Insights from the International Agrobiodiversity Conference 2024 in Pokhara, Nepal


From April 9-12, 2024, Pokhara, Nepal became the center of global discussions on agrobiodiversity as it hosted the International Agrobiodiversity Conference. This four-day event organized at Pokhara, the tourism capital of Nepal, assembled 180 participants from 32 countries and over 1000 virtual participants from around the globe. Attendees included representatives from forest and farm producer organizations (FFPOs), Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC), government, civil society organizations (CSOs), farmers, and the private sector. The conference focused on critical themes such as agrobiodiversity conservation, policy shaping, traditional knowledge exchange, seed and farm management, and nature finance.  

The conference was organized by the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) – a partnership hosted by FAO in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and AgriCord – in collaboration with the Ministry of Forests and Environment of Government of Nepal, Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN), Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD), Agroecology Coalition and International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity. 

Agrobiodiversity, a crucial subset of biodiversity, plays a vital role in food security, climate resilience, and the maintenance of ecosystem services. However, the alarming rate of agrobiodiversity loss is driven by factors such as the shift from traditional farming practices, the prevalence of monoculture systems, and technological advances that demand uniformity. To address these challenges, the conference provided a platform for sharing innovative, traditional,  scientific knowledge, and empirical experiences from around the globe on agrobiodiversity. 

Photo: Inauguration Session (Mr. Thakur Bhandari, Chairperson, FECOFUN; Mr. Aparacio Luis Miguel, FFF Manager, FFF FAO, Dr. Govinda Prasad Sharma, Secretary, MoALD, The Hon’ble Nawal Kishor Sah Sudi, MoFE, The Hon’ble Jwala Kumari Sah, MoALD, Mr Ken Shimizu, FOAR, FAO Nepal).

The conference was inaugurated by Hon. Minister Nawal Kishor Sah Sudi of the Federal Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoFE), who emphasized the critical role of smallholder farmers in conservation. The ceremony included the symbolic watering of a Tulsi plant. Hon. Jwala Kumari Sah, Federal Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD), highlighted the significance of agrobiodiversity for food and nutrition security, particularly the roles of grassroots communities and women. Similarly, Dr. Govinda Prasad Sharma, Secretary from the MoALD, discussed the Government of Nepal’s commitment to agrobiodiversity conservation through various policies and initiatives.

Mr. Luis Miguel Aparicio, Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) Manager at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), appreciated the collaborative efforts and the importance of traditional knowledge and shared that FFF intends to build the capacity of FFPOs for the present and future to ensure steady food supply, implement agroecological practices, and increase the resilience of the whole system. 

The conference included the share fair, which served as a learning and sharing platform to demonstrate and understand agrobiodiversity across the globe. The fair included 25 display booths from 10 countries (Vietnam, Liberia, Madagascar, Zambia, Ecuador, Togo, Mexico, Bolivia, India, and Nepal) representing farmers, government, non-government organizations, and private sectors. The share fair and exhibition enriched educational experiences, providing Forest and Farm producers a platform to share narratives and showcase products. The event facilitated networking opportunities among the participants, enhancing their understanding of agrobiodiversity from local to global.

Photo: Speaker and panelist of Session 1: Agrobiodiversity – What it is and why it matters.
Photo: Participants engaged in group discussion during the sessions.

The conference initiated the dialogue through technical sessions with diverse actors related to the agrobiodiversity field. Session 1: Agrobiodiversity – What it is and why it matters, highlighted the importance of agrobiodiversity for ecological balance and food security. Experts discussed various strategies for conserving genetic diversity in agricultural practices. Session 2: How policies shape agroecology approaches that help to protect and manage agrobiodiversity for better or worse; emphasized that policies are key to enhancing the effort to sustain agrobiodiversity need for principles-based approaches that integrate ecological concepts with social responsibility, promoting resource efficiency, resilience, and social equity was highlighted. Session 3: Traditional knowledge of agroforestry systems and knowledge exchange practices that maintain agrobiodiversity focused on the critical role of traditional knowledge in maintaining agrobiodiversity. Speakers shared successful practices from various regions, demonstrating how traditional methods contribute to ecological resilience. In Session 4: Seed and Farm Management Techniques and Innovations to Sustain Agrobiodiversity, discussions centered around integrating formal and informal seed systems. Innovations in seed management and policies to support local seed conservation were highlighted as essential for sustaining agrobiodiversity. 

Photo: Dr. Balaram Thapa, Senior Advisor, LI-BIRD, Mr. Bharat Bhandari, Executive Director, LI-BIRD, and Mr. Shrawan Adhikary, Sr Programme Operation Specialist, FAO, Nepal.
Photo: Participants engagement during the Q&A session during the conference.

Session 5: Enterprise innovations that encourage diversification in what is planted highlighted the potential of enterprise innovations to enhance agrobiodiversity, stating that “agroecology and enterprise innovations are pathways for sustainable livelihoods.” The session also covered the role of financial cooperatives in supporting diverse agricultural practices. The final Session 6: Nature finance – improving flows to FFPOs and IPLCs, addressed the financial mechanisms needed to support agrobiodiversity, focused on the significant disparity in funding allocation, noting that small-scale family farmers currently receive only 0.3% of international climate finance, necessitating advocacy for change. The session appealed for treating smallholder farmers as equal partners in financial decisions. 

Photo: Participants visiting Panchase agroecology site.
Photo: Participant observing the community seed bank at Maramche, Pokhara.

The field visit was conducted on Day 2 of the conference and was appreciated by all the participants, which provided valuable insights into innovative agrobiodiversity management practices across Pokhara. Participants explored diverse sites showcasing community-based approaches to organic farming, forest conservation, and sustainable businesses. Key reflections from the fields included the importance of indigenous knowledge, women’s engagement, and collective efforts in promoting agroecology. Discussions highlighted challenges such as climate change impacts and wildlife coexistence, underscoring the need for holistic solutions. The visits also emphasized the role of cooperatives in knowledge dissemination, livelihood enhancement, and conservation efforts. Overall, the field visits demonstrated the significance of community-driven initiatives in fostering sustainable development and preserving cultural heritage amidst evolving socio-economic dynamics.

Photo: Participants observing the cardamom plantation site in Bhakarjung, Pokhara. 
Photo: Participants’ interaction with the community at Arba agroecological site, Pokhara. 

The conference outcomes included key action points emphasizing the need for agroecological approaches to safeguard agrobiodiversity, empower smallholder farmers and indigenous communities, and integrate ecological resilience with economic efficiency. The event also highlighted the critical role of traditional knowledge in maintaining diverse food cultures and the necessity of supporting local seed systems. These discussions and outcomes are pivotal in steering global efforts towards sustainable agricultural practices and ensuring food security in the face of climate variability. 

Key action points highlighted during the conference: 

  • Emphasize agroecological approaches to build resilient agrobiodiversity, and safeguard vital plant and animal species, crucial for global food security against climate challenges.
  • Acknowledge and empower local communities as guardians of agrobiodiversity, ensuring their rights are respected and providing them with direct financial support.
  • Advocate for the participation and engagement of the farmers during the formulation and implementation of the laws and policies.
  • Respect and promote traditional knowledge to sustain diverse food cultures and encourage collective action for conservation.
  • Implement diverse seed conservation strategies combining in situ and ex-situ approaches within supportive policy frameworks.
  • Harness existing knowledge hubs and networks to scale up agroecological practices globally, strengthening alliances and promoting knowledge sharing.
Photo: Group photo of organizers with members of the coordination team for the conference.