Agriculture and soil biodiversity

Agriculture is a vital human activity that deeply impacts, but also deeply relies on nature.

Agriculture is expected to cover an increasing world food, feed, fiber and fuel demand for 8.5 billion people in 2030.

The shift to more sustainable production systems and agricultural practices is therefore critical to conserve nature and achieve more sustainable and resilient societies.

IUCN engagement in agriculture and soil biodiversity

IUCN has developed a new engagement in agriculture, guided by the vision of a future where biodiversity is restored and conserved on farms and in agricultural landscapes as nature-based solutions to global challenges and human and societal needs, contributing to the transition towards sustainable and resilient societies.

The goal of this programmatic engagement is to foster dialogue between agriculture and conservation sectors, and encourage governments, businesses and land managers (including farming communities) implement a common vision to protect and restore biodiversity on farms and in agricultural landscapes, including the ecosystems on which agriculture depends.

In January 2021, the IUCN Director General launched a global initiative on agriculture and land health meant to boost the implementation of this agriculture programme across IUCN activities.

IUCN Agriculture Strategy FrameworkPhoto: IUCN

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135+ Billion US$

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 increase in productivity if organic carbon in all the world’s agricultural soils were to increase by 0.4% annually

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every 5 seconds

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a soccer pitch of soil is degraded

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1 gram of soil

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contains billions of microorganisms: bacteria, fungi, algae and protozoa

Our diverse and broad range of expertise and experience

  • IUCN has an expansive and growing portfolio of agriculture projects with over CHF 190 million currently in the concept stage.
  • IUCN has a wide range of implementation of agricultural approaches across regions primarily in Asia and Africa.
  • IUCN has experience with a diverse range of over 25 types of agricultural commodities, with an emphasis on maize and rice.
  • IUCN works on agricultural approaches in over 10 different types of ecosystems with an emphasis on agro-ecosystems and forests.
IUCN work on agriculture across regionsPhoto: IUCN

Linkages between agriculture and biodiversity

Instead of trying to understand agriculture in its own terms, acknowledge that agriculture ultimately comes out of nature. Right now agriculture is the No. 1 treat to biodiversity on the planet.

– Wes Jackson, pioneer & researcher in natural systems agriculture and one of the foremost figures in the international sustainable agriculture movement

Issues around current farming methods

In recent decades, the agricultural sector has significantly increased productivity and drastically reduced the number of food insecure people worldwide, but with high costs to nature.

In many parts of the world, intensification and expansion of agriculture has degraded soils and ecosystems, depleted water sources and reduced biodiversity. As a result, farmers often have no choice but to search for new land to work or to use soil as a substrate with massive synthetic inputs.

Overuse of inputs is harming the long-term viability of farming, because it damages soils, reduces biodiversity and ultimately impairs our capacity to feed the world’s growing population. According to FAO, more than 25% of arable soils worldwide are degraded, and the equivalent of a soccer pitch of soil is eroded every five seconds.

Average yields have increased up to the 1990s, but have been stagnating and even decreasing in some parts of the world since.

Future demand for food will increase as the human population grows, and the environmental footprint of agriculture is expected to increase with it. This demand must be satisfied under changing climatic conditions, which will affect the quality and quantity of agricultural produce (Ebi and Loladze, 2019).

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Most things, except agriculture, can wait.

 

Jawaharlal Nehru
Nick115 from pixabay

Drivers towards a sustainable agriculture

  • Prioritise soil and landscape biodiversity for food and nature

  • Wide adoption of agro-ecological approaches for managing agricultural landscapes

  • Establish targets and indicators at national and global levels for sustainable agriculture

  • Reward farmers for ecosystem services provided through sustainable farming

  • Promote change throughout the global food system to enhance sustainability

  • Build consensus on environmental stewardship in the agricultural sector

Mixed fresh vegetables
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Feeding the world in a changing climate