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From Conflict to Coexistence: Mapping Strategies for Balancing Farming and Biodiversity

Food production overlapping with high conservation priority areas is a major driver of biodiversity loss, reveals the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Shivangi Rai
Approximately one-third of all farming occurs in areas considered to be of the highest conservation priority. (Photo Courtesy: Unsplash)
Approximately one-third of all farming occurs in areas considered to be of the highest conservation priority. (Photo Courtesy: Unsplash)

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences highlights the significant impact of food production on biodiversity loss. While it is well known that certain foods, such as beef, contribute to high carbon emissions, this study shows that they also have a substantial effect on biodiversity.

The researchers focused on the overlap between food production and areas of high conservation priority. They analyzed agricultural land use and species habitats to identify which crops exerted the most pressure on biodiversity. The study encompassed 50 agricultural products from 200 countries and utilized farming data, global supply chain databases, and ecological models with conservation information for over 7,000 species.

The findings revealed that approximately one-third of all farming occurs in areas considered to be of the highest conservation priority. Staple commodities like beef, rice, and soybeans were found to be predominantly produced in these high conservation priority areas. Conversely, substitutes such as barley and wheat were mainly sourced from lower-risk regions.

One surprising observation was the variability in the impact of the same crop depending on its source. For instance, beef and soybeans cultivated in Brazil were grown in high conservation priority areas, whereas this was not the case in North America. Similarly, wheat was grown in lower conservation priority areas in Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe.

Cash Crop

The study also shed light on the influence of international trade on biodiversity footprints. Cash crops like coffee and cocoa, which are grown in high conservation priority areas in equatorial nations, are primarily consumed in wealthier countries like the United States and European Union. China, with its high demand for various commodities, was found to have the largest influence on food production in high priority conservation areas.

Beef and Dairy Demanding Countries

The research team emphasized the potential for different nations to have varying biodiversity food footprints. The United States, European Union, China, and Japan heavily rely on imports to meet their beef and dairy demands. Notably, over one-quarter of beef and dairy consumed in Japan originate from high conservation priority areas, while for other regions, this figure is closer to ten percent. The authors suggested that altering the sourcing of food products could lead to changes in the biodiversity footprint of food consumption.

Problematic Commodities

Furthermore, the study emphasized the need to address other problematic commodities beyond cattle, soybeans, and palm oil. Corn, sugarcane, and rubber were highlighted as additional commodities that require attention from policymakers.

Effects of Climate Change

The researchers also explored the effects of climate change on agricultural practices and habitats. They used their models to predict how cropping patterns and available habitats would change by 2070 under different temperature scenarios. They found that a warmer world could result in the emergence of new high-conservation priority areas or alleviate conflicts in current conservation hotspots as species colonize new territories.

The authors of the study also highlighted the significance of their findings in shaping policies that balance food production and environmental protection. They emphasized the importance of calculating detailed footprints for food and other farm commodities to support sustainable development in agriculture and mitigate irreversible harm to the environment.

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