WE EMBRACE ALTERNATIVE RENEWABLE FUELS AND GREEN SOLUTIONS FOR SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
One Biosphere is an alliance of people and organizations who are united to preserve the quality of our global environment through our forum and publications, education, advocacy, research and communications among our members and partners.
Agriculture and Biodiversity
The relentless increase in human population on the globe, which is predicted to reach 8 billion by 2025 will have a fundamental impact on biodiversity due to the need for food, water and other resources, thereby, straining our natural resources. Building the infrastructure to support the global population will reduce biodiversity. More intensive agricultural production will reduce genetic diversity of crops and livestock. The geographic spread of agriculture in developing countries with an increase of over 100 million hectares by 2030 will include lands of high biodiversity value.
Genetic resources and the control of ecosystem services impact agriculture, which depends upon biodiversity. Agriculture is a primary cause of genetic and species loss and alteration of natural habitats. In order to meet increasing global food requirements, we will need greater efficiency and geographic spread of new expertise. Farmers need greater efficient use of inputs, including more efficient breeds and crops, agrochemicals, energy and water. We will also need to convert wider land areas to cultivation. The risk is that these changes may negatively affect biodiversity. Reduced diversity in agricultural ecosystems may threaten the ecosystem forces required to support agriculture, including pollination and increases in soil nutrient levels.
The globalization of agriculture and quick-fix agricultural policies are primary causes of the reduction in species and ecosystem services. In particular, globalization causes major changes in the location and methods of food and other agricultural commodity production. Global demand for high value commodities such as soybeans, palm oil, coffee, cotton and biofuels has generated widespread habitat conversion and ecosystem withdrawal.
The extensive change from diverse, small farms to large-scale mono culture enterprises continues apace. Moreover, globalization has concentrated and stepped up production on productive lands, thereby slowing the rate of deforestation. The concentration of modern agriculture on the most productive soils has resulted in rejection of marginal agriculture and speeding forest recovery in many countries.
Links Between Biodiversity and Agriculture
Agriculture is defined broadly to include crops and agro-forestry products, livestock and managed fisheries production. There are roughly 270,000 known species of higher plants, of which about 10,000-15,000 are edible and 7,000 are used in agriculture. However, increased globalization has reduced the varieties used in agricultural systems. For example, only 14 animal species account for 90 per cent of all livestock production and only 30 crops dominate global agriculture and provide roughly 90 per cent of the calories consumed by the world's population. Despite its critical importance in supporting civilization, agriculture is the chief driver of genetic erosion, species loss and conversion of natural habitats around the world.
Cultivated and wild biodiversity provide services necessary for agriculture. Agricultural producers such as commercial, small farm, pastoral and agro-forestry systems use these services. For example, nitrogen-fixing legume trees are used in maize farming systems of Africa to assist local farmers to increase maize production without investing in fertilizers. Environmental benefits are also derived through carbon sequestration and firewood production.
One mode of increasing agricultural production is through habitat conversion. Several hundred thousand km2 of land have been converted to agricultural use in the tropics. However, a large proportion of this land is of marginal use for agriculture. This creates an inefficient use of resources resulting in degradation of land and ecosystem services. Roughly 1.5 billion humans or 1/2 of the world's total work force and 1/4 of the global population either work in agriculture or their economic survival is linked to it and women make up the majority of agricultural workers. When agriculture on marginal lands is decreased and these lands are managed, ecosystems recover. For example, forests have expanded in parts of Europe, North America, Japan, China, India, Viet Nam, New Zealand and Latin America.
Satisfying global food requirements involves serious challenges and will require either greater efficiency or more land to increase agricultural productivity. Efficiency tends to be achieved by concentration upon only a few varieties. This approach is usually achieved by increasing inputs, particularly technology, agrochemicals, energy and water. These inputs generally create negative impacts on biodiversity.
On the other hand, agriculture may be extended to new land areas through habitat conversion. Agricultural expansion involves converting land for the cultivation of major commodities such as soybeans in Latin America and the Caribbean, palm oil and rubber in Asia and the Pacific and coffee in Africa, Latin America and Asia. It is exacerbated by the introduction of new export markets. In Brazil, the land area for growing soybeans for export to China grew from 117 000 km2 in 1994 to 210 000 km2 in 2003. During that period, world consumption of soybeans and soybean products doubled. This trend continues unabated.
The prime agricultural biotechnology innovation during the past 20 years has been the use of transgenic or living modified organisms to provide new attributes in different crops and breeds. The technology is relatively new and major research and funds are being invested to create value for human well-being and business value. Research has concentrated upon reducing the effect of pests and diseases. Scientists have established that genetic modification may lessen the need for pesticides and herbicides to grow crops including cotton and maize. Global production of genetically modified crops (GMO), including maize, soybeans and cotton has been estimated to include almost 1,000,000 km2.
The use of GM crops has become quite controversial, particularly in relation to the indeterminate impacts on ecosystems through naturalization in the landscape and human health. There are concerns about how GM crops will impact poor people whose lives depend on traditional agricultural practices. Further research, monitoring and laws are required to ensure negative impacts are avoided. Protocols on Biosafety have been adopted under the CBD to develop a global framework for managing and regulating living modified organisms.
Great attention has been given to the impact of climate change on agriculture. Concerns include the timing of growth and maturing of crops, and the impacts on pollinators, water resources and the distribution of rainfall. Other issues involve changes in market structures, yields for different crops and strains and the impacts of intense weather events on traditional methods and economies. In some areas, particularly where low temperature is an inhibiting factor, agricultural productivity could improve with global warming. In other areas, where water and heat are restrictive factors, productivity may be seriously reduced.
Changed production practices and loss of diversity in agro-ecosystems may damage ecosystem services required to maintain agriculture. Although some crops that supply a significant proportion of the world's food staples do not require animal pollination such as rice and maize, the decline of pollinators will have long-term consequences for crops that serve as important sources of nutrients and minerals, including fruit trees and vegetables in many parts of the world.
Genetic attrition, loss of local species and loss of cultural traditions are often closely intertwined. While rates of genetic attrition are not well understand, attrition often occurs during the transition from traditional to commercially developed varieties. In crop and livestock structures in the developing world, genetic attrition reduces subsistence farming options for lessening the impact of environmental change and lessening vulnerability in marginal habitats or agricultural systems that experience acute weather conditions such as arid and semi-arid lands of Africa and India.
Implications for Agricultural Technologies and Policy
Agricultural research and development has made advances in integrating conservation and development to alleviate biodiversity loss, reverse land degradation and improve environmental sustainability.
Innovative agricultural practices enhance production and at the same time conserve native biodiversity. Biodiversity-positive practices by integrating trees on farms (agro-forestry), conservation agriculture, organic agriculture and integrated pest management facilitate the sustainability of production sites. Agro-forestry offers an excellent opportunity for achieving biodiversity conservation and sustainability in production sites in 3 ways: (a) reducing pressure on natural forests, (b) providing habitat for native plant and animal species and (c) serving as an effective land use in disjointed sites.
Integrated land management approaches offer ecosystem flexibility through communication procedures that engage and empower farmers, support local institutions and create options for value-added income. These advances offer prospects for restoring degraded lands to enhance habitat connectivity and ecosystem processes. In the tropical forest margins, where slash-and-burn farming is a major cause of deforestation, knowledge of land-use dynamics has helped to identify practical options that are profitable for small-scale farmers and at the same time environmentally sustainable.
A major challenge to global implementation of these approaches is the lack of policies that integrate rural and agricultural policies with the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Natural resource management and eco-agriculture innovations must be amalgamated with long-term biodiversity and ecosystem needs.
Substantial plant genetic resource collections for food and agriculture are maintained internationally through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system. These institutional gene banks safeguard germplasm (inherited qualities of an organism).
Farmers contribute at the local level to maintain viability of diverse species through innovative partnerships including scientific research group and local communities. For instance, in Peru, this approach generates income for the farmers while conserving genetic variability and helping improve local ecological knowledge.
Agricultural Policy Options and Governance Initiatives
Local and community initiatives are essential to support agricultural efforts to maintain biodiversity. Community initiatives are problematic because they are based on localized diversity, instead of homogeneity and mass production. Development of accepted standards and certification of production methods offers producers stronger influence and value in the global market.
More progress is necessary to institutionalize a multi-faceted approach to production systems and monitor its effects. Techniques advocating reduced pesticide or herbicide use need to be adopted in more countries and the importance of ecosystem services by ecologically oriented agricultural systems is being adopted slowly. Increased research and adoption of techniques such as integrated pest management may reduce chemical usage while providing biodiversity conservation services. Remedial measures to restore productivity to degraded lands are not implemented on the scale required. The ecosystem approach provides a framework for practices such as riparian buffer systems to support biodiversity conservation, and assist in water management.
Legislation and policies regarding land tenure and land use practices are essential to adopting biodiversity methods and technology options in agriculture. It is essential to adopt practical solutions to reduce the impact of agriculture on biodiversity within supportive policies that cover commercial and small-scale agricultural production.
Continuing international negotiations address imbalanced markets, subsidies and property rights that impact agricultural land uses. It is essential to implement agreements creating tangible impact on biodiversity and agriculture, especially in developing countries.
Organic Agricultural Products - Coffee & Cocoa Plantations
Organic agricultural products, such as bird-friendly coffee and cocoa plantations that promote self-sustaining production, are examples of sustainable products. Coffee and cocoa are global commodities. Shade grown coffee refers to the way coffee has been traditionally farmed. For generations, coffee shrubs have been planted in the shade of tall trees so that traditional coffee plantations constitute excellent environments for birds and other forest-dwelling wildlife.
Over the past 4 decades, 1/2 of the traditional Latin American shade-grown coffee farms have been converted to sun coffee farms to increase production. This newer method requires clearing the shade trees and growing coffee plants under virtually maximum sun conditions. These requirements also necessitate use of agro-chemicals such as synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to compensate for the effects of eliminating the shaded agro-forestry environment.
Sun coffee may create higher yields and more profits for farmers. Coffee farmers feel pressure to abandon the traditional growing practices. Unless these farmers can earn higher short-term gains from traditional coffee cultivation, there is minimal incentive for them to maintain refuges for biodiversity.
Monoculture of coffee in a farm causes pests such as the coffee bean borer to multiply. Large amounts of pesticides and insecticides such as benzene hexachloride and copper fungicide are used to control the pests and leads to pesticide contamination of the coffee beans. Because of the high pesticide use, many coffee bean supplies do not meet the U.S. EPA coffee standards and coffee has become one of the highest chemically treated crops in the world. There have been chemical poisoning cases among farm workers and due to the high production costs, many farmers cannot survive growing coffee.
Shady growing conditions create a cooler setting so the growth of the bean is slower, thereby creating a denser, harder bean which coffee experts prefer for quality coffee. Coffee grown in shady conditions has improved acidity, aroma, body and aftertaste. As more consumers demand shade-grown coffee and pay more to enjoy better tasting coffee, these ecologically sensitive farmers are rewarded in their marketplace. Hence, for supporting these ecologically beneficial practices, the farmers and consumers appreciate that they are facilitating bird conservation, a healthy environment and the livelihood of many small-scale farm owners.
Shade coffee plantations provide habitat for migratory birds, many insects, orchids, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other inhabitants of tropical forests. Shade trees provide nutrients and suppress weeds, thereby eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers and herbicides and lowering farming costs. Farmers may harvest shade coffee and a variety of fruits, firewood, lumber and medicines from the shade trees. These products make farm families less vulnerable to coffee price fluctuations on the world market.
Self-sustaining products must be cost-effective in the local and broader marketplace and comply with international trade regulations and other requirements. These policy areas must also be amended to recognize the priority of environmental needs.
Worldwide, large cocoa plantations are suffering from fungal and viral diseases and insects. These large farms are carved out of rain forests, which exposes the cocoa tree to full sunlight and makes them vulnerable to disease and pests. In addition, clearing of the rain forests to plant more cocoa trees removes a multitude of bird, lizards and insect species.
Costa Rica, Brazil, other parts of South America and West Africa have experienced cocoa crop devastation from fungus and black pod disease that may cause a 75% crop loss. These diseases threaten to wipe out the cocoa industry. Sustainable farming of cocoa has been carried out on many small farms in the cocoa tree's natural habitat under partial shade of the rain forest. These small cocoa farms do not utilize pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers to keep the trees healthy.
As cocoa trees are returned to the natural shade of the rain forest, the biodiverse ecosystem returns and sustains cocoa trees, together with the species of plants, animals and insects that protect them from diseases. Researchers, conservation groups and the chocolate industry believe that increasing the number of sustainable farms, rather than creating more costly and unsustainable plantations, will satisfy the world-wide demand for chocolate.