Ernst Strüngmann Forum


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Integrating Knowledge for a Sustainable Future

Edited by Karl S. Zimmerer and Stef de Haan

Experts discuss the challenges faced in agrobiodiversity and conservation, integrating disciplines that range from plant and biological sciences to economics and political science.

Wide-ranging environmental phenomena—including climate change, extreme weather events, and soil and water availability—combine with such socioeconomic factors as food policies, dietary preferences, and market forces to affect agriculture and food production systems on local, national, and global scales. The increasing simplification of food systems, the continuing decline of plant species, and the ongoing spread of pests and disease threaten biodiversity in agriculture as well as the sustainability of food resources. Complicating the situation further, the multiple systems involved—cultural, economic, environmental, institutional, and technological—are driven by human decision making, which is inevitably informed by diverse knowledge systems. The interactions and linkages that emerge necessitate an integrated assessment if we are to make progress toward sustainable agriculture and food systems.

This volume in the Strüngmann Forum Reports series offers insights into the challenges faced in agrobiodiversity and sustainability and proposes an integrative framework to guide future research, scholarship, policy, and practice. The contributors offer perspectives from a range of disciplines, including plant and biological sciences, food systems and nutrition, ecology, economics, plant and animal breeding, anthropology, political science, geography, law, and sociology. Topics covered include evolutionary ecology, food and human health, the governance of agrobiodiversity, and the interactions between agrobiodiversity and climate and demographic change.

ISBN: 9780262038683
Photographie: N. Miguletz

Lektorat: BerlinScienceWorks

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"Agrobiodiversity handsomely informs the United Nation’s Convention on Biodiversity and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, as well as similar efforts, by providing a comprehensive social-environmental assessment of the need for the diversity of cultivated plants and the mitigation of their losses globally."

B. L. Turner II

Regents’ Professor & Gilbert F. White Professor of Environment and Society, Arizona State University


"Changing global climate and expanding human population have necessarily focused attention on agrobiodiversity conservation and use. The text offers a thorough and timely review of what constitutes agrobiodiversity, its relationship to the natural and anthropogenic environment, and just how agrobiodiversity can be used to sustain humankind in the 21st century."

Nigel Maxted

University of Birmingham, lead author of Plant Genetic Conservation

"With this landmark book,  Zimmerer and de Haan offer us an altogether distinctive and rewarding perspective on the many roles agrobiodiversity play in our cultures, in the past, in the present and most importantly, for the future. Their deep knowledge of the literature and their extensive fieldwork  provide a synthesis which will inspire cutting edge theoretical and applied work for decades to come."  

Gary Paul Nabhan

MacArthur Fellow, author of Food from the Radical Center and Where Our Food Comes From

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Agrobiodiversity in the 21st Century

Foundations and Integration for Sustainability

October 2–7, 2016

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Karl Zimmerer and Stef de Haan, Chairpersons

Program Advisory Committee

Conny Almekinders, Wageningen University, Social Sciences, 6700EW Wageningen, NL
Steven B. Brush, Center for Science and Innovation Studies, UC Davis, U.S.A.
Stef de Haan, International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Agricultural Genetics Institute, Pham Van Dong, Tu Liem, Hanoi, Vietnam
Timothy Johns, School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, McGill University, Quebec H9X 3V9, Canada
Julia Lupp, Ernst Strüngmann Forum, 60438 Frankfurt, Germany
Yves Vigouroux, Director of Research, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Montpellier, France
Karl Zimmerer, Department of Geography, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, U.S.A.


  • To consolidate and advance the multidisciplinary foundations of science and scholarship on agrobiodiversity

  • To examine the inkages among key focal areas

  • To develop an integrated scientific framework of agrobiodiversity to address sustainability amid global change

The overall aim is to advance essential understanding and formulate key research questions to guide future query, governance initiatives, and practical interventions.

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Agrobiodiversity, broadly defined, refers to the diversity in biota that arises through interactions with resource-use environments and human behavior. Human impact on food crops and livestock diversity, for example, is determined by decision-making processes at various scales, sociocultural preferences, food consumption patterns, social movements, civil society sectors, and governance institutions. Multiple system levels are involved, including the genomes, varieties and species of plants and animals as well as those encompassing cultural and socio-ecological interactions that occur in different agroecosystems and landscapes, within and among regions and countries.

Recognition of the complexity of agrobiodiversity is increasingly replacing the conventional prognosis of genetic wipeout in centers of diversity or of an inevitable narrowing of the genetic base of food-related biota. The multifarious elements of agrobiodiversity and the knowledge systems entailed range from genetic resource use, ecology, and conservation to governance, food systems, and social-ecological interactions. This knowledge is expanding in conjunction with global change and advances in fields closely related to agrobiodiversity (e.g., genomics and environmental governance). However, care must be taken to avoid the proliferation of isolated approaches along disciplinary lines. Conceptual and knowledge synthesis from which core integrative questions emerge is urgently needed.

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Group 1: Evolutionary ecology of genetic components, crop and livestock functions, and agroecology

  • What are the complex genetic, evolutionary, cultural, and ecological interactions of diversity based on continued cultivation in agroecosystems?
  • How does the ongoing evolution of diversity function as an emergent adaptive mechanism in response to environmental change?
  • What is the potential complementarity of ex situ and in situ approaches to genetic resources and how can this be strengthened?
  • How do we meet the challenges of fuller integration of the geospatial and temporal scales that characterize agrobiodiversity?

Group 2: Governance, including cultural and policy frameworks, at different geospatial scales

  • How do current legal, policy, and political economic frameworks affect access to agrobiodiversity at local and global scales?
  • Given increased attention to local and culturally informed governance, what are the major lessons for formal and global frameworks?
  • What are the characteristic perils and promise related to predominant market-based and civil society approaches to agrobiodiversity conservation?

Group 3: Whole-system approach to human health, nutrition, and disease

  • What is the significance and role of agrobiodiversity in food-based approaches to assure nutrition security?
  • What are the relations between agrobiodiversity (consumed, marketed) and dietary diversity that support human well-being? (market forces/systems) • How does agrobiodiversity interact with the main pillars of global food security: acceptability, accessibility, availability, stability and utilization?
  • How do structural, behavioral and cultural determinants of food choice relate to agrobiodiversity, nutrition and health?

Group 4: Socio-ecological interactions amid global change

  • How do use (conservation) and disuse (genetic erosion) of agrobiodiversity intersect with processes such as intensification of land use, food systems, etc.?
  • How do agrobiodiversity use and conservation link to globally significant trends of urbanization, migration (along with shifts to part-time farming), and markets?
  • Which positive and negative aspects characterize the relation of agrobiodiversity to climate change, water resources, and poverty reduction at present and in the future?
  • What are the relations of agrobiodiversity to trends and resources involving energy (e.g., oil, gas) and mineral extraction?
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