The Value Of Biodiversity Conservation And Priorities For Conservation

The 1994 Convention on Biological Diversity states that biological diversity means variability among living organisms and includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems. In this chapter we are especially interested in agricultural biodiversity, a vital subgroup of general biodiversity. Agricultural biodiversity:

"encompasses the variety and variability of animals, plants, and micro-organisms on earth that are important to food and agriculture which result from the interaction between the environment, genetic resources and the management systems and practices used by people." (Aarnick et al., 1999).

In contrast to wild biodiversity, agricultural biodiversity contains a large human capital component, where genetic diversity depends on a combination of human and natural selection pressures. Therefore, we adopt a broad interpretation of agricultural biodiversity conservation and sustainable use to include species and ecosystems, as well as the management practices which sustain them. Protection of the human capital required to identify and utilize genetic resources is as important as protecting the resources themselves in designing agricultural biodiversity conservation strategies, as opposed to the conservation of wild biodiversity, where human knowledge is a much less important component of conservation.

The associated benefits of the natural and human resources comprising agricultural biodiversity is a natural means of prioritizing conservation programs. These benefits may be divided into use and nonuse categories (Randall, 2001). The assessment of usefulness is from a human perspective, which has often been criticized, particularly in the context of wild biodiversity. With agricultural biodiversity, since the resource itself is the result of human selection applied in conjunction with natural selection with the intention of providing something useful to humans, assessing the value of the resource from the human perspective is quite appropriate.

Agricultural biodiversity conservation yields several types of use benefits, manifested as both public and private goods. Several studies have shown that higher levels of agricultural diversity provide important services to farmers in the form of insurance against production risks, the ability to spread labor requirements over a production season, adaptation to heterogeneous production conditions, and the possibility of producing for differing final consumption outlets, including market or self-consumption (see Chapter 5, also Smale, 2001). Higher levels of biodiversity may generate reduced pest incidence, improved soil nutritional levels, crop pollination, and hydrological functions (Perrings, 2001). All of these characteristics fall into the category of private goods—the farmer's maintenance of biodiversity impacts their own production and consumption outcomes. However, agricultural biodiversity also provides important services to local and global populations through the maintenance of the gene pool, which is the basis for the development of new crop varieties. This capacity allows farmers and plant breeders to develop varieties to adapt to changing production and consumption conditions over time. Some of these use benefits are known and to some extent quantifiable, but much of the use benefits from agricultural biodiversity are in the form of option values, which have not yet been realized. Option values are associated with the possible future uses of biodiversity resources that may be captured with future knowledge and conditions.

The preservation of biodiversity also generates nonuse benefits. Some individuals have a strong bequest motive in their willingness to pay for preserving biodiversity, but this motive may also imply a preference for a future use in which case it is essentially the same as an option value of biodiversity. In other cases individuals may hold an existence value for biodiversity that is derived from the knowledge that valued species and ecosystems exist.

The use and nonuse values of conservation are expressed in various forms of agricultural biodiversity, which also have implications for targeting criteria under conservation programs. A simple categorization of these forms follows below:

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