Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Conflict between Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation: How can it be Solved?

Martin Drechsler

Despite various declarations of intent and moderate political efforts, biodiversity is still continuing to decline worldwide. Last year, e.g., the rapid decline of insects had been in the focus of the media in Europe; this has recently been accompanied by a paper by Harvey et al. in Nature Ecology and Evolution that emphasises the problem of world-wide insect decline and the urgency of intervention. A major cause of biodiversity loss is the continuing intensification of agriculture which involves, among others, the use of harmful chemicals as well as the homogenisation of landscapes. While until the middle of the 20th century, agricultural land use generated heterogenous landscapes that provided habitats for numerous species such as insects and birds, agricultural landscapes since then have become increasingly inhabitable for many of these. The EU and its member states try to respond by establishing stricter regulations such as the ban of certain pesticides. While beneficial for the agro-biodiversity, these regulations raise the production costs for the farmers who last year went into the streets across Europe, fearing that they could not stand and survive the global competition in the agricultural sector. Although it is not clear whether or not the farmers exaggerate their problems and to what extent these problems are caused by environmental regulation, statistics do confirm that more and more small farms give up while the number of large farms increases, possibly reflecting an increasing cost pressure born by many family farmers.

Sandwiched between the ecological problem of biodiversity loss and the socio-economic problem of family farm dieback, we as consumers have to accept that biodiversity-friendliness of our food is not free and farmers have to be compensated at least for some of their income losses caused by conservation policies. Conservation payments that reward environmentally friendly land-use practices can serve this purpose. They are increasingly popular across the world and a promising policy instrument for biodiversity conservation on private lands. Designing such instruments so they are cost-effective and maximise biodiversity for given conservation budgets (and thus, societal expenses) requires integrating ecological and economic knowledge. One approach for such integration is ecological-economic modelling. My recent book provides an overview on this methodology with applications to the design of conservation payments as well as other conservation instruments. Although the way from scientific recommendations to policy development and implementation is very long, I hope that ecological-economic modelling as well as other approaches for the integration of ecology and economics, may eventually contribute to the resolution of the conflict between agriculture and biodiversity conservation.

Ecological-Economic Modelling for Biodiversity Conservation by Martin Drechsler

Ecological-Economic Modelling for Biodiversity Conservation by Martin Drechsler

About The Author

Martin Drechsler

Martin Drechsler, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, UFZ, Leipzig Martin Drechsler is a Senior Scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ , Ger...

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