Slow Food on International Day for Biodiversity: Let’s Protect Biodiversity from Climate Change Before Celebrating

ROME -- Industrial agrifood systems are largely responsible for deforestation, water scarcity, biodiversity loss and soil depletion, according to FAO. 

  Edward Mukiibi, the president of Slow Food explained, “To really be part of the plan and live in harmony with nature, as stated in the claim of this International Day for Biodiversity, we have to confront climate change head-on and be serious in changing its course.”

  “Reality is knocking at our doors and if we look at the recent floods devastating Latin America, Asia and Africa, we understand how these dramatic phenomena are hitting every latitude without exception.” Continued Mukiibi. 

  “In parallel, we’re seeing somewhat of a disappearance of climate change stories from the news, even though the environment and biodiversity are still being hit very hard. Let’s celebrate biodiversity, but first of all let’s protect it, for us and for future generations.”

  According to FAO, climate change is worsening hunger and impacting livelihoods across the globe, whether in rural or urban areas. Moreover, agrifood systems mainly face short and long-term challenges due to the interconnected impact of biodiversity loss and competition for access to natural resources.

  FAO also reminds us how the loss of biodiversity threatens the capacity of ecosystems used for food and agriculture to sequester carbon and reduces the options available for modifying production systems in the interests of climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

  Currently, Brazil is experiencing one of its worst floods in recent history. This is the fourth weather-related crisis to hit the southern region in less than a year. Torrential rains have drenched the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, home to 11 million people, submerging entire towns and breaking a major dam. According to the latest figures, at least 155 people have been killed and 94 others have been reported missing. The floods, which have stretched across most of Rio Grande do Sul’s 497 municipalities, have forced nearly 540,000 people from their homes.

  The Ecoserra Cooperative, Slow Food Brazil, the Community of Responsible Consumers and SOS Cozinhas RS have teamed up to help those who need it most. This campaign aims to send donations to different Solidarity Kitchens and shelters in Rio Grande do Sul.

  The Slow Food network rallied to raise money and help displaced people by involving farmers and cooks. “We have identified the Solidarity and Community Kitchens as key facilities for meeting the food needs of people who have been displaced from their homes. The climate tragedy has also directly affected small farmers, abruptly interrupting the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. As a result, the quality of the meals has dropped significantly,” explains Pedro Xavier from Slow Food Brazil.

  “Besides coordinating the fundraising campaign, we are connecting cooperatives from the neighboring state of Santa Catarina to supply good, clean and fair agroecological food, in order to enrich the diet and improve the quality of the meals provided by the solidarity kitchens.”

  The Ecoserra Ecological Cooperative collected seven tons of agroecological products from farmers' properties in the mountainous region of Santa Catarina and distributed them to people in need.  “In order to provide food to people who have lost their homes, we started mapping out the kitchens available for producing meals to serve the reception centres for the homeless, volunteers and professionals,” explained chef Fabrício Goulart from Rio Grande do Sul.

  Rodrigo Bellora echoed him: “As cooks we transformed our places into a production centre for lunchboxes and a collection centre for ingredients and food. Now we're thinking about the aftermath, about how people can get back on their feet and re-enter the job market and even remain active, with hope for the future."

  The region regularly suffers from the effects of El Niño, the cyclical climate phenomenon that can bring heavy rains to Brazil’s southern regions while causing drought in the Amazon rainforest. These effects have been further exacerbated by a mix of climate change, deforestation and haphazard urbanisation. What’s more, politicians are working to weaken national laws to favour big agribusiness.

  As international sources confirm, 25 bills and 3 amendments to the Constitution are being processed in Congress to make environmental legislation more flexible. For instance, they are trying to undermine the Forest Code (the country's main law protecting native vegetation), environmental licensing and the financing of environmental policy. The effects will be so negative that the Climate Observatory has nicknamed these bills the "Package of Destruction."

  Kenya and East Africa in general are also currently experiencing heavy rains and flooding that have devastated the livelihoods of thousands of people, causing deaths, loss of property and the disruption of vital services. In Kenya, so far nearly 300 people have lost their lives and almost 300,000 have been displaced. According to the country’s meteorological department, the situation will continue, and the effects will be felt for a long time. 

  Harley Kibon of the Indigenous Endorois community describes the situation of the Session Slow Food Community Garden: “Our garden was severely affected. It was completely submerged for weeks and our crops of sorghum, maize and various vegetables were severely damaged. No corner of this one-acre garden was spared, nor were our homes, forcing us to seek temporary shelter. We have never seen this before and we are very concerned that if the rains continue, food insecurity will increase.”

  Slow Food Kenya has joined with other organizations to respond in the affected areas by mobilizing resources and supporting affected communities with food, non-food items, training and agroecological inputs to enable them to resume their daily activities as soon as the situation improves.

  “It is important to note that most climate change-related disasters occur in developing countries, especially in Africa, despite the fact that they produce the least amount of greenhouse gases. Extreme swings in weather patterns have adversely affected smallholder farmers, pastoralists and Indigenous communities, increasing poverty and food insecurity in Kenya and the rest of Africa.” John Kariuki, the coordinator of Slow Food activities in Kenya, said. 

  “We cannot sit back and watch our communities continue to suffer. Slow Food Kenya will continue to promote and advocate for agroecology and biodiversity conservation as the only viable solutions to climate change. Smallholder farmers are the custodians of indigenous knowledge and have long demonstrated that the real solutions to the challenges facing the world and the global food system do not lie in industrial agriculture.”

  Other parts have the world have also not been spared. For instance, from the end of December to the beginning of January floods and heavy rains devastated the Netherlands, Germany and France, while Nordic countries were hit by tremendous snowfalls. In April, Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman experienced severe rainstorms and floods.

  In recent days, Afghanistan has been ravaged by floods, which have caused deaths, left thousands homeless and destroyed agriculture. Afghanistan is among the most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change but is responsible for less than 0.1 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. With the sanctions imposed after the Taliban came to power in 2021, 32 programs for climate change adaptation have been blocked.

The solution is local

  The solution lies in the hands of those who spend every day taking care of local biodiversity, the land and natural resources, protecting themselves and us from the devastating effects of climate change. “Since it started, the Slow Food network has been actively protecting natural resources, ecosystems and landscapes with its 1,200 communities all around the world and hundreds of projects to protect the biodiversity of foods and food cultures, to promote community and school gardens and to support healthy local economies,” added Mukiibi.

  In Brazil, for instance, Slow Food has developed numerous initiatives over the years to promote food biodiversity, including establishing 20 projects with farming communities (the Slow Food Presidia) and identifying 235 food products at risk of extinction, documented on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste

  In Kenya, there are 11 Presidia, or community farming projects, plus 79 products that communities would like to save from extinction (passengers on the Ark of Taste). Additionally in the country, five Earth Markets give people the chance to buy local fresh food on a regular basis and 42 chefs belong to the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance, the network that unites cooks and chefs from diverse backgrounds who are committed to preserving biodiversity, supporting small-scale producers and educating consumers about fairer and more sustainable food systems.

 Looking to the future

  These days many international scientists, such as Ruth Cerezo-Motfear or Jonathan Cullen from the University of Cambridge, are afraid average global temperatures will rise to 2.5°C (4.5°F) above pre-industrial levels this century, much more than the hoped-for 1.5°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted a dramatic future of famines, conflicts and mass migration driven by heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms of an intensity and frequency far beyond those that we are already starting to see.

  “Biodiversity and the climate crisis are clearly interconnected and must be high on the agenda of policymakers, news media and public opinion. Without this strong awareness and without a shift in food systems toward globally widespread agroecological practices, we can only predict that humanity is racing towards disaster,” concludes Mukiibi.