Managing agricultural diversity ensures a range of public services, such as genetic resource diversity, food security for subsistence-based economies, and landscape resilience in the context of climate change, among others. These agrobiodiversity conservation services are positive externalities from agrobiodiversity conservation. Whereas their value is not captured in market transactions, management decisions themselves are made in situ—with any costs incurred by individual farmers. Furthermore, in situ conservation efforts in centers of origin located in developing countries face social, economic, and political challenges that risk eroding both farming communities’ cultural identity and the transfer of cultural farming knowledge to younger generations. Additionally, because in-situ conservation lacks a systematic approach to plan interventions across landscapes, the jumbled and disconnected initiatives that result do not combat agrobiodiversity loss efficiently.
Connecting conservation planning decisions to household decisions with regard to local crops provides a more systematic approach to make in situ agrobiodiversity conservation planning cost-effective. This research therefore develops a household decision model that explicitly incorporates culture in decisions regarding cultivation of local crops and their varieties. This agricultural household model is embedded in an in situ conservation planner’s decision model to maximize agrobiodiversity across culturally heterogeneous communities. The purpose of this integrated model is threefold: to understand household’s reactions to alternative conservation policies (on-farm projects and incentive mechanisms), to assess the cost effectiveness of alternative conservation policies and to formally establish the prioritization problem for agrobiodiversity conservation across culturally heterogeneous landscapes. Numerical methods are employed for both the household decision model and the in situ agrobiodiversity conservation decision model.
Principle findings show the importance of acknowledging how traditional a community is to plan policy interventions cost-effectively. First, the more traditional a community is the less costly it is to intervene with any conservation policy. Second, the less traditional a community is the more costly it is to intervene with inappropriate (least cost-effective) conservation policies. Moreover, as communities become less traditional, it is more costly to apply policies that inadequately account for higher opportunity costs of time and land. Also, incentive mechanisms are more cost-effective than on-farm projects for traditional and less traditional communities. Overall, the results stress the importance of culture in centers of origin such as the Andes in conserving agrobiodiversity and increasing cost effectiveness of in situ agrobiodiversity conservation planning. Finally, since the agrobiodiversity loss that comes with the cultural loss cannot be reversed, in situ conservation strategies would be more cost-effective if conservation policy allows for cultural and knowledge exchange between generations.