Integrated agricultural land-use systems like agroforestry can benefit biodiversity, but these benefits are poorly understood or underestimated. People often utilize these systems to promote sustainable food production, rarely including direct measures to benefit biodiversity in terms of species and ecosystem diversity. There is an opportunity to utilize the full reach of integrated land-use systems and shift thinking toward including agricultural systems for biodiversity restoration and protection, to strengthen the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).
Land use and the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework
Discussions about the text of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework includes goals, milestones and action targets to transform economic, social and financial models to stabilise biodiversity loss and bring us back to a path of recovery by 2030 – and to ensure that by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled. Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (as well as non-party experts) have convened several working group meetings over the past two years to debate submissions received from countries and organizations. However, despite these intense exchanges, the first draft of the CBD post 2020 GBF released on 5July 2021, leaves little opportunity to ensure that biodiversity conservation is incentivised and promoted in agricultural landscapes. This is a significant oversight considering that the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is also important in areas beyond ‘natural’ ecosystems including in agricultural and urban environments.
With several advocacy actions in place, the linkages between achieving food production and biodiversity conservation in productive and managed ecosystems have begun to gain recognition. Several countries have begun to understand the concept of the agricultural ecosystem to improve species functionality and ecosystem connectivity beyond their sustainable use, as reflected in the meeting report of the Open-Ended Working Group 3rd meeting, which took place between 23rd August and 3rd September 2021.
With further progress, the COP15 held virtually from 11-15 October 2021 demonstrated the renewed sense of commitment and urgency from heads of state and government, environment ministers and other leaders, including commitments by parties and organisations to step up efforts for biodiversity conservation in natural ecosystems, including agricultural ecosystems for the conservation of biological diversity. Parties also acknowledged the need to provide incentives, training and awareness for farmers, including local and indigenous peoples, to achieve biodiversity conservation in all ecosystems.
It is yet to be seen if this will translate into stronger and effective language in the targets. This is especially troubling because the majority of countries still support original texts in the first draft which do not integrate agricultural roles for conservation purposes.
A call to country leaders and non-party stakeholders to take a stance for agricultural landscapes at the negotiations’ table
Since pre-industrial times, intensive farming systems that degrade ecosystems have been used, and are still in use, which causes loss of habitat and biodiversity. Meeting the projected global food production demand by 2050 will be a huge challenge for biodiversity recovery if the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework misses the opportunity to recognise the power of integrated agricultural land-use systems in productive and managed ecosystems to achieve conservation goals.
On the one hand, integrated agricultural land-use systems that include the restoration of productive and managed ecosystems are essential to prevent further degradation and enhance ecosystem integrity. Restoration of soils encourages a positive feedback loop. For example, earthworms, fungi, and other micro-organisms that break down organic materials help to recycle nutrients and improve soil structure. Furthermore, increasing the diversity of trees on a landscape will improve the number of birds, lizards, insects and other animals.
Secondly, habitat connectivity is vital for biodiversity. It is crucial to ensure connectivity among different land uses to enhance species function and movement in all landscapes. However, agricultural landscapes face a risk of habitat fragmentation arising from intensive farming, leading to continuous breakages of ecosystem connectivity with severe negative implications for biodiversity. When agricultural landscapes are incorporated into conservation planning, biodiversity has a better chance to co-exist.
It’s critical to involve the agricultural sector in conserving biodiversity in the Post 2020 GBF as a pathway to habitat and species conservation. The majority of responsibility for biodiversity is delegated to the environment and forests ministries, which frequently conflict with food production ambitions. Agriculture ministries are responsible for 50% of the world’s liveable land surface and biodiversity protection is usually only a secondary obligation. Unless agricultural ecosystems are specifically recognised for conservation purposes, there will always be conflicting priorities on agricultural landscapes.
Failure to explicitly recognise the importance of agricultural landscapes to biodiversity will ensure that 50% of the potentially habitable area of the earth’s land is ignored in policies to protect biodiversity. Any assumption that advocating the sustainability of agriculture will benefit wild biodiversity will be flawed. While many measures to achieve sustainability are friendly to biodiversity, sustainability in itself will not assure biodiversity conservation.
Specific proposed text for the targets in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework
We make a call for world leaders to include productive and managed ecosystems in the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework with specific proposals:
For Target 1, the following text modification is proposed (suggestions are italicised) “Ensure that all land and sea areas globally are under integrated biodiversity-inclusive spatial planning retaining existing intact and wilderness areas and increase connectivity between them.” This gives a role to managed landscapes that under integrated spatial planning can contribute to both decreasing habitat loss and degradation (increasing retention) and increasing functional connectivity.
For Target 2, the following text modification is proposed (in italics): “Ensure that at least 20% of degraded freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems are under restoration addressing ecosystem integrity.” The restoration of degraded ecosystems in terms of integrity is essential to halt extinction rates and to safeguard the genetic diversity of wild and domesticated species. As the technical body of the CBD explains, restoration may include: (a) restoring converted areas back to natural states; (b) improving the ecological integrity of degraded natural areas, and (c) rehabilitating converted and degraded areas (including degraded agricultural lands) to improve both productivity and integrity.
For Target 10, we propose (in italics) “Ensure all areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably while contributing to biodiversity conservation in particular through integrated land-use systems, increasing the productivity and resilience of these production systems.” This is to promote integrated farming systems rather than focusing on productivity only.
These proposals will be reiterated to parties as we prepare for the resumed sessions of SBSTTA24, SBI3, and WG2020-3 meetings in March, where we will continue advocating for the recognition of agricultural landscapes beyond their sustainable use and as key to supporting natural ecosystem restoration to enhance ecosystem connectivity and species movement.
—Web story by Temitope Abisoye (Intern) and Adriana Vidal (Senior Policy Officer) of the IUCN Forests and Grasslands Team
In building awareness, capacity, and advocacy for stronger goals and targets for agricultural landscapes, IUCN, World Agroforestry, and the Global Landscapes Forum (collectively, part of the Trees on Farms for Biodiversity project) worked together to organise two events in 2021 that you can watch here (event 1 and event 2). A more detailed presentation of the arguments on this article can be found in the white paper on Opportunities to Maximize the Role of Agricultural Ecosystems in Biodiversity Conservation in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.