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         18 April 2002

On 23-27 April 2002, the United Nations University (UNU) will hold an international conference at Columbia University in New York on "Working with Farmers for the Cultivation of Biodiversity while Improving Livelihoods." The conference is being organized by UNU in coordination with the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University, and International Program of Biosphere and Society, UNESCO/Columbia University. It will be the fourth general meeting under a UNU project "People, Land Management and Environmental Change" (PLEC), which is part of a Global Environment Facility (GEF) work programme with UNU as Executing Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as Implementing Agency during 1998-2002.

Through generations of experiment and innovation, farmers have nurtured diversity of plants and animals and accumulated agrodiversity - "the diverse and dynamic ways in which farmers use the natural diversity of the environment for production, including not only their choice of crops but also their management of land, water and biota as a whole." Many small farmers continue to develop agrodiverse practices that are rich in agrobiodiversity while enhancing the livelihoods of rural people. Yet, the path of maintaining or increasing diversity in agricultural production has been given little official attention, less encouragement, and far less funding by research and agricultural development institutions in recent decades. It continues to be said widely that only energy-intensive and simplified monocultures can achieve the food production needed for a growing world population.

The working environments of most farmers practicing agrodiversity are not only unsuitable for use of such monocultures, but would be liable to serious land degradation if such simplified practices were adopted. Moreover, increasing evidence demonstrates that agrodiverse practices are as productive as monocultures (and sometimes more so), and that they meet human needs for variety, reduce risk and enhance the ability to cope with changes. To be sustainable, production requires the conservation or enhancement of resources. Diversity in production and livelihoods is practiced by innumerable small farmers. Over years of work, PLEC has worked with this large constituency of farmers, in particular at demonstration sites in 12 countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia-Pacific regions, and developed an innovative approach to promoting agrodiversity through "farmers learning from expert farmers" with cooperations of participating scientists.

The conference will summarize the project experiences and lessons, focusing on the following themes: (1) Biodiversity assessment: methods and database, (2) Management diversity, (3) Demonstration site activity, (4) Capacity building and networking, (5) Project impacts, and recommendations, and (6) Future plans. About 60 participants from PLEC national clusters of 12 participating countries as well as UNU, UNEP, GEF and other organizations will attend. The complete programme is available online at

The conference is open to the public; admission is free, although advance registration is required (see the contact information below). Media representatives are cordially invited to attend. For more information, please contact:

Dr. Miguel Pinedo Vasquez
Center for Environmental Research & Conservation, Columbia University
Mail Code 5557, 1200 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10027-6902, USA
Tel.: +1 212 854 8178 Fax: +1 212 854 8188

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For further information, please contact:
UNU Public Affairs Section,
Tel. (03) 5467-1243, -1246; Fax (03) 3406-7346




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