December 19, 2022

Voices from COP15 in Montreal

An interview with Sabrina Masinjila of the African Centre for Biodiversity

COP15: An interview with Sabrina Masinjila

by Zahra Moloo

(Click on the link below to listen to the interview.)

In this interview, Sabrina Masinjila, from the African Centre for Biodiversity, speaks to ETC Group about some key targets in the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) being negotiated at COP15 in Montreal. She explains the importance of agroecology and agricultural diversity in Target 10 of the GBF, and why these are so important for biodiversity in the future.
ETC Group: I'm here at COP15 with Sabrina Masinjila, who is with the African Center for Biodiversity (ACB) based in South Africa. Sabrina herself is based in Tanzania, and is here at the COP15 in Montreal. She is going to tell us a bit about the work she's doing and what are some of the main goals at the COP. Let's start with an introduction. Tell me what do you do and what is the work that the African Centre for Biodiversity does?

Sabrina: Thank you so much Zahra. As introduced I'm Sabrina Masinjila, and I work at the African Centre for Biodiversity based in Tanzania. The African Centre for Biodiversity is a research and advocacy organization, and we work on dismantling inequalities within the food system. We also work around three main program areas: seed sovereignty, opposing corporate capture and control of our food systems, and also on GM and biosafety. We here at the COP have been following the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) discussions for a number of years.

This year especially has been important because of the adoption of the Global Biodiversity Framework, which is a global deal to stave off the declining loss of biodiversity that is happening at a very alarming rate, according to the assessments done by the international panel on biodiversity, the IPBES, which were released a few years ago. These discussions haven't started this year. They started at least two years ago, that's why it's called the Post-2020 biodiversity framework, but due to COVID disruptions, the meetings have been postponed. Now, with the opening up of countries and movement of people, this December the COP15 is the opportunity to pass this global deal.

ETC Group: This a wide framework for biodiversity that's going to determine the next 10 years rather. Is that correct?

Sabrina: Yes. Its predecessor, the Aichi targets, as some people might know, were also focused on reducing the drivers of declining biodiversity, but the Aichi targets didn't fulfill what they were intended to do. They came to a conclusion then they have to develop a new global deal, which is the post-2020 global biodiversity. According to the vision and the mission, the global biodiversity deal has targets up to 2030, but also “living in harmony with nature” up to 2050.

ETC Group: What are you specifically going to be following in these discussions?

Sabrina: For us key has been the focus on the targets; there are over 20 targets so far which are wide ranging, but also interconnected with each other. We view it as a whole package, and just looking at it from a piecemeal point of view, but importantly there have been several targets that we are keen on and have been monitoring, including Target 3 which is an apex target of the Global Biodiversity Framework, and it deals with setting aside 30% of sea and 30% of land areas for protection. Then there is Target 7 which is on pollution and specifically we are monitoring pesticides which pollute a lot of our soils and water.

Then we've been following Target 8 which is on climate, and then there is Target 10, which is where ACB also focuses much because it speaks on agriculture, and our focus has been to see the inclusion of agriculture, biodiversity and agroecological approaches. The inclusion of smallholder farmers, indigenous people, women, as is key towards the contribution towards agricultural biodiversity, but there's also target 17, which deals with the biotechnology. One of the key programs for us is monitoring what is happening within the biotechnology world, especially when it comes to GMOs and new emerging technology such as synthetic biology. Specifically, I think for today, we are also just focusing on target 10, which is on agriculture.

ETC Group: That's a lot of different issues in this framework. Of course it's a framework, so there's so many different aspects, but let's talk more about Target 10. You say that you want to focus on having agroecology and agricultural diversity in this target? What's the challenge with that? Are there people who are opposed to this? Is it difficult to include this language in the text?

Sabrina: I think for us when it came to the draft text of the post-2020 GBF -

ETC Group: (GBF is Global Biodiversity Framework)

Sabrina: Yes. Unfortunately references on agricultural biodiversity were missing, and we know that one of the major drivers for biodiversity losses is actually the kind of global food system that we have currently, which is based on industrialized farming, value chains, corporate capture and corporate control. It's highly corporatized, monopolies within the food systems. We know that industrial agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss, and the only way to remedy this is through adoption of agricultural biodiversity and agroecological principles or approaches which are key for ensuring the diversity that we need in our food and agricultural systems.

When parties tried to include agricultural biodiversity in reference to agroecology and smallholder farmers - and there have been parties that are opposing this - it's because of business as usual and trying to maintain the status quo on what is happening currently within food systems. This has been a challenge, and we understand that there are countries that are protecting the corporates, so they will want language in that is opposing agroecology and agricultural biodiversity. That has been one of the biggest challenges - ensuring that agroecology and agricultural biodiversity is referenced in the global biodiversity framework.

ETC Group: Just very quickly, can you tell me how you define agricultural biodiversity and agroecology?

Sabrina: Agricultural biodiversity - I would define it as a subset of biodiversity, which includes the variety or the diversity of genes, species, microorganisms and all those within the food and agriculture landscapes or ecosystems. Agroecology is a way of farming that takes into account social ecological aspects. It's not just a type of farming, but it also incorporates the whole social and economic aspects within that farming. It uses whatever is within the ecosystem and very little external inputs, for example, as opposed to industrial agriculture in which you have to use synthetic chemicals and pesticides. Within an agroecological setting you use what is in there, you produce and vary the use of external inputs within the farming system. It also has key principles which respect the environment, and smallholder farmers.

ETC Group: It seems like this Target 10 is about two opposing ways of approaching agriculture: one that values and appreciates biodiversity and smallholder farmers, and the other which is very much corporate led. What would happen if the approach of agricultural biodiversity is not included in the framework? What would be the result or the impact of this?

Sabrina: I think it's going to have detrimental effects. It would further entrench the kind of farming that we have, as we mentioned, industrial agriculture, and it blocks us from transitioning away from the drivers of biodiversity loss. In the end, we will still end up with declining biodiversity, and it won't address any of the issues that we are raising because if we continue business as usual, then it means that we won't have a deal that addresses the key issues, and what has brought us here. Importantly, is to urge governments to take into account some of the recommendations that civil society organization are putting forward.

I know there are some governments that are key in seeing agroecology approaches in Target 10. I think political will is what is needed to ensure that it charts a pathway towards shifting away from industrial agriculture and transitioning towards socially just and ecological food systems.

ETC Group: We see a lot, as the biodiversity crisis worsens, that a lot of words like agroecology and sustainability and other words become co-opted by powerful corporate interests or companies that are interested in industrial agriculture, for instance, but are able to co-opt words like agroecology perhaps in order to make people think that they are actually caring for the planet and for biodiversity. Is this a trend that you've noticed, and do we need to be wary of the word agroecology and how it's applied?

Sabrina: Yes, I think what makes it different -- The co-option is there and it has always been there. I think when you look at agriculture and the corporate interests that lie therein then when they see that there is a movement, especially rising from the food sovereignty movement that is challenging what the corporates are pushing for, they reinvent themselves and they say that, "Oh, now we are going to adopt this just to appease the other side."

I think what makes it different if, for example, some of these co-opted words such as agroecology, what makes it different is that within agroecology we already have defined principles and approaches. Definitely of course, we have to be worry about this co-option, but also just to be able to distinguish between what they say and what the reality is.






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