How and under what conditions can decentralised governance, capacity building and participation by farmers promote food systems that adapt to changing conditions and climates and maintain agricultural biodiversity?

Drying medicinal plants, the knowledge of which is passed down through generations. In South Asia alone, there are more than 8,000 plant species with known medicinal value.Photo: Bioversity International/B. SthapitThe knowledge of medicinal plants has been passed from generation to generation. In South Asia alone, there are more than 8,000 plant species with known medicinal value. Photo: Bioversity International/B. Sthapit

This project collaborated directly with local farming and indigenous communities in regenerating biodiversity-rich farming and locally-controlled food systems in India, Indonesia, Iran, Mali and Peru to provide some answers.

While this initiative, which ran from 2001 to 2012, has come to an end, IIED support is continuing through other projects, notably in the Potato Park, Peru.

Project objectives

  • Identify forms of decentralised governance, co-management agreements, and markets and property right institutions that can sustain agricultural biodiversity and livelihoods
  • Strengthen the capacity of farmers and other actors, including producer organisations, and in doing so increase their benefits and promote awareness and responsible action
  • Develop indicators to analyse the links between livelihoods and agricultural biodiversity, with a special emphasis on local definitions of well-being, equity and culture.
  • Apply participatory assessment methodology for valuations of agricultural biodiversity and the various systems (for example, livelihoods, food and rural development) in which local biodiversity is embedded.
  • Make recommendations on effective policies and processes that will help build capacity and institutionalise the adaptive management of agricultural biodiversity in the context of localised food systems and rural economies.


Through participatory research and dialogue in India, Indonesia, Iran and Peru, and international learning exchanges, a range of activities have been carried out. Key activities are listed below.

  • A citizens’ jury was held in 2001 in Andhra Pradesh, India, to include small farmers and indigenous people in participatory assessments of different visions of food, farming and rural development futures.
  • International farmers exchange for mutual learning on privatisation of knowledge and seeds was held in Nyeleni, Mali, 2009.
  • A farmers’ cultural and technical exchange between Indian farmers and indigenous communities in the Andes of Peru. The farmer-to-farmer exchange focused on capacity building for the local level management of agricultural biodiversity, the documentation of indigenous knowledge in the form of Community Biocultural Registers and training in digital video technology.
  • We also supported and advised the Growing Diversity Initiative and an international workshop in Brazil in 2002, in which participants reviewed emerging issues and challenges for the decentralised management of agricultural biodiversity in Africa, Asia and Latin America.


An international training workshop was held in September 2009 in Cusco, Peru on methods and processes for establishing indigenous biocultural territories as agrobiodiversity conservation areas. This workshop produced a Declaration to emphasise the participants’ commitment to working together towards ensuring food sovereignty and fostering locally-led initiatives for the protection and promotion of agrobiodiversity and local rights.

The workshop in Peru was followed by a meeting held by Peruvian indigenous organisations, local government bodies and civil society organisations in Cusco, in February 2012 The meeting formulated a strategic response to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) meeting (ABCD10) that would push for greater use of genetically modified organisms. A demonstration through the ancient Inca streets followed. The meeting produced an open letter to the Director General of FAOwhich stated that the FAO agenda didn’t represent the best approach for tackling agricultural challenges, including those brought by climate change. For more information visit this campaign website or watch this video of the meeting.

Read Sowing innovation for sustainable food to find out more about the project.


Sharing Power – A global guide to collaborative management of natural resources is a publication designed for professionals and people involved in collaborative management processes providing methods and tools, such as practical checklists distilled from different situations and contexts. (Second edition)

This publication Barter Markets: Sustaining people and nature in the Andes provides new evidence on the importance of the Andean markets for helping to sustain local food systems and ecosystems.

Read a briefing on Indigenous conservation territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities: Bio-cultural diversity conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities

Reports and papers

Transforming Knowledge and Ways of Knowing for Food Sovereignty and Bio-Cultural Diversity. [PDF] Pimbert, M. 2006. Paper presented at the Conference on Endogenous Development and Bio-Cultural Diversity, Geneva, Switzerland, 3-5 October 2006.

Reclaiming autonomous food systems: the role of local organisations in farming, environment and people’s access to food. Pimbert, M. 2006. Paper presented at the International Conference on Land, Poverty, Social Justice and Development, 12-14 January 2006, The Hague, Netherlands.

Sustaining the Multiple Functions of Agricultural Biodiversity. Pimbert, M. 1999. FAO background paper for the Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land, The Netherlands.

Diversity and sustainability in community based conservation. Pimbert, M., and Pretty, J. 1997. Paper presented at the UNESCO-IIPA regional workshop on community-based conservation, February 1997, India.

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