The Economics of Public Investment in Agrobiodiversity Conservation1

J.C. Cooper

Agriculture and Economic Development Analysis Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy

In response to growing international concern that the threat to species and ecosystems caused by human activities is at an all time high, and that this threat may result in high costs to present and future generations, the United Nations adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB) in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio 'Earth Summit'). While initially the concern was on biodiversity in general, by the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP) in 1996, it adopted decisions that included the development of a work programme on agricultural and forestry biological diversity, namely to 'establish a multi-year programme of activities on agricultural biological diversity aiming: first, to promote the positive effects and mitigate the negative impacts of agricultural practices on biological diversity in agro-ecosystems and their interface with other ecosystems; second, to promote the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources of actual or potential value for food and agriculture; and third, to promote the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources ... ' (paragraph 1, Decision III/11 in COP, 1997).

While the justification for this call to public action on agricultural biodiversity (from here on referred to as agro-biodiversity) has not been framed in an explicitly economic context, it may be considered as the value to society of avoiding irreversible decisions on the conservation of crop genetic resources (CGRs), i.e. the 'quasi-option value' (Arrow and Fisher, 1974) or 'option value' (Henry, 1974) of reducing the erosion in agro-biodiversity.2 In particular, the loss of native landrace (or 'traditional' varieties) is irreversible. As first noted by Hanemann and Fisher in the context of option value, other varieties may be close, but not perfect, substitutes, so once a particular land race is extinct, its value for future plant breeding will remain unknown.3

© CAB INTERNATIONAL 1998. Agricultural Values of Plant Genetic Resources (eds R.E. Evenson, D. Gollin and V. Santaniello)

This chapter presents a model for assessing publicly funded agro-biodiversity conservation programmes. It considers the tradeoff between in situ and ex situ conservation programmes and develops a methodology for assessing the economic returns associated with these programmes.

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