Human existence depends on nature! Nature provides a range of services, often referred to as ecosystem services. These are the benefits humans receive, directly or indirectly, from nature. The four major groups of ecosystem services include provisioning services (food, fibre, timber, water, etc.), regulating services (air quality and climate regulation, water regulation, erosion regulation, pollination, etc.), supporting services (soil formation, nutrient and water cycling, photosynthesis, etc.) and cultural services (cultural diversity, spiritual and religious values, knowledge systems, recreation, ecotourism, etc.). Biodiversity, which is very often defined as "totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region" is often used as a measure of the health of biological systems (nature in wide).
World leaders have already held several important meetings on sustainable development and biodiversity, among which the most notable were the 1992 Rio de Janeiro and the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summits. However, despite increased efforts made in the last decade or so, protection of biodiversity has not been realised. The loss of natural resources and damage to the global biodiversity goes on. According to the UN reports, biodiversity and fish stocks are depleted, desertification claims more and more fertile land and air, soil, water and marine pollution continues, robbing millions of people of a decent life. Millennium Development Goal number 7, to ensure environmental sustainability as defined at the Johannesburg Earth Summit, is unlikely to be achieved.
The role of agriculture
Appropriate land management is essential for biodiversity and agriculture plays an important role in biodiversity maintenance. Many areas of high natural value require some degree of management. Human intervention or rather stewardship has become even more important since the disappearance or extinction of large herbivores, notably ungulates. Landscape, ecosystem, species and gene diversity is enhanced or preserved with appropriate land management techniques- primarily by mowing, grazing, browsing and trampling. Even the most valuable species-rich grasslands require some minimum grazing pressure to maintain the sward.
Intensive agriculture is often detrimental to biodiversity. Land reclamation, narrow crop rotation, monocultures, the use of just few modern varieties (including GMOs) and breeds, the application of agrichemicals and in some cases livestock manure (oversupply) has lead to the decline of biodiversity on agricultural land.
Organic farming and biodiversity
Numerous studies indicate that in general, organic farming is more beneficial to biodiversity than non-organic management. Due to careful management, ecological infrastructure maintenance, moderate nutrients input and avoidance of agrichemicals, organically farmed areas very often have a much higher abundance and diversity of plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals. In comparison to non-organic farms, organic farms show more weed and total plant species, have more evenly distributed numbers among genera and harbour more native and exotic plant species than conventional systems. They often attract significantly more predatory species, earthworms, butterflies, spiders, bees, bats, birds and bees and food chains appear more often on organic than conventional farms. However, in some cases, from the biodiversity point of view, traditional farming systems (e.g. pastoral) appear to be more appropriate than (certified) organic management.
The conference objectives are to:
- Inform about potentials and challenges of organic farming in regard to biodiversity.
- Provide opportunity to exchange ideas about research, education and demonstration projects and opportunities on organic farming and biodiversity.
- Inspire to adopt policies fostering development of organic farming and promoting the spread of its practices.
The conference will bring together a range of organic farming stakeholders, mainly from Central and East European countries, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The participants are expected to come from the ministries, universities, research institutes, extension service, organic NGOs and the business sector.