25.07.2020 |

Scientists call for a shift to agroecology in order to protect biodiversity

Agriculture can promote or reduce biodiversity (Photo: CC0)

A shift to sustainable agriculture is needed in order to halt biodiversity loss and restore nature, a team of scientists argues in an article in the journal „Nature Ecology and Evolution“. They call for the integration of agroecological principles in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) which will be adopted at the 15th Convention of the Parties (COP15) meeting in China now to be held in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The biodiversity conference will be discussing targets to reduce threats to biodiversity. The researchers around Dr Thomas Cherico Wanger from Westlake University China and University of Göttingen explain in their article how agroecological principles can help meet these biodiversity targets. “We argue that the GBF must include conservation actions in agricultural landscapes based on agroecological principles (…) in the three ‘2030 Action Targets’ to reach its goals of biodiversity recovery,” they wrote in the journal. “Agroecology is widely recognized as a necessary transformation in order to achieve food system sustainability.” More than 360 scientists from around the world share this view and have signed the article.

The authors first highlight the important role of agriculture, which takes up more than one third of the global landmass and ensures the survival of a growing world population. But agriculture also has its downsides: “Habitat conversion and conventional farming practices – including heavy use of agrochemicals – have negative effects on biodiversity, even spilling into protected areas,” the authors write. Agriculture endangers approximately 62% of all threatened species worldwide. But this does not need to be the case. “Agroecology has the potential to change the way we ‘do agriculture’,” said co-author Professor Teja Tscharntke from the University of Göttingen. If designed appropriately, agricultural landscapes can provide habitats for biodiversity, promote connectivity between protected areas, and increase the capacity of species to respond to environmental threats, the authors stress. “Diversification at the field, farm and landscape scale holds large promises to make food systems more sustainable; however, farmers alone cannot achieve this major transformation. Action is required across the entire supply chain, from the processing industry to distributors to the consumers.”

According to the authors, stopping and reversing the trend in species decline through agroecological production is not only good for biodiversity but also for farmers. Sustainable and diversified farming systems enhance biodiversity, pollination and reduce the impact of pathogens and pests, thus reducing the use of synthetic pesticides, a major cause of biodiversity loss. Farmers benefit from diversified systems through increased economic resilience, reduced dependency on agrochemical inputs, and in subsistence systems more diverse and nutritious foods. The authors are optimistic that the frequently mentioned yield gap between conventional and agroecological production will further diminish through diversification, new varieties and crop combinations. “The importance of agroecology to change agriculture and protect biodiversity has been recognized by many top level organizations, in the scientific community, and by practitioners,” stressed Dr Wanger. The authors especially refer to a recent report of the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), which looked at agroecological and other innovative approaches that can enhance food security and nutrition and help achieve global sustainability goals.

The scientists also highlight the need to promote and adapt the research on agroecology in order to advance sustainable agriculture. They argue that future research on agroecological production needs to depart from traditional research approaches and increasingly engage in multi-stakeholder networks to define options that work in practice and across scales. For example, the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in decision-making processes should be promoted to incorporate their perspective on and knowledge about agroecological approaches. In addition, policy makers should be supported through easily accessible advisory services to promote change in the wider socioecological landscape, incentivize local innovation systems and increase budget allocations for agroecological transition. The authors write that it is also necessary to enable public and private funding for long-term research programmes which are more apt for the timescales that agroecological interventions operate on. “We hope that our comprehensive research agenda will help to chart the path to sustainable, diversified agriculture and biodiversity conservation in the future,” said Dr Tscharntke. (ab)

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