Biodiversity loss impacts our food security

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a detailed assessment report addressing the impact of biodiversity loss on our food resources. The report describes how biodiversity plays a crucial role for the food and agricultural sectors. By identifying different drivers of change of biodiversity, the status and trends are discussed, as well as their results. The report further addresses our current state of biodiversity management and conservation, and how policy frameworks play a critical role. We provide you comprehensive overview of some of the most important conclusions.

Biodiversity dependent food production

The food that we produce and consume, originates from a wide range of different plant and animal species. This variety not only plays an important role for our diet, but also for nature. It contributes to the biodiversity on our planet. Think about domesticated plants and animals for crop, livestock, forest and aquaculture productions. Even wildlife that is hunted for consumption, contributes to our food supply. Yet, biodiversity is not only existing to serve the human hunger. Biodiversity ensures a certain level of resilience of ecosystems. This means that an ecosystem can better cope with disruptions and stresses. For example, such stresses can be weather extremes, increasing average temperature, and climate change in general. Humans tend to use biodiversity to maximise our food production, while limiting negative impacts on the surrounding environment.

Drivers of change

There are several causes that result in biodiversity change. These drivers have major impacts, mostly negative, on biodiversity and the service it provides. These services, also known as ecosystem services, support human food and agricultural production. Besides climate change, also international markets and demography cause major impacts on biodiversity. They result for example in change of land-use, increased pollution, over harvesting, and proliferation of invasive species. The reason why this happens, depends mostly on urbanisation, trade markets, and of course our own food preferences. However, the impacts are not solely negative. It also provides changes for more sustainable development, using biodiversity friendly products on markets.

Most negative impacts are the results of inappropriate agricultural practices. Bad land and water management is by far the driver with the highest negative impact. Forest logging, aquatic depletion, and intensive production fields all lead to reduction of species, breeds and thereby biodiversity. One of the reasons why this happens, is because countries lose traditional lifestyles that were more biodiversity friendly. Policy measures and scientific developments try to counteract this tendency. However, implementations to promote sustainable management are often weak.

Less biodiversity, more bio-friendly practices

Increasing numbers of agricultural species, such as livestock breeds are at risk of extinction. Plant species for crops are decreasing and people overfish the fish stocks dramatically. As a result, vital species for pollination, pest control and soil health are disappearing. A major lack of understanding also leads to the conclusion that the impact maybe even bigger.

Meanwhile, people try to increase the number of biodiversity-friendly practices. This means a sustainable use and conservation of resources, integrated in agricultural management at ecosystem level. Four out of five countries confirm to implement at least one of these practices. To which extent implementation takes place, is yet unclear. However, it many cases this is not enough. Species protection and conservation remains critically undervalued and poorly implemented.

Eco-friendly frameworks

The FAO report confirms the urgent need for frameworks to guide sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture. The number of policies are indeed increasing. However, policies targeting wild species (not domesticated) are not common. There is a lack of awareness in policy-makers and stakeholders. Knowledge gaps on the impacts make policy development even more difficult. In addition, the diverse interest of certain groups of people prevent necessary development implementation of such frameworks.

People need to increase multidisciplinary and participatory cooperation to overcome these challenges. Not only policy-makers should be involved, also producers, consumers, suppliers and marketers. International cooperation is a key solution, states the FAO report. Only together, people will be able to make a change in the declining biodiversity and growing negative impact on our food security.

What to do?

The FAO stresses that we need to increase our understanding of the role of biodiversity for ecological processes and food production. People must then use the knowledge to develop new management strategies to act accordingly. Next, effective establishment is required to implement the strategies on ecosystem levels. The conclusion is very simple:

The next step is to take action.

The state of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture
Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture – FAO

Read the full report online here.

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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