Agrobiodiversity in different food supply chains – Polish perspective

Agrobiodiversity is variety and variability of lifeforms that are used for food and agriculture. It also includes the diversity of non-harvested species supporting production, and those in the wider environment that support agro-ecosystems as well as the diversity of the agro-ecosystems themselves. Agrobiodiversity has therefore three inter-connected levels. The first one is the ecosystem level relating to the diversity of non-farmed wildlife. Next level refers to the diversity of crops grown and animals farmed. The last one is the genetic level relating to the diversity of varieties of crops and breeds of animals. Our research on agrobiodiversity was carried out in each of the partner countries. This resulted in case studies that explored the agrobiodiversity in three different food supply chains. Based on the collected data, we were able to check how the participants of case study conducted in Poland understand the concept of agrobiodiversity.

It is important to emphasize that many of the surveyed farmers did not use only one sales channel. As a result, they presented a fairly similar understanding of agrobiodiversity regardless of which of the three analysed food supply chains was the most important for them.

When talking about agrobiodiversity, Polish farmers emphasized the following topics the most: 1) diversification of cultivated plant varieties as a way to minimize the risk and to properly distribute the work over time, 2) diversification of cultivated species as a way to reduce economic risk and 3) ecosystem biodiversity works for the benefit of the farmer, which implies that care must be taken not to disturb natural processes. 

Important factors affecting the understanding of agrobiodiversity are the sources of knowledge which respondents have access to. One of the crucial aspects in that case is the selection of information. Farmers are interested in topics connected with increasing the profitability and optimization of production. The level of agrobiodiversity knowledge is the highest when it is combined with information on production. It’s worth noting that Polish farmers don’t use terms such as sustainability and resilience – maybe because for them there is no time to think about them when each season means fighting to keep the farm going.

Among the non-farming respondents, the subject of agrobiodiversity was best known to people who: 1) are familiar with government programs on biodiversity, 2) are educated people who previously worked outside agriculture, 3) were involved in organic production in the past, 4) consider agrobiodiversity as an important value.

But how understanding of agrobiodiversity is shaped by socio-material context? For some projects the grand ideological “frame” is noticeable in the activities. For others this ideology is part of the “sustainability agenda” and is an important value. Farmers’ thinking is dominated by efforts to maintain production profitability. Agrobiodiversity was perceived mainly in the context of the market situation. It was also quite common to think about diversification of production as a response to consumer needs. In this case, the task of producers is to adapt to the expectations of different customers.                                                                                     

Thanks to the analysis of interviews conducted with representatives of various food chains, we can observe different ways of understanding and appreciating diversity. The concept of agrobiodiversity differs not only in terms of the level of awareness of Polish respondents. The sources of their knowledge about the issue and the socio-material context are also important.

The project was co-financed by the NCBR, BMEL, MIPAAF, RCN and DEFRA within the framework of ERA-NET SUSFOOD and ERA-NET CORE Organic Cofund Joint Call program