Sustainable agriculture practices must be widely implemented in order to stem an alarming loss of biodiversity and to protect endangered species. This is according to the Standards and Biodiversity report released by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
Agricultural production currently accounts for 40 per cent of global land surface and is responsible for 70 per cent of projected losses in terrestrial biodiversity due to widespread land conversion, pollution and soil degradation.
“What happens in agriculture matters,” said Scott Vaughan, President-CEO, IISD. “Growing demand for certified products presents a major opportunity to protect our natural resources. The market is rewarding efforts to conserve critical habitats, protect soil and water quality, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. But market forces are not enough.”
The market value of certified agricultural products was estimated to be USD 52.5 billion in 2015 for eight major commodities (bananas, cotton, coffee, cocoa, tea, sugar, palm oil and soybeans) according to Standards and Biodiversity. That is up from USD 31.6 billion in 2012, the previous estimate by the State of Sustainability Initiatives Review.
Two other major commodities – fisheries and forestry – also registered significant growth, according to the new estimates. The sustainable forestry market grew to USD 231.8 billion in 2015 from USD 200.3 billion in 2012. The sustainable fisheries market grew to USD 8.9 billion in 2015 from USD 6.8 billion in 2012. The total trade value of the top ten sustainable commodity markets grew to USD 293.2 billion in 2015 from USD 238.7 billion in 2012.
Some agricultural commodity markets are now dominated by sustainability standards. Half of global coffee production was standards-compliant in 2014 (the latest available data,) along with 30 per cent of cocoa production, 22 per cent of palm oil production and 18 per cent of global tea production.
The study forecasts that four other agricultural commodities — bananas, cotton, sugar and soybeans — will have compliance rates of at least 10 per cent by 2020.
However, standards remain a negligible force across global agricultural production as a whole. If those eight agricultural commodities became 100 per cent certified, the study found it would still only amount to 12 per cent of global agricultural land area.
“If voluntary standards are to play a major role in reducing the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity loss, they will have to, at a minimum, establish a significant presence among other crops—most notably, staple crops such as wheat, maize and rice,” said study author Jason Potts, a senior associate at IISD.
“The good news is that we can build political will to address biodiversity loss,” Potts added. “Parties of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are leading efforts to identify concrete solutions and immediate actions to achieve their biological diversity targets.”
The IISD study builds upon the CBD’s Biodiversity Impact Indicators for Commodity Production (BIICP), which identifies a core set of biodiversity indicators that can help governments and the agricultural industry understand how best to reduce negative impacts on biodiversity. The CBD Secretariat contributed to the development of the report.
“Voluntary sustainability standards are an important element of the necessary policy mix to redirect funding towards sustainable production practices and reducing biodiversity loss,” said Dr. Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Executive Secretary, CBD. “This report makes an important contribution by providing a better understanding of the role and potential of different voluntary sustainability standards, and what policy-makers can do to promote their wider application and their more robust integration into overall policy frameworks.”
The research was made possible through the support of the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).