The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience

Glossary of Terms and Acronyms


Agricultural biodiversity: See agrobiodioversity below.

Agrobiodiversity: All the components of biological diversity of relevance to food and agriculture. It includes the components of biological diversity that constitute the agroecosystem: the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, which sustain the functions, structure and processes of the agroecosystem. Managed by farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers and fishers for many hundreds of generations, agrobiodiversity reflects the diversity of both human activities and natural processes, providing farmers and communities of Indigenous Peoples with stability, adaptability and resilience in their farming systems and constitutes a key element of their livelihoods.

Agroecological approaches: Approaches that integrate biological and ecological processes into food production, minimizing the use of non-renewable inputs that cause harm to the environment or to the health of farmers and consumers. It includes making productive use of the knowledge and skills of farmers and of people’s collective capacity to work together to solve common agricultural and natural resource problems.

Agroecology: The application of ecological principles into the design and management of agricultural systems. Agroecology consists of three key interwoven facets: it is a scientific discipline involving the holistic study of agroecosystems, a set of principles and practices to enhance the ecological and socio-economic resilience of farming systems, and a movement seeking a new way of organizing agriculture and the relationship of farmers to society.

Agroecosystem: A system of agricultural production, including all organisms and environmental factors within it. With human assistance, this is a stable system with circular flows of material and energy.

Agroforestry: The integration of trees and shrubs into agricultural practices.

Agromorphology: The study of the form and structure of plants.

Aichi Biodiversity Targets: A set of 20 targets, grouped in five goals, which are part of the 2011-2020 strategic plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Anthesis: The flowering period of a plant, from the opening of the flower bud.

Biocultural heritage (a.k.a. collective biocultural heritage): The knowledge and practices of Indigenous people as well as their biological resources, from the genetic varieties of crops they develop to the landscapes they create.

Biodiversity: The array of varieties of living organisms in a particular habitat or ecosystem, and in the world as a whole.

CBD: Convention on Biological Diversity, a multilateral treaty signed by 168 countries, which contains specific provisions related to agricultural biodiversity.

CBM: Community biodiversity management, an innovative approach to agricultural biodiversity conservation pioneered by LI-BIRD in Nepal.

CBR: Community biodiversity registers, a method for documenting agricultural species, part of the CBM approach pioneered in Nepal.

CBSS: Community based seed systems. See definition below.

CBCH: Collective biocultural heritage.See: biocultural heritage above.

Certified seed: Seed that meets the quality standards of national regulatory agencies within formal seed systems.

CFS: Committee on World Food Security, an intergovernmental body housed at the United National Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which serves as a forum for review of policies related to world food security.

CGRFA: The FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

CSO: Civil society organization.

Community biodiversity register: A record of traditional crop varieties in a community that is maintained by community members and may contain such information as the agromorphological and agronomic characteristics, agroecological adaptation, special uses, unique traits, place of origin, and custodian of the landrace. The method is used to document traditional knowledge on genetic resources and provide defensive protection and/or promote bioprospecting.

CGIAR: Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, a consortium of 15 agricultural research institutions supported by governments, institutions and philanthropic organizations.

Community based seed system: A collective system established by a farming community or a group of farmers to produce, save, exchange or sell seeds.

Community seed bank: The most well-known form of community based seed system, a community seed bank (CSB) can take a variety of forms, ranging from an informal storage unit for seeds shared by multiple farmers to a formalized institution controlled and operated by farmers to promote the saving, exchange and improvement of seed varieties, sometimes in conjunction with government agricultural agencies.

Conservation: The management of the natural and farm environment and its biological resources to ensure they are not destroyed in the process of development, but maintain their potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations.

Crop genetic diversity: The total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of the plant species used in agriculture and the close evolutionary related wild species.

Cultivar: A cultivated variety of a domesticated crop plant that is formally or informally named or otherwise recognized as distinct.

Custodian farmers: Farmers who play a major role in the maintenance of a wide range of diverse varieties of different crops.

Diversity fair: A gathering of farmers from one or more communities to show the range of traditional varieties they cultivate. Rather than giving prizes for the best individual variety (e.g., on the basis of yield or size), diversity fairs award farmers or cooperatives for the greatest crop diversity and related knowledge.

Diversity field fora: Men and women organized in teams (of usually 25-30 people) by gender to assess crop genetic diversity. This approach takes into account that the selection criteria by female and male farmers differs. The groups test both improved and local cultivars. Farmers are trained in seed multiplication. The seeds of the selected cultivars are multiplied and disseminated within and outside the groups. At weekly meetings farmers are informed about international and national conventions/legislation relevant to the exchange of plant genetic resources.

DUS: Distinctness, uniformity and stability; attributes required of a new variety in some jurisdictions for granting of certification and breeder’s rights.

Dynamic conservation: Conservation of the biological, agroecological, and human cultural processes responsible for the continuing evolution of crop diversity in traditional systems.

Ecosystem services: The benefits to humans which arise from healthily functioning ecosystems, such as clean water, habitats for pollinators, and waste decomposition.

Ethnobotany: The scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medicinal, religious and other uses.

Ex situ conservation: The removal of germplasm from the place it arose or is found growing, and stored off-site in a gene bank. It also refers to vegetative material in in vitro storage or plant accessions growing in living collections in a botanical garden or a field gene bank.

Farmer Field Schools (FFS): A group-based learning process used by a number of governments and international agencies whereby farmers are trained to train their fellow farmers. It was created predominantly to promote integrated pest management (IPM).

Farmers’ rights: Term used to refer to the rights that should be identified and protected to support farmers’ roles as conservators and generators of crop diversity.

Farmer managed seed systems: Methods used by a farmer or a group of farmers to produce, save, improve, exchange and sell seeds.

Functional diversity: The value and range of traits of the species and organisms that influence ecosystem functioning.

Genetic diversity: The genetic variability among or within a sample of individuals of a variety, population, or species.

Genetic resources (GR): Germplasm of plants, animals, or other organisms containing a diversity of characters with actual or potential value.

Germplasm: The reproductive material of individuals, a group of individuals, or clones representing genotypes, varieties, species, or cultures, held as accessions in an in situ or ex situ collection.

GFAR: Global Forum on Agricultural Research; has a secretariat based at FAO.

GCDT: Global Crop Diversity Trust, also known as Crop Trust, is an independent international organization that exists to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide.

Global North / Global South: General terms referring to geographic regions or countries primarily in the southern hemisphere or northern and western hemispheres facing linked or related socio-economic political challenges and opportunities.

Heirloom varieties: Open pollinated varieties or OPVs (see definition below) that have been passed down through various generations, and pass on similar characteristics in each generation. Heirloom fruits are often propagated through grafts or cuttings.

Hybrid seed: A plant variety produced through controlled pollination in which the pollen comes from a different strain or species of plant in order to increase certain desired characteristics. Hybrid seeds can be produced in breeding laboratories or through low-tech methods such as under row covers in isolated fields. Unlike open pollinated varieties or OPVs (see definition below), hybrid seeds typically cannot be saved from year-to-year because the second generation (F2) does not have the same genetic characteristics as the first (F1).

IBCHA: Indigenous Biocultural Heritage Area, a concept pioneered in Peru which incorporates contemporary science, conservation models and rights-based governance approaches, including the IUCN’s Category V Protected Areas, as well as positive and defensive protection mechanisms for safeguarding the collective biocultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples.

In situ conservation: The conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and processes to maintain and recover viable populations of species in their natural habitat and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties. In situ conservation of domesticated resources focuses on farmers’ fields as part of their agroecosystems.

Indigenous knowledge: May refer broadly to the understandings or traditions that exist in a local community, or more specifically to the cultural knowledge and ways of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous Peoples: People who inhabited a land before it was conquered by colonial societies and who consider themselves distinct from the societies currently governing those territories are called Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples have specific and protected rights under various international treaties and conventions, including the right to self-determination.

Informal seed system: A system of plant variety development, seed production, commercialization and exchange that does not necessarily follow the laws and regulations issued by the state to regulate the quality of plant varieties and seed available on the market.

Integrated pest management: An ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties.

IPRs: Intellectual property rights.

ITPGRFA (or the Plant Treaty): The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Adopted by the FAO Conference in November 2001 and entered into force in June 2004. Regulates access to—and benefit sharing derived from the use of—PGRFA.

Landrace (also termed traditional variety, farmer variety, or folk variety): A crop variety, often harbouring some genetic variability, yet with a certain genetic integrity that has evolved in cultivation, usually in a traditional agricultural system over long periods, which has adapted to a specific local environment or purpose. Farmers recognize its characteristics, selected for traits they desire, and usually give it a meaningful name or nomenclature for identification.

Modern variety: A crop variety developed by modern plant breeders and often extended to other regions and countries; synonymous with a high yielding variety.

Nagoya Protocol: A supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) known as the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, providing a legal framework for the implementation of sharing of benefits of the use of genetic resources, including plant varieties.

NGO: Non-governmental organization.

Nodal farmers: Farmers in a community or region who are important sources of seeds, information and expertise about growing traditional crops and varieties and as such are multiply linked in a network.

On-farm conservation: One approach to in situ conservation of genetic resources, focusing on conserving cultivated plant species in farmers’ fields.

Open pollinated variety (OPV): This refers to pollination that happens by insect, bird, wind, humans or other natural mechanisms. OPVs generally produce plants roughly identical to the parent plant when they are pollinated by plants of the same strain. Therefore, if the plant is kept isolated from other strains, the seeds can be saved and planted again, year after year, with roughly the same yields. OPVs are also able to slowly adapt to local growing conditions and climate from year-to-year.

Participatory plant breeding (PPB): A breeding program in which farmers and breeders participate in all phases (parental selection, hybridization, on-farm assessment, selection) to develop new varieties with improved traits preferred by farmers.

Participatory plant varietal selection (PVS): The selection of fixed lines (stable variety of released, advanced lines or traditional varieties) by farmers in their target environment using their own selection criteria.

Peasant farmer: A farmer who produces crops on a small area of land (typically under five hectares) for family consumption and for market exchange, using family labour throughout the farming cycle. Peasants typically live in villages; they engage in face-to-face relations with neighbouring farmers; they possess a diverse range of cultural and religious beliefs and practices; and they fall within a diverse range of social networks and local organizations.

PGRFA: Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Plant breeder rights (PBR): Also known as plant variety rights, plant breeder rights are rights granted to the breeder of a new plant variety, which means the breeder has the control over the exploitation of the propagating material of that variety for a specified number of years.

PVP: Protocol on Plant Variety Protection, which contains rules proposed by the 19 member states of ARIPO (African Regional Intellectual Property Organization) to restrict the use of patented or certified plant varieties.

Quality-declared seed (QDS): An alternative system for seed quality assurance developed by the FAO for countries with limited resources. It is less demanding and less expensive than full seed certification systems.

Resilience: The capacity of an ecosystem or a species to absorb or recover from disturbances.

Social institution: Complex positions, roles, norms, and values lodged in particular types of social structures and that organize relatively stable patterns of human activity with respect to fundamental problems in producing life-sustaining resources in reproducing individuals, and in sustaining viable societal structures within a given environment.

Species: A group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. They share a common ancestor more recently than with individuals of related species and have similar ecology and morphology. Criteria for species delimitation are not always clear-cut, as speciation is an ongoing evolutionary process.

Species diversity: The number and frequency of species, usually measured at the level of an ecological community.

SoWBFA: State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture (report to be released in 2017 by the FAO Commission of Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture).

Traditional variety: Synonym for landrace (see definition above).

UPOV: International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties, a multilateral treaty established to provide intellectual property protections for plant breeders on an international basis. Also refers to the intergovernmental organization established to enforce the convention.

Variety: A taxonomic infraspecies subdivision of a species comprising selectively bred or naturally occurring populations or individuals that differ from the rest of the species in distinct but minor characters. The term “cultivar” is a synonym for domesticated species.

Vegetatively propagated crops: Crops propagated through vegetative propagation, such as through genetically identical vegetative parts, such as tubers, corms, buds, stolons, or stem cuttings, rather than through botanical seed. Also known as clonal propagation.

Wild relative: A non-cultivated species that is more or less closely related to a domesticated species. It is not normally used directly for agriculture, but can occur in agricultural ecosystems and serves as source of useful genes. The category includes the direct evolutionary progenitor of the crop as well as less-related species but usually congeneric in the same genus.