Intensive agriculture -- in other words, the production of the food we eat -- is a threat to 86% of species at risk of extinction, according to a report from British think tank, Chatham House. In response to the problem, which can also impact our health and the planet, the report, supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), proposes three courses of action: eating less meat -- or none at all -- restoring native ecosystems and switching to less intensive farming methods.
According to the report , intensive agriculture represents the principal driver of accelerating biodiversity loss, notably due to lower food costs, which leads to greater demand for food, more waste, more clearing of natural land, and greater pollution from fertilizer and pesticides.
The report suggests three courses of action. The first involves encouraging people to switch to plant-based diets -- or at least to reduce their consumption of animal products, particularly red meat, originating from farmed livestock, which have a high environmental impact.
"Such a shift would also benefit the dietary health of populations around the world, and help reduce the risk of pandemics. Global food waste must be reduced significantly. Together, these measures would reduce pressure on resources including land, through reducing demand," the report explains.
The second solution suggests restoring native ecosystems, or those that develop without human intervention. The aim would be to increase biodiversity on spared agricultural land while switching to agricultural practices that are more respectful of nature and biodiversity, notably by limiting the use of inputs and replacing monoculture with polyculture farming methods. For example, according to the report, if people in the US ditched beef in their diets for beans, it could free up 692,918 sq km or 42% of US cropland.
Finally, the third solution involves rethinking food production methods, shifting towards more sustainable agriculture that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change. The report explains, for example, that returning all permanent pasture worldwide to its native forest cover would store 72 gigatonnes of carbon.
"A year of unique opportunity for food system redesign is in prospect in 2021. A series of major international forums and conferences will take place throughout the year, focusing on biodiversity, food systems, nutrition and climate change. ... Also, in the face of a global recession due to the covid-19 pandemic, world leaders will need to address the root causes of that crisis -- both as a public health crisis arising from a zoonotic disease, and as an economic and social crisis exacerbated by the interconnected and fragile nature of food systems -- and discuss options for economic recovery," the report concludes.