The 2nd International Agrobiodiversity Congress brought together over 3,100 participants from varied sectors in a 4-day virtual event to explore the role of agricultural biodiversity in transforming our food systems.
Hundreds of nutritious Peruvian potato varieties. Climate-resilient types of rice. An Indigenous Peoples’ support system in Northeast India. Local fruit in Brazilian school meals. Microbes in fertile soil. Sustainable fishing. Wild pollinators. All of these, and much more, make up the thousands of different plants, animals and microbes that we rely on for food and agriculture, or agrobiodiversity.
From 15-18 November, researchers, development specialists, chefs, policymakers, Indigenous Peoples, business leaders, youth, and other diverse stakeholders joined a virtual conference to share knowledge, best practices, and solutions harnessing the potential of agrobiodiversity.
The 1st International Agrobiodiversity Congress took place in India in 2016, and resulted in the Delhi Declaration on Agrobiodiversity Management, which established a strong scientific foundation for conserving agrobiodiversity. Since then, much has changed, as recognition has increased for the vital role of agrobiodiversity in sustainable and healthy food systems. However, many gaps in understanding and implementation persist.
This second iteration of the Congress was convened by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, CGIAR and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and organized in collaboration with 32 partner organizations interested in sharing solutions around agrobiodiversity.
Committing to action with the Rome Manifesto
To establish a common basis for multisectoral action, the Congress developed The 2021 Rome Manifesto on Agrobiodiversity: Using Agrobiodiversity to Transform Food Systems. Inspired by the three main pillars of sustainable food systems using agrobiodiversity, the Rome Manifesto sets out urgently needed commitments and concrete actions to consume, produce, and conserve agrobiodiversity; in other words: Eat, Grow, and Save.
Over four days, the Congress offered an array of sessions – Scientific Symposiums, Indigenous Peoples, Policy and Business Forums – to address the interests and highlight perspectives of different stakeholders. Highlights follow below, drawing on the Rome Manifesto commitments and discussions emerging from the roundtables:
Eat (Commitment 1): Consume diverse foods that are nutritious, sustainable, affordable, acceptable, safe, and accessible to all
Scientific presentations spotlighted agrobiodiversity’s role in healthy food environments and value chains. Participants engaged in lively discussion about how chefs can raise consumer awareness on why healthy, diverse diets matter and shared ideas about how to make sure that policy doesn’t fall short on implementation, using examples such as nutrition guidelines.
Speakers also approached the issue from another angle: the consumer perspective. Speakers emphasized the importance of understanding existing structural barriers to healthy eating, and the interests and motivations that drive consumer behavior.
Grow (Commitment 2): Produce food in diverse, resilient, and sustainable food systems
Following the Scientific Symposium, which underscored agrobiodiversity’s contributions to climate adaptation and vital ecosystem services, panelists in the Policy and Business Forum brainstormed policy tools that can incentivize a private sector shift to sustainable agrobiodiverse production systems. Panelists argued that policy frameworks already exist; what needs to change is their implementation. Private and public funding is necessary to create an enabling environment beyond policy, and the private sector can help bridge the gap.
Further discussions underscored the innovative role of science and research-business collaborations to help transform global food production systems, noting that researchers can engage more closely with the business sector by piloting and testing scientific tools.
Save (Commitment 3): Conserve agrobiodiversity by giving people the option to transform food systems
Species are being lost at up to 10,000 times the rate of natural extinction at any time in the past 66 million years. This loss includes thousands of plant and animal species that humans depend on for food, with valuable links to health, knowledge and culture.
Indigenous Peoples are stewards of agrobiodiversity but often underrepresented in discussions and decision-making. At the Congress, representatives from diverse indigenous communities exchanged perspectives of the role of Indigenous Peoples in current food systems, referring to successful community-based actions contributing to food sovereignty and food security, while advocating for inclusive approaches to respect traditional knowledge and safeguard agrobiodiversity in the future.
Other sessions shared case studies and best practices to connect both in-situ (on farm) and ex-situ (such as genebank) conservation, with emphasis on ensuring fair access to planting materials and strengthening diverse seed systems.
Congress speakers and participants repeatedly emphasized that only through collective action will it be possible to diversify our food systems. In the wake of this global event, interested individuals and organizations are encouraged to explore the resources below and continue spreading awareness about best approaches to eat, grow, and save agrobiodiversity.