Food growth must think sustainable to protect biodiversity, report states

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Farming practices used to grow agricultural products such as bananas, sugar, palm oil and soybeans must adopt a more sustainable approach in order to halt the loss of biodiversity, a report warns.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) makes clear in its findings that current implementation of standards are “only partially aligned with biodiversity protection.”

The report’s authors point to international market forces such as coffee, palm oil, cocoa and soy production as not only major contributors but also enablers in preventing further biodiversity loss.

It calls on policy-makers to leverage momentum and infrastructure behind voluntary standards to promote a more effective implementation of these standards for biodiversity conservation.

“What happens in agriculture matters,”​ said Scott Vaughan, President-CEO, IISD. “Growing demand for certified products presents a major opportunity to protect our natural resources.

The market is rewarding efforts to conserve critical habitats, protect soil and water quality, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. But market forces are not enough.”

Agricultural production currently accounts for 70% of projected losses in terrestrial biodiversity due to widespread land conversion, pollution and soil degradation.

According to previous estimates by the State of Sustainability Initiatives Review, the market value for the eight major commodities (bananas, cotton, coffee, cocoa, tea, sugar, palm oil and soybeans) was $31.6 billion (€27.8 billion) in 2012.

Standards and Biodiversity

This latest report entitled: Standards and Biodiversity​”​ belives this value to have increased to $52.5 billion (€46.2 billion) in 2015.

Whilst the report called for an increased push for sustainability, it acknowledged efforts by the industries to implement sustainability standards.

The report unidentified half of global coffee production was standard compliant in 2014 followed by 30% of cocoa production, 22% of palm oil production and 18% of global tea production. 

Four other agricultural products—bananas, cotton, sugar and soybeans—were predicted to have compliant rates of at least 10%by 2020.

However, the report calculated that if these eight agricultural commodities became 100% certified, it would only amount to 12% of global agricultural land area.

“If voluntary standards are to play a major role in reducing the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity loss, they will have to, at a minimum, establish a significant presence among other crops—most notably, staple crops such as wheat, maize and rice,”​ said study author Jason Potts, a senior associate at IISD.

“The good news is that we can build political will to address biodiversity loss,” ​Potts added. “Parties of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are leading efforts to identify concrete solutions and immediate actions to achieve their biological diversity targets.”

Global Sustainability Standards Conference

The report, which was launched at ISEAL Alliance’s 2017 Global Sustainability Standards Conference in Zurich, Switzerland, identifies a series of key policy options that could promote a more intentional approach in biodiversity conservation.

These include the collaboration of policy-makers with voluntary standard-bearers to facilitate and provide incentives for adoption.

In addition, the setting of national targets and/or requirements for levels of standard-compliant production could also support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals

The report also suggested the financing of national, regional and international data collection by policy-makers in order to share data to leverage biodiversity management at national and regional levels.

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