There is no agreed standard way of measuring agrobiodiversity in diets, food production systems or in genetic resources.
By Richard China

The UN commented this week on the release of the 2018 Sustainable Development Goals Report that when it comes to meeting the 17 ambitious SDGs, progress is uneven and not moving fast enough. For example, the Goal to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture (SDG 2) – appears already out of reach, given the recent global increase in undernourished people.

Data gaps are compounding efforts to measure progress. Some of the SDG indicators are still not finalized or tracked. Francesca Perucci, Chief of the Statistical Services Branch at the UN Statistics Division, commented in a recent Devex article, “You can estimate the number, but you cannot measure all of the factors that you use to monitor progress on the 17 Goals. The data is not there.” This trend is seen elsewhere. The recent progress report on the UN’s internationally agreed Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Targets also highlights slow progress and data gaps, including a lack of information on how to mainstream biodiversity effectively.

Agricultural biodiversity (agrobiodiversity) is a case in point. Agrobiodiversity is the foundation of sustainable food systems. Scientific evidence shows that it boosts nutrition in diets. It increases resilience, soil health and water quality, and reduces the need for costly artificial inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides in food production systems. Farming systems high in agrobiodiversity produce less greenhouse emissions than less biodiverse farms. Yet there is no agreed standard way of measuring it in diets, food production systems or in genetic resources.

The Agrobiodiversity Index is now being fine-tuned to fill this gap. Since its launch at the thirteenth meeting of the Parties to the CBD (COP 13) in Mexico, the Index has moved from an idea to a working prototype. It can measure how much agricultural biodiversity is in a given food system, and how both commitments and actions to deliver those commitments are faring.

The Agrobiodiversity Index is contributing towards sustainability through three pillars. Its measurements encompass:

➢ Diets and markets: to what extent and how companies, countries and projects contribute to ensure food biodiversity for healthy diets
➢ Production systems: to what extent and how companies, countries and projects contribute to agrobiodiversity for sustainable production
➢ Genetic resources: to what extent and how companies, countries and projects contribute to diverse genetic resources for current and future options.

Decision-makers can use this data to compare strategies and to select actions that will deliver more sustainable, more nutritious food systems. The Index will also measure how agrobiodiversity contributes to meeting many of the interconnected global targets to which countries are committed.

Using a suite of three groupings of indicators, the Agrobiodiversity Index provides information on status, commitments and actions. The user can access maps and graphs via an online interactive portal, along with a short performance comparison summary to guide strategic planning. Ultimately, users can see what works best and evaluate how that could be applied to meet their own needs.

Currently, the Index is undergoing testing for both countries and companies. In Ethiopia, India and Peru, it is being used to design and monitor policies and measure progress against international targets. The companies Syngenta and Nestle are using it to reduce risks in their supply chains, enhance environmental stewardship, and improve the quality of their products, to make them more attractive to consumers and investors. Clarmondial AG, an investment advisory company, is using the Index to rate the performance of food and agriculture companies to make appropriate decisions.

The latest updates on the Agrobiodiversity Index will be presented at a side-event to the upcoming meeting of the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-22), which is a precursor meeting to the CBD COP14 in Egypt at the end of 2018. Alongside the SBSTTA, we will get feedback from future users before taking the Index to the next stage of fine-tuning, development and implementation. If you are attending, please join us at.

One thing that does not require any further fine-tuning is the clear message that to meet many of the internationally agreed targets, we need to mainstream agrobiodiversity in sustainable food systems – and to do this, we need to be able to measure it.

This article was originally published by IISD SDG Knowledge Hub on June 28, 2018 – Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Sustainable Food Systems – We Need to Measure It. We grant you a nonexclusive, nontransferable, limited right to access, use and display the article, provided that you comply fully with the terms and conditions of the original publisher.