By Iain Davidson-Hunt

The link between biodiversity and food security is a vital one of ever-greater importance. In my role as Vice-Chair, North America, CEESP and with Michel Pimbert, Deputy Chair, CEESP I recently organized a panel session for the International Society of Ethnobiology Congress that is being held this week in Montpellier, France. The purpose is to facilitate discussion amongst CEESP members and other participants with an interest in the linkages between biodiversity and food systems. The session will also be used to further introduce the new SULi Specialist Group and its emerging work themes to attending CEESP members as well as to create interest amongst other specialists with research or development programs related to the sustainable use of biodiversity and livelihoods. The information session will be led by Lawrence Baya, a SULi member, with expertise on bushmeat issues from central Africa.

Panel 1 of the session will include contributions from my own research program at the Centre for Community-based Resource Management, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba that considers the linkages between biodiversity and rural households and that takes an empirical approach to understand the ways by which biodiversity at multiple scales contributes to rural food systems.

Species provide households with food products and are components of local trade and extra-local trade networks. Biodiversity, at the level of land/seascapes, also contributes to rural food systems. Landscape patchiness provides a range of ecosystem services from watershed protection to species that may only be used at certain times (seasons / hunger periods) or for specific reasons (medicines, housing materials). Such multifunctional landscapes also enhance genetic diversity by providing habitats for “wild” relatives of domesticated species. Intersecting with these ecological characteristics of biodiversity and rural food systems are the institutions at multiple levels that enhance or constrain access to biodiversity. In this session, I will present research from Canada’s boreal forest, Idrobo from the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil and Sylvester from the Talamanca forest of Costa Rica. My graduate students have also been busy by compiling case studies to document the role of biodiversity in supporting sustainable food systems of rural communities.

Panel 2 of the session will see a food sovereignty framework being presented that has been developed, in part, by the program directed by Michel Pimbert at the International Institute of Environment and Development and also supported by IUCN via Resolution 3.017. Food sovereignty provides an approach to understand institutional characteristics of rural food systems. In particular, this work has focused on how local organizations sustain biodiversity important for food and agriculture at the genetic, species, ecosystem and landscape levels. Rural actors and organizations, and the social institutions they create, are key for the adaptive management of rural food systems along with the biodiversity they utilize and the landscapes in which they are embedded. Rural organizations also mediate processes that are vitally important in ensuring the resilience of rural food systems and landscapes in the face of uncertainty and change generated, for example, by climate change. Further, rural organizations and the multi-level networks they form are potentially important for the governance of food systems and their associated biodiversity rich landscapes.

As IUCN considers a new direction for the 2013-16 Program of Work on Deploying Nature-based Solutions to Climate, Food and Development this session will help to initiate conversations amongst CEESP members and other specialists with an interest in food systems. SULi will have an important role to play in bringing together people with knowledge and experience of the use of wild living resources for food, such as wildmeat to support this new program direction of IUCN. We hope to provide a report of the meeting in the next issue of SULiNews.  

Iain Davidson-Hunt is CEESP Regional Vice-Chair: North America & the Caribbean. Read more about David.

Note: This meeting referred to in this article was held between 20-25 May.