While both academic and policy debates tend to focus on how to further intensify agricultural landscapes to spare natural land for natural biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration, this Brief elaborates on a literature review of recent publications to argue that equal attention should be paid to the protection and restoration of biodiversity within agricultural landscapes, most notably for the role it plays as a critical production factor.

Key Messages

  • While there is a critical need to conserve natural biodiversity, agro-biodiversity needs to be protected as well for its magnitude and its role in providing major ecosystem services to humans, in particular for food production.
  • Policies should encourage the adoption of agricultural systems that are positive for biodiversity. Those are systems with complex crop rotations and high levels of crop diversity, a minimum of 10 to 20% of semi-natural area per square kilometer of farmland, and total synthetic inputs below critical loads for biodiversity notably through high efficiency.
  • Measures will widely differ countries. OECD and high-yielding countries must make the greatest total reductions in inputs and increases in landscape heterogeneity; with increases in efficiency being most critical in non-OECD countries. Following an ecological intensification pathway, low-yielding countries may still be able to moderately increase inputs for yields to follow, but these should stay below critical loads and farmland heterogeneity should be protected.
  • Transitioning to high agro-biodiversity farming systems while stopping any further agricultural expansion requires to keep total demand of agricultural products as low as possible. This implies greatly reducing animal product consumption, in particular from affluent and emerging societies, and from intensive livestock systems whose feed inputs compete with food for humans, as well as reducing food waste and loss to the maximum extent possible.
  • Other policies include: (i) a reform in the agricultural trade system to reverse the high specialization process that has occurred over time based on a comparative advantage paradigm; and (ii) significant public supports to develop breeding/ selection programmes for a much greater diversity of crops, including in particular locally adapted crops, in a context where 9 crops today account for over 65% of all crop production worldwide.
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