is that private and public decision-makers aren’t really incentivized to preserve biodiversity. That’s because there are limited ways to profit from the benefits that biodiversity generates. Biodiversity efforts can also seem to conflict with economic development goals.
But market opportunities exist
Ecotourism, for example, is a huge industry that relies on biodiversity. Forest and other certification programs also provide financial benefits in exchange for biodiversity protection and enhancement. Another is landscape-based green supply chain sourcing which promises multiple benefits to market actors. Voluntary biodiversity conversation efforts by companies are also examples of market-driven responses to consumer and financial pressure. For example, lucrative funding may be restricted for businesses that negatively impact biodiversity – that constraint can incentive businesses seeking investment to conserve biodiversity. Still, other innovations are emerging, such as biodiversity offsets, which is a subset of carbon offsets. Unfortunately, small-scale producers often don’t see much financial benefit from these schemes. As market systems development practitioners, that’s one of the key challenges ahead of us.
So how do we facilitate innovations so that food producers in the Global South – particularly women and youth – can reap the benefits of green and decent work?
The connection between biodiversity measurement and crop productivity
MEDA’s team in the Philippines is trying a new approach, linking biodiversity measurement – specifically bird populations as a proxy for biodiversity health – to cacao crop productivity. Birds play an important role in agricultural ecosystems and crop productivity. For example, they help to control pests and propagate fruits and trees. In one area under study, producers are cutting down cacao trees to plant bananas, which is considered a more financially lucrative crop. Scientific fieldwork suggests that there are fewer bird species in cacao farms surrounded by banana farms, compared to farms bordering forests. Early assumptions suggest this could be due to the use of aerial-sprayed fungicides on banana farms. It may also be due to birds’ habitat loss. Either way, a drop in the bird population, or bird species, is likely to negatively impact cacao productivity.
Gender equality and social inclusion intersects with biodiversity conservation
Focus groups are also highlighting the connection between gender equality and social inclusion and biodiversity conservation. Women and youth don’t seem to factor into communities’ portrayal of biodiversity conservation, partly because gendered socio-cultural norms limit decision-making women’s roles. On top of limited influence, women and youth lack access to information and training. And yet, women expressed a strong interest and willingness to play a role in conservation and showed a good understanding of the cultural, conservation, and agricultural importance of biodiversity protection.
Our Philippines project has also integrated biodiversity into an enhanced version of MEDA’s Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) framework. This innovation can support cacao cooperatives, businesses, and funds to recognize their impact on biodiversity loss, such as risks of supply chain disruption, and economic opportunities such as improved incomes from potential premium pricing.
As the value of biodiversity – and the cost of its loss – becomes clearer and impacts the pocketbooks of consumers and businesses, we can expect there will be increased regulation (or disincentives) and consumer pressure to protect biodiversity.
Biodiversity is not only environmental. It’s an economic issue
Our everyday economic concerns and decisions depend on nature. Biodiversity loss also has significant gendered impacts. Addressing biodiversity through a market system approach is a big challenge. But there are also big opportunities. MEDA’s role as a facilitator is to develop local partnerships that explore the market for biodiversity and how to incentivize lasting behavior change. Protecting biodiversity while facilitating the creation of decent work that improves incomes for small-scale producers will take creativity and a willingness to try new approaches. We’ll possibly fail at times. We’ll need to share the innovation risk with companies and other market systems actors. But it’s a challenge that MEDA and our partners worldwide are ready to accept.
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