IDOS holds roundtable on biodiversity and food security as part of African Futures Conference

Around 50 people attended the roundtable on biodiversity and food security held on 2 June in Cologne. The roundtable’s discussion was guided by the question “More land under protection and more food for the people: How can international and local knowledge be mobilized to reconcile conflicting goals?”.

The event was organised by IDOS in collaboration with the city of Cologne and as part of the 9th European Conference of African Studies (ECAS). Held every two years, ECAS is Europe’s largest international conference with an African focus, bringing together researchers, policymakers, and leaders from across the world. This year’s conference was organised by the Global South Studies Centre (University of Cologne) and the Institute for Anthropological Research on Africa (IARA) (University of Leuven), under the theme of “African Futures”.

Our Roundtable’s discussion was set against the backdrop of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP 15) agreement of putting 30 per cent of the planet and 30 per cent of degraded ecosystems under protection by 2030. Whilst this is a fundamental step toward significantly reducing the loss of biodiversity, it may require new answers to the question of how to ensure food security in the Global South.

IDOS Senior Researcher Dr Irit Ittner moderated the discussion, and our panellists included Dr Godfrey Tawodzera, Senior Lecturer of the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at University of Limpopo, South Africa; Arno Bratz, Welthungerhilfe’s (WHH) Head of Sector Strategy, Knowledge and Learning; Prof Michael Bollig, form the University of Cologne’s Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology. Dr. David Lerch, Head of Food, Food Security & Product Supply Communications at Bayer AG was invited as a member of the audience and also contributed to the discussion.

There was an agreement amongst panellists that the COP 15 agreement is an important step in the right direction. However, the modalities through which the 30 per cent goal will be reached are unclear; conservation areas in Africa can often reproduce social inequalities, being the result of colonial past, or of contemporary authoritarian policies. Dr Tawodzera highlighted that for conservation efforts to work locally, communities should have a degree of ownership – conservation should be managed by local communities, and they should reap the benefits of any conservation effort.

Prof Bollig highlighted that while conservation can create opportunities to diversify incomes for some enterprising individuals, for example through the tourist industry, it has not been found to positively impact local communities’ livelihoods in a significant way. One of the most effective measures to contribute to food security in Namibia and Botswana which could also be used to attenuate the effects of conservation activities has been the introduction of a basic income through retirement pensions. Prof Bollig also highlighted that conservation practices focused on wildlife protection are limited in scope; other resources, such as seed varieties, are highly valuable and should be protected.

Panellists further argued that food security cannot be reduced to a food production problem, but rather an issue of access, distribution and in some cases lack of political will. Conflicts, climate extremes and loss of biodiversity all contribute to hunger and food insecurity. Mr Bratz pointed to solutions such as payments for ecosystem services, which could compensate farmers who apply techniques that have huge biodiversity benefits. He also called attention to the potential of sustainable intensification, highlighting that addressing food security will probably require a combination of approaches. Dr Tawodzera added that land tenure and distribution is an issue in some contexts. He also called for changes to financing systems in order to favour local knowledge and practices producing nutritious and sustainable food; current financing systems incentivise unsustainable practices that are not locally useful.

Panellists concluded calling for the involvement of civil society from the Global South; the translation of research outputs into clear, usable information; and furthering research on the nutritional value of traditional crops, with the input of local and indigenous knowledge.

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