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Policy Activities

Agro-biodiversity and rural development policies

WECF participates in following policy processes, which focus entirely or partly on the issues of agro-biodiversity and rural development:

  • EU policy processes

  • UN policy processes

WECF believes that the conclusions of the World Agriculture Report 2008: International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), should be an eye-opener for all policy makers. 58 countries have adopted the conclusions of this report, whose panel of international experts resembles the IPPC in its functioning. However, so far only few EU member states have adopted the conclusions. The IAASTD report is a call for governments and international agencies to redirect and increase their funding towards a revolution in agriculture that is firmly agro-ecological. The core message of the final IAASTD report is the urgent need to move away from destructive and chemical-dependent industrial agriculture and to adopt environmental modern farming methods that champion biodiversity and benefit local communities. Sufficient and better food can be produced without destroying rural livelihoods or our natural resources. Local, socially and environmentally responsible methods are the solution. The IAASTD also concluded that such techniques as genetic engineering are no solution for soaring food prices, hunger and poverty.

WECF is concerned that organic farming, although growing, still represents only a small total market share compared to conventional farming. This is among others due to trade agreements. Under WTO regulations environmental standards are difficult to include. Some health standards are regulated under the Codex Alimentarius, but this is a non-binding treaty under World Health Organization (WHO). In the paper “Organic Agriculture and Food Safety” presented at the International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security” held in Rome from 3 to 5 May 2007 the FAO conclude that organic agriculture has the potential to secure global food supply, just as conventional agriculture does today, but with reduced environmental impact. Realising this potential depends greatly on political will.

WECF is also concerned that the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment concluded that Europe’s ecosystems have suffered more human induced fragmentation than any other continent. In this respect, the Biodiversity Action Plan requires that projects funded under EU programmes prevent or minimise their impacts on biodiversity and where possible make a positive contribution. This is especially relevant for the Structural Funds, which provide a major source of funding (€347 billion over a seven-year period) for infrastructure investments and large development projects across Europe. Where damage is inevitable, the projects must at least ensure that the loss is compensated for, or offset against biodiversity gains elsewhere, in order to prevent the further significant degradation, fragmentation and damage to Europe’s biodiversity.

EU policies

WECF focuses on following EU programmes and policies, their implementation and their improvement.

  • EU post 2010 biodiversity programmes

  • EU Council Decision 2006/144/EC of 20 February 2006 with strategic guidelines for rural development

  • Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

  • Community strategic guidelines for rural development (programming period 2007 to 2013) (2006/144/EC)

Farms and forests cover most of Europe’s land and are vital for our health and economy. Farming is still one of the dominant land uses in Europe, covering almost 50% of the EU territory. It has also been a major contributor to Europe’s biodiversity: around half of our wildlife species are associated in one way or another with farmland. This is due to centuries of diverse farming traditions which have resulted in the wide range of characteristic and contrasting agricultural landscapes we see today. However, as elsewhere in the world, agriculture in Europe has changed dramatically in recent times. Driven by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to increase productivity, many farms intensified their activities and became highly mechanised. Those who could not compete found themselves increasingly marginalised and many were forced to abandon their land, with equally devastating consequences for biodiversity. Today, little of Europe’s once extensive high nature value farmland remains.

Existing barriers to sustainable rural development include a lack of regulations on the use of hazardous pesticides, which allows hormone disrupting, carcinogenic, neurotoxic pesticides continue to be used unrestrictedly, exposing vulnerable groups such as children to substances which may create life long health damage. A recent scientific overview showed that children of farmers’ families have significant higher risks of developing brain tumours. Further barriers to sustainable rural development include the lack of regulations on the use of GMOs.

EU funds have been earmarked for sustainable rural development, however experience of WECF network members shows that it is still very difficult for local or regional initiatives to make use of these funds. One of the reasons is that the majority of funds are distributed not directly by the European Commission, but via the national and provincial agricultural authorities. In some countries, these national and provincial funds have their known group of beneficiaries, and new innovative programmes have difficulty finding access to funding. In other countries, the bureaucracy of accessing these funds makes it difficult for new, innovative programmes.

Catalysts for sustainable rural development are regulations which reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and risky technologies in agriculture and regulations which promote agro-biodiversity protection, sustainable non-agricultural use and protection of landscapes. Green purchasing by authorities and the private sector, and cooperation between producers and consumers, as well as between farmers and water utilities, are also catalysts for sustainable rural development. Multi-sector partnerships for sustainable rural development are a key tool. The Less Favoured Areas (LFA) payment scheme is a further tool, allowing farmers to be compensated for agricultural activities in less favoured areas. All measures which strengthen local markets, increase the income generating potential from (agro) biodiversity protection, and promote local reuse of water and nutrients, favour sustainable rural development.

The EU has also adopted a Community Programme to help conserve Europe’s rare domestic breeds and crops. There are still over 2300 different breeds of livestock in Europe today, more than anywhere else in the world. They have evolved through centuries of local farming traditions and are therefore particularly well adapted to their environment. However, many are now highly threatened as a result of changing agricultural practices

The Community strategic guidelines for rural development (programming period 2007 to 2013) (2006/144/EC), stresses the importance and contribution of the agri-food sector to the sustainable development of rural areas. The Commission also insists on Member States involving civil society organisations in the development and implementation of rural development plans.


WECF advocates for sustainable (regional, organic, fair) farming and consumption as a solution to the currently critical situation of rural development in Europe. This includes all measures which strengthen local markets, increase the income generating potential whilst protecting (agro-)biodiversity, and promote local reuse of water and nutrients.

WECF campaigns for (agro) biodiversity protection especially in the light of the unlikelihood of the EU to achieve its biodiversity loss target by 2010, and will input into measures to halt biodiversity loss.

WECF advocates for regulations to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and risky technologies in agriculture and regulations which promote agro-biodiversity protection, sustainable non-agricultural use and protection of landscapes.

WECF promotes green purchasing by authorities and the private sector, and multi-sector partnerships, for example cooperation between producers and consumers, as well as between farmers and water utilities companies.

WECF raises awareness and propose policy recommendations about the need to transform unsustainable farming and consumption practices, including intensive agriculture, the livestock factory approach, the use of pesticides and GMOs.

We argues that intensive farming practices are economically as well as environmentally unsustainable, and will work on sustainability and ‘public good’ criteria for use in advocacy work surrounding the CAP reform.

UN policy processes

WECF contributes to the as one of the organisers of the women’s caucus of the Convention on Biological Diversity , bringing grass roots women organisations to propose their views on the need for a strong access and benefit sharing agreement of the CBD which assures that benefits go to indigenous communities.

In 2008 during the Conference of Parties of the CBD, WECF organised during 2 weeks the women’s caucus, first during the preliminary citizen’s forum “Planet Diversity” and then during the official negotiations. A documentary film was produced on with key messages from women around the world, present at Planet Diversity.

Climate change and biodiversity

The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) states that:

Biodiversity and climate change are closely linked, and each impacts upon the other: biodiversity is threatened by human-induced climate change, but biodiversity resources can reduce the impacts of climate change on population and ecosystems. There is ample evidence that climate change affects biodiversity. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, climate change is likely to become the dominant direct driver of biodiversity loss by the end of the century. Climate change is already forcing biodiversity to adapt either through shifting habitat, changing life cycles, or the development of new physical traits.

At the same time, biodiversity has a role to play in climate change adaptation and mitigation. For example, the conservation of habitats can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Currently, deforestation is estimated to be responsible for 20 percent of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, conserving mangroves and drought-resistant crops, for example, can reduce the disastrous impacts of climate change such as flooding and famine.

The resilience of ecosystems can be enhanced and the risk of damage to human and natural ecosystems reduced through the adoption of biodiversity-based adaptive and mitigation strategies. Mitigation is described as a human intervention to reduce greenhouse gas sources or enhance carbon sequestration, while adaptation to climate change refers to adjustments in natural or human systems in response to climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.

Given the interlinkages that exist between climate change and biodiversity, there is a need to:

  1. identify and conserve biodiversity components that are especially sensitive to climate change,

  2. preserve intact habitats so as to facilitate the long-term adaptation of biodiversity,

  3. improve our understanding of the climate change – biodiversity linkages, and

  4. fully integrate biodiversity considerations into climate change mitigation and adaptation plans.

Examples of activities that promote mitigation of or adaptation to climate change include:

  • maintaining and restoring native ecosystems,

  • protecting and enhancing ecosystem services,

  • managing habitats for endangered species,

  • creating refuges and buffer zones, and

  • establishing networks of terrestrial, freshwater and marine protected areas that take into account projected changes in climate.