Dietary change key to biodiversity conservation

Dietary change will enable land to return to nature and allow widespread adoption of nature-friendly farming without increasing the pressure to convert natural land to agriculture, a recent report said.

The Chatham House report ‘Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss’ attributed the main cause of biodiversity loss in the last 50 years to conversion of natural eco systems into pastures or for crop production.

The UN Environment Programme and Compassion in World Farming supported the study. The report points out to the increased biodiversity loss across the world. The rate of extinction of species also increased drastically, it said.


The report came up with three main suggestions for reversing food systems. It said that these would help in upholding existing biodiversity. First, global dietary patterns should move towards more plant-heavy diets. Along with this, the reduction of global food waste would reduce demand and pressure on environment and land. This helps in creating healthy populations and reduce the risk of pandemics.

In the second instance, more land needs protection. Once the world preserves or restore the whole ecosystems, biodiversity is reversed, the report said. As such, converting land for agriculture should be curbed. Human dietary shifts are essential in order to preserve existing native ecosystems. Thirdly, cultivation needs a more nature-friendly and biodiversity-supporting way. The study calls for replacing monoculture with polyculture farming practices.


The report said ‘cheaper food’ paradigm shaped the food system over the last many centuries. The policies and programmes of yesteryear only produced food at lower cost. The report mentioned that intensified agricultural production degraded soils and ecosystems. This led to lowering of productive capacity of land and necessitating even more intensive food production to keep pace with demand. The present food production depended heavily on the use of land, fertilizer, pesticides, energy, water, monocropping and heavy tilling. This reduced the variety of the habitats and landscapes. This threatened or destroyed the breeding, feeding and nesting of birds, mammals, insects and microbial organisms.


UNEP’s Ecosystems Division director Susan Gardner said that the present food system was a double-edged sword.  “Reforming the way we produce and consume food is an urgent priority. We need to change global dietary patterns, protect and set aside land for nature and farm in a more nature-friendly and biodiversity-supporting way,” Gardner said.

Research Director, Emerging Risks; Director, Energy, Environment and Resources Programme at Chatham House, Tim Benton said exploitative land use was the biggest threat to biodiversity. “Converting natural habitats to agriculture and farming land intensively – and these are driven by the economic demand for producing ever more calorie-rich, but nutritionally poor, food from fewer and fewer commodities grown at scale.
These commodities underpin a wasteful food system that fails to nourish us and undermines biodiversity and drives climate change,” Benton said.


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