Bold science-based targets for boosting the integrity of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes can help reverse environmental degradation while maintaining the ecosystem services underpinning the production of food.
Covering approximately 40% of the global land surface and responsible for 80% of land conversion, agriculture is the largest single source of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. This undermines the very ecosystem services it depends on, threatening our food systems. But agriculture and food also represent the biggest opportunity we have to achieve zero loss biodiversity targets, and regenerate the benefits that nature provides to people.
To halt the loss of biodiversity and secure its contributions to earth system processes and agriculture, a WLE evidence review advocates halting the conversion of intact lands, restoring intact nature on degraded lands and incorporating biodiversity into agricultural landscapes. But how much ‘sparing’ and ‘sharing’ is enough? Bold targets are required to reverse current trends through nature-positive agriculture. To gain the support of decision makers across sectors, these have to be science and evidence-based.
Over the years, WLE-supported research has made important contributions to the difficult task of defining such targets, driving the global discourse on strengthening biodiversity for food systems. The Ecosystem Services and Resilience Working Group emphasized the multiple impacts of agriculture on nature, and vice versa – notably that both agricultural ecosystem services (e.g., pollination, biological pest control, maintaining soil health) and non-agricultural ecosystem services (e.g., carbon sequestration, climate mitigation, regional water fluxes) derive not just from areas of intact biodiversity, but also from within agricultural landscapes themselves.
This influenced the proposal by the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems to retain at least 10% of semi-natural/natural vegetation in agriculture per square kilometer, spread evenly across the globe as a biodiversity ‘planetary boundary’. The Commission also found that reducing food waste and loss by at least 50%, increased production efficiency in agriculture, and shifts towards healthy diets will make it possible to feed 10 billion people in 2050. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) further described a target for biodiversity in agriculture in its Global Assessment, which WLE contributed to. The Earth Commission’s Biosphere working group is currently assessing the evidence for this target and its impact on a ‘safe and just’ pathway.
Defining a 10% minimum for agrobiodiversity enabled the generation of a global map of ecological integrity. This identified regions, covering 20% of global agricultural land, where biological diversity has been degraded so much it can no longer support food production. Researchers estimate that restoration of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes to regenerate ecosystem services would require investing in restoration efforts across more than 120 million km2 of agricultural lands.
In 2020, following WLE input into multiple workshops, including the European Union (EU) Standing Committee on Agricultural Research, the EU took the historic step of proposing that 10% of its agricultural landscapes be managed for the conservation of natural/semi-natural habitats alongside food and nutrition security in two of its Green Deal strategies, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.
WLE researchers continue to be engaged in advocating science-based targets for biodiversity in agriculture. They have called for the integration of agricultural landscapes into the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and to ‘bend the biodiversity curve’ towards no net loss of nature by 2030. In supporting nature-positive production, they are aligned with Action Track 3 of the United Nations Food Security Summit. WLE also anticipates that CBD member states will adopt the revised 2030 biodiversity targets, including those for agriculture.
Through the work of the Earth Commission, WLE researchers are synthesizing evidence for a post-2020 global framework on biodiversity, including targets for agrobiodiversity, and through engagement with the CBD, IPBES and the COP26 Climate Summit. There are plans to conduct a validation exercise with the Earth Commission, integrate this in the Food System Economics Commission and, more importantly, to work with farming communities in a diversity of environments to better understand the types of intervention that would be fit for purpose where they live.