Today, May 22nd, is World Biodiversity Day. Biodiversity is the variety of life found on earth, and forms the foundation of all agriculture. It supports our food supply from the soil to the delivery of vital ecosystem services such as pollination.
The current rate of global diversity loss is estimated to be 1000 times higher than the extinction that would occur naturally. For instance, a recent study shows that many bird species in France have seen their numbers decline by two-thirds. If we continue to lose this amount of plants and animals it will have a severe impact on our ability to grow food, find fresh drinking water and adapt to a changing climate.
Conventional agriculture contributes to this biodiversity loss, while organic agriculture is a solution that combines producing food with protecting biodiversity.
Loss of Habitat
Decades of intensive land-usage has reduced habitat for wild species worldwide. Agriculture has expanded into sensitive ecosystems and had catastrophic effects on biodiversity.
The global area of pasture and cropland has grown by 500% over the last 300 years. Clearing tropical forests for agriculture results in the loss of about 5–10 million hectares of forest annually.
Habitat loss has now been identified as the main threat to 85 – 90% of all species described by the IUCN as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’, and is the most commonly recorded reason for species extinction over the last 20 years.
Toxic Pesticides and Monocrops
Conventional agriculture also contributes to biodiversity loss by using toxic herbicides and insecticides which accumulate in ground and surface waters. This pollutes the natural habitats of wildlife, pollinators, and fisheries.
Furthermore, conventional agriculture has adopted monocrops and uniform cultivars, which reduce the number of genetically viable species used in agriculture. 75% of agricultural crop diversity (agrobiodiversity) has been lost in the last 100 years. Organic farmers tend to use traditional and adapted seeds and breeds because they are more resistant to disease and resilient to climatic stress. This means they support a greater genetic diversity of seeds.
How Organic Can Help
In contrast to conventional agriculture, organic agriculture sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. Because organic food is grown in harmony with nature, organic farmers are custodians of biodiversity at all levels – from seeds and worms to birds and bees.
Organic farmers also rely on maintaining healthy soils and soil fauna, such as earthworms.
At the ecosystem level, natural areas within and around organic farms, along with the absence of harsh pesticides and chemicals, create suitable habitats for wild species. This enables species to grow both in number and variety.
How We Help
At IFOAM – Organics International we are the only organization advocating for organic agriculture at the international level. We closely monitor all international policy-making related to food and agriculture, compile evidence and undertake concerted action to convince high-level decision-makers to foster and scale-up organic. We showcase how agricultural systems based on the principles of health, ecology, fairness and care can address issues like biodiversity, hunger and climate change in a holistic manner.