1st International Agrobiodiversity Congress, Nov. 6-9, New Delhi, India
I was very fortunate to be able to join this Congress as a member of the audience, picking and choosing from among many excellent sessions. I went primarily for the session on Crop Wild Relatives (CWR), but also enjoyed the very large and well-organised poster session, where it was possible to meet researchers from very diverse regions of India, and from other countries.
There was much discussion around issues of food security, hidden hunger, and the role of traditional minor crops in nutrition. The Indian government has given explicit support for work on millets and other small grains that are important for many small-scale farmers and in marginal environments. This is a good sign that the agricultural research world is moving beyond a fixation on yields and to a more complex array of issues that need to be addressed in order to make existing production levels sustainable, to improve soil management and food security, and to provide economic security for farmers.
There was also discussion of the fact that agriculture cannot produce increasing amounts of food for an increasing world population forever. It is scientifically irresponsible to use yield increase, in response to unrealistic projections of world population increase, as a primary justification for agricultural research.
Society at large, together with agricultural research institutions and farmers, is responsible for seeking a balanced system of production, trade, population, and consumption in which food security is shared by farmers and urban populations alike, and in which farmers can enjoy the economic security they need to manage their land well and provide all of us with food. I was very happy to see animal husbandry well-represented in this Congress, along with the plant sciences. Animals have many important roles in the agricultural world, not just as potential sources of food for humans.
Beyond all this, there was a sense that agriculture cannot continue business-as-usual in the face of climate change, land degradation, and other emerging threats to food production. Agrobiodiversity is needed to maintain and develop all possible options for responding to our changing world. The 1st International Agrobiodiversity Congress raised many issues of importance, presented new work in diverse disciplines, and created many opportunities for new connections between researchers and farmers. There was a strong sense that a 2nd IAC is needed in the not-too-distant future.
Let's hope that in the 2nd IAC, ethnobotany and ethnozoology will be more strongly represented!
Peter Matthews, 12th Dec. 2016, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka.