Agricultural land is often seen as having only one purpose: that of producing the highest yield of crop or also produce to generate revenue for the farmer or land owner. With our agriculture occupying almost half of the Earth’s land mass , it is clear that agriculture can have a critical impact on biodiversity.
In fact, the relationship is symbiotic. The reality is that our farmed land is home to a lot of species; biodiversity however can also help the productivity and resilience of our farmed land. Biodiversity in our agricultural land therefore is very important – and here are twelve reasons why.
1. The origin of all species
Biodiversity is the basis of agriculture. It has enabled farming systems to evolve ever since agriculture was first developed some 10,000 years ago. Biodiversity is the origin of all species of crops and domesticated livestock and the variety within them.
2. The ability to adapt
Genetic diversity of agricultural biodiversity provides species with the ability to adapt to changing environment and evolve, by increasing their tolerance to frost, high temperature, drought and water-logging, as well as their resistance to particular diseases, pests and parasites.
The evolution of biodiversity, and therefore both its and our survival, mainly depends on genetic diversity.
3. Provision of food and goods
Agricultural biodiversity provides humans with food and raw materials for goods – such as cotton for clothing, wood for shelter and fuel, plants and roots for medicines, and materials for biofuels – and with incomes and livelihoods, including those derived from subsistence farming.
4. Food security
Given the essential role of biodiversity for the provision of food, biodiversity is the key to ensuring food security but also a more nutritious and healthy diet.
Diversity of diet, founded on diverse farming systems, delivers better nutrition and greater health, with additional benefits for human productivity and livelihoods.
Biodiversity in farmland is essential for pollination. The vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if animal pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Most of the 25 000 to 30 000 species of bees are effective pollinators, and together with moths, flies, wasps, beetles and butterflies, make up the majority of pollinating species.
6. Soil health
Beyond pollination, agricultural biodiversity minimises soil erosion. This is critical as, worldwide, soil is being lost at a rate 13 to 80 times faster than it is being formed. It takes about 500 years to form 25 mm of soil under agricultural conditions, and about 1000 years to form the same amount in forest habitats.
The value of soil biota to soil formation on agricultural land worldwide has been estimated at US$ 50 000 million per annum .
7. Water conservation
A biodiversity rich farmland also delivers better water conservation. With agriculture accounting for about 70% of all water use globally and physical water scarcity already being a problem for more than 1.6 billion people, sustaining biodiversity in the lands that we manage can help us address this problem .
More specifically, biodiversity can provide benefits for water quality and quantity in terms of the regulation of flooding and maintaining base flow.
8. Higher resistance to pests and diseases
The use of fertilizers and pesticides can also be minimized on land that has a high biodiversity. The reason is that a lot of organisms can help combat the spread of diseases while they also help provide soil that is more high in nutrients.
9. Increased yields
Biodiversity is also great in terms of agricultural production. Studies suggest that conservation and management of broad-based genetic diversity within domesticated species has been improving agricultural production for 10 000 years . Wild species’ biodiversity has key roles in global nutrition security .
10. Lower vulnerability to climate change
A biodiversity rich farmland is also good news for climate change. It makes agricultural land more resilient to temperatures changes as well as extreme weather conditions, both phenomena that are likely to become more frequent in the future.
This is particularly important for developing countries which both rely a lot more on agriculture as a source of income and which are also likely to be impacted disproportionately more from climate change.
11. Environmentally friendly
The practices that allow for biodiversity to thrive in farmed land mean that these types of land have a much lower environmental footprint compared to factory farms.
For example, because less pesticides and fertilizers are used, water has a smaller risk of being polluted while there are no related resource or climate impacts from the production and transport of such products .
The benefits of agricultural biodiversity go beyond the management of higher yields, supporting food security, adapting to climate change and supporting our ecosystems. It has an important role in maintaining the cultural identity of different people and traditional knowledge developed over centuries.
This can involve passing on knowledge about local medicinal plants and traditional recipes, to being a key feature of cultural rituals and festivals.
For example, in Benin, 245 species of traditional vegetables are used by communities all over the country as a source of food, nutrition and medicine .