The growing need for agricultural biodiversity

0

Every decade by 2050, population growth will lead to a 14% increase in global food demand, while current agricultural practices around the world will reduce productivity by 2%. Without significant changes in the structure of food production and consumption, we will not be able to grow enough to feed ourselves. Not to mention the detrimental effects on wild plant and animal species and the impact on climate change that results from these same misguided practices.

To reverse the cycle, farm workers need to practice ways to introduce more biodiversity. With a few innovative changes, the same amount of land can produce an even better yield in the long run, requiring less deforestation and extensification.

How the global food system is destroying biodiversity

Our current global food system favors productivity at the expense of everything else. In fact, since the 1900s, farmers began switching to more uniform and productive crop varieties instead of their landraces, resulting in a 75% loss of plant biodiversity.

The two main contributors to agricultural biodiversity loss are:

Monoculture

Planting large fields of a single crop is easy for farm workers to harvest and produces high yields in the short term. Each plant species needs different types and amounts of nutrients to thrive. So when the same crop is planted in the same soil each year, it takes all the necessary nutrients from the soil, leaving an unsustainable amount for the following year.

Monoculture kills the diversity of nutrients and microorganisms in the soil. Moreover, when we rely too heavily on a variety of a particular plant species, we leave ourselves vulnerable to food shortages caused by crop diseases.

Extensification

As the fields become fruitless and the demand for food increases, we look elsewhere for fertile land. Unfortunately, this usually means turning wild and naturally biodiverse areas into agricultural land in what is known as extensification. This process destroys entire ecosystems and can ultimately lead to the extinction of already endangered species. For example, in just one year, cocoa production in Ivory Coast took more than 15,000 football pitches of forest and poses the second biggest threat to the rate of elephant extinction.

Ways to practice agricultural biodiversity

Regenerative agriculture is the best way forward if we have a chance of protecting our food supply and the climate. By recreating the same processes we see in nature, agricultural workers can seek to improve their farming practices through biodiversity.

1. Crop rotation and intercropping

All species and varieties of plants have different soil needs. Monoculture year after year depletes the earth of its micro-organisms and mineral nutrients. However, rotating the type of crop you plant each year and sometimes resting a field will give the soil time to regenerate and heal. Another alternative is to grow several types of plants in a single field – biodiverse crops will be more soil-friendly.

2. Leave wasteland

Leaving land around farmland saves homes for a diverse population of plants and animals. It can also be very beneficial for agricultural production. Since the surrounding area is home to pollinators and animals that naturally help with pest control, your fields should thrive.

3. Cover crops

To protect your fields from erosion during rest seasons, plant an easily controlled cover crop. Vetch and clovers are two solid options. Both can extract nitrogen from the air and store it in the soil as nutrients for future plants.

4. Reduce the amount of tillage

Most organic matter is found in the top layer of the earth and decomposes very slowly on its own. Soil microorganisms work hard to break it down so plants can use it, but tillage disrupts them and prevents them from doing their job effectively. Reducing or eliminating the amount of tillage each season will allow for better soil biodiversity and a healthier harvest the following season.

Individuals must play a role

In order to change the effects of our food system in the long term, everyone must be ready to adapt their habits. As an individual, you can help by looking for ways to reduce your food waste and consumption, reducing overall demand.

You can also research local farmers who are implementing biodiversity and see if you can buy some of your food directly from them. They’ll likely appreciate the support, and the food you receive will be of much higher quality than anything you can get at the store.


Organic :: Jane is an agricultural and environmental journalist and founder and editor of Environment.co, where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.

Share.

Comments are closed.