New report finds half of world's protected nature reserves heavily farmed as hunger runs rampant in biodiversity "hotspots"

May 07, 2001

Need to feed human population puts wildlife at risk of extinction; new solution proposed in "ecoagriculture" to save biodiversity, feed hungry populations

LONDON, 8 May 2001 - Two of the world's leading environmental and agriculture groups today report that almost half of the world's 17,000 major nature reserves, which are intended to protect wildlife from extinction, are being heavily used for agriculture. They also report that extreme malnutrition and hunger are pervasive among people living in at least 16 of the world's 25 key biodiversity "hotspots," where wildlife is most at risk. Today's findings, documented in an unprecedented joint report by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Washington, D.C.-based agriculture organization Future Harvest are called "alarming" by the researchers. Given that clearing and using land for agriculture is the chief cause of biodiversity extinction and that widespread hunger is persistent in areas with the world's richest biodiversity, many plants and animals will go extinct unless ecosystems are managed to feed people and protect wild species simultaneously, according to the report. Biodiversity refers to the entire array of wild plants, animals, insects, and microorganisms found in nature, which are important to global ecology and also have practical value for science and industry.

The report outlines a new solution to the biodiversity extinction crisis based on a new understanding of wildlife biology and ecology, on-the-ground experimentation, and major scientific advances in genetics, remote sensing, and other fields. The approach, called "ecoagriculture," seeks to help farmers, most urgently those living in or near biodiversity hotspots, to grow more food while conserving habitats critical to wildlife. The approach dramatically breaks with both traditional conservation policies and common agriculture techniques. The report, Common Ground, Common Future: How Ecoagriculture Can Help Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity, provides for the first time a comprehensive summary of the interactions between wild biodiversity and agriculture around the world. It was commissioned by Future Harvest and developed over a two-year period through a systematic review of existing agricultural and ecological literature and local farming practices.

"Many people believe that biodiversity can be preserved simply by fencing it off," said co-author Jeffrey A. McNeely, chief scientist of IUCN-The World Conservation Union. "Our report shows that agriculture and biodiversity are inextricably linked. In fact, farms and nature reserves are actually sharing common ground in many countries where species are most at risk. To avert widespread extinctions and feed the world, we must integrate biodiversity preservation into all landscapes--from grazing lands to coffee plantations to rice paddies. Our research shows that ecoagriculture is being successfully used on six continents around the globe."

"The ecoagriculture approach recognizes the fact that endangered species and desperately poor humans occupy the same ground," said co-author Sara J. Scherr, fellow of the nonprofit Forest Trends and adjunct professor in the Agricultural and Resources Economics Department at the University of Maryland. "Ecoagriculture could transform agriculture and environmental protection to save wild biodiversity while also addressing the realities of human hunger and population growth."

Wild biodiversity in all of its forms has intrinsic value, but it also has practical value, such as maintaining the essential balance of the Earth's atmosphere, protecting watersheds, renewing soil, and recycling nutrients--roles essential for farming. Protected areas intended to preserve biodiversity encompass 10 percent of the Earth's land surface. But today's report emphatically states that the world's protected areas are not sufficient to maintain the world's wild biodiversity. According to the report, 45 percent of the world's major protected reserves are themselves heavily used for agriculture. In other reserves, protected areas are interspersed with agricultural land, overlap with agricultural land, or are located adjacent to major agricultural frontiers. If only the existing protected areas were to continue as wildlife habitat, between 30 and 50 percent of the species in those areas would be lost. The reason is that protected areas do not contain large enough populations to maintain the species.

"Protected areas are fast becoming islands of dying biodiversity because of the agricultural areas that surround them," said McNeely. "Many animals need the ability to migrate in order to avoid extinction. Limited reserve areas cannot fill this need and the lands that would be needed for the massive expansion of protected areas is already being used to feed local people and fuel local economies. Ecoagriculture offers a solution to this dilemma by allowing farmers to produce more food on the same amount of land while greatly reducing harm to wildlife."

More than 1.1 billion people--20 percent of the world's population--live within the 25 most threatened, species-rich areas of the world, named "biodiversity hotspots" by Conservation International. According to the report, the majority of these hotspots are also located in areas with very high malnutrition--home to fully one-quarter of all the undernourished people in the developing world. In 19 of the world's 25 biodiversity hotspots, population is growing more rapidly than in the world as a whole. In addition, the report notes that population in the sparsely populated tropical wilderness areas is growing, on average, at an annual rate of 3.1 percent--more than double the worldwide average.

If forest clearing continues at present rates, the world's forests could lose more than half of their remaining species in the next 50 years, the researchers warn. Today, nearly 24 percent of mammals, over 12 percent of birds, and almost 14 percent of plants are threatened with extinction. According to the report, biodiversity is more threatened now than at any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Today's mass extinction is affecting species of all evolutionary forms and sizes, in every region of the world, and in every kind of habitat.

The report documents six key ecoagriculture strategies (see attached listing) in use around the world. These methods can help farmers in industrialized and developing countries protect wild species and conserve habitat on and near their land while actually increasing agricultural production and farmer incomes. The report provides several dozen case studies of successful ecoagriculture systems being undertaken in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The strategies include:

**establishing networks of wildlife habitat in non-farmed areas and connecting these with larger protected areas;

**integrating perennial plants into farming systems to mimic natural habitats such as forests and savannas;

**deploying farming methods that reduce pollution;

**increasing agricultural productivity on lands already being farmed to reduce further conversion of land to agriculture;

**modifying resource management in crop fields and other productive areas to enhance their value as wildlife habitat; and

**establishing protected areas near farming plots, ranch land, and fisheries.

"Farmers and scientists around the world are pioneering a whole new approach to agriculture," said McNeely. "These innovations show that ecoagriculture can be productive and profitable while protecting biodiversity. They are based on the belief--borne out by empirical evidence--that humans and wild species can share common ground and prosper in a common future."

"Many of the new approaches in ecoagriculture will require a change in mindset for many farmers," said Scherr. "For centuries, farmers have generally done their best to clear land of natural vegetation and keep wildlife off their farms. This was the sign of a good farmer. Now we're asking farmers to let some of the wild back in."

According to Scherr, in the past it was not known which species of insects, plants, and animals would be harmful to farm production, and all were cleared away. But many such farm practices may inadvertently destroy useful wildlife habitat without actually contributing to farm productivity. Now with a new understanding of wildlife biology, these relationships between wildlife and agriculture are better understood. "We are not suggesting that elephants should be allowed to trample farmers' fields," said Scherr. "We are saying that there are strategic solutions for conserving wild biodiversity and producing food on the same land."

International attention has recently been drawn to a range of situations that dramatize the need for ecoagriculture:

· In China's Wolong Nature Reserve, established to protect the endangered giant panda bear, more panda habitat has been destroyed inside than outside the protected area as a rapidly expanding human population has turned forests into farms.

· In Central Africa, habitat destruction and poaching has reduced the population of endangered mountain gorillas down to about 600. They live on islands of mountaintop habitat, surrounded by seas of terraced farm fields.

· In the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, of which only 7 percent is still remaining, the habitat of the rare lion tamarin monkey is threatened by agricultural land use, including dairy farming, coffee plantations, and pasture burning, inside the Forest.

The authors write in the report, "Over the long term, with considerable research and experimentation, most agriculture could become ecoagriculture in both developed and developing countries, for farmers rich and poor. For the immediate future, ecoagriculture should be promoted where it is needed most urgently...such as in centres of wild biodiversity in the tropics, around wildlife reserves, and in poor farming areas where people are especially dependent upon wild biodiversity for their livelihoods."

"For too long, agriculturalists and environmentalists have worked at cross purposes," said Barbara Rose, executive director of Future Harvest. "We must start working together if we are going to feed the world and protect wildlife. This report signals the beginning of an international effort to raise awareness about farming approaches that are not only highly productive, but also preserve the environment upon which all life on Earth depends. Much more research is needed for poor farmers to benefit from, rather than pay the cost of, conserving biodiversity, while also growing the food they need for their families and livelihoods."
IUCN - The World Conservation Union ( was founded in 1948 and brings together 79 states, 112 government agencies, 735 NGOs, 35 affiliates, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. Its mission is to influence, encourage, and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. Within the framework of global conventions, IUCN has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. IUCN has approximately 1,000 staff, most of whom are located in its 42 regional and country offices, while 100 work at its Headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.

Future Harvest ( is a nonprofit organization that builds awareness and support for food and environmental research for a world with less poverty, a healthier human family, well-nourished children, and a better environment. Future Harvest supports research, promotes partnerships, and sponsors projects that bring the results of research to rural communities, farmers, and families in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Future Harvest is an initiative of 16 food and environmental research centers that receive funding from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).


Strategy 1: Reduce habitat destruction by increasing productivity on land already farmed
1. Introduction of cassava in Zambia reduces deforestation
2. Increasing lowland rice yields reduces hillside farming in the Philippines
3. Pine forest habitat in Honduras regenerates through improved crop technology
4. Crop saved in Africa through biocontrol of cassava mealybug
5. Brazil's Atlantic Forest is protected through improved dairy farming

Strategy 2: Develop networks of wildlife habitat that link non-cultivated spaces
6. Windbreaks create wildlife corridors through Costa Rican dairy farms
7. Native plants serve as soil erosion barriers in the Philippines
8. Private landowners protect habitat of Amazonian saki
9. U.S. farmers protect wetlands
10. UK farmers set aside wildlife habitat

Strategy 3: Establish protected reserves near farming areas, ranchlands and fisheries
11. Buffer zones protect rhinos and tigers in a national park in Nepal
12. Costa Rica orange plantation cooperates with conservation area
13. Australian farmer groups carve out new spaces for wildlife
14. "Carbon farming" in Mexico protects forest biodiversity
15. Agricultural gene sanctuaries protect wild biodiversity in Turkey
16. Marine reserves help both fish and fishermen in the Philippines

Strategy 4: Integrate perennial plants into farming systems to mimic natural habitat
17. Perennial grains on U.S. farms mimic native prairies
18. Farmland fallows raise yields and provide wildlife habitat in Kenya and Zambia
19. Shaded coffee protects insect and bird biodiversity in Central America
20. Trees mixed in Costa Rican pastures feed forest birds
21. Domestication saves an endangered African medicine tree
22. Agroforests in Indonesia house rich species diversity
23. Income from forest fallows reduces deforestation in Latin America

Strategy 5: Use farming methods that minimize agricultural pollution
24. Intercropping in Yunnan, China controls rice pests
25. A natural biocide saves storks and songbirds in West Africa
26. Integrated pest management making water safe for aquatic life in Vietnam
27. Farm buffers help restore fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay
28. Intensive dairy grazing in U.S. conserves water quality for wildlife and people
29. Organic cocoa farming stabilizes Costa Rican buffer zone
30. Remote sensing techniques help save native fish in Lake Victoria

Strategy 6: Modify resource management practices to enhance habitat value of productive lands
31. Flooded rice provides songbird habitat in California
32. Dambo irrigation in Zimbabwe is compatible with wetland preservation
33. Minimum tillage preserves soil micro-fauna around the world
34. Joint Forest Management regenerates native forests in India
35. Veterinary vaccine combats a lethal disease of kudu and wildebeest in East Africa

For further information, contact:
Ellen Wilson or Joe Sutherland at 1-301-652-1558
Or Amy Ekola at 44-773-005-2243
Or Deborah Clark or Henrietta Lilley at 44-187-2276-276

Embargoed for Release at 10.00 Hours GMT on Tuesday, 8 May 2001
Editor's Note: The full report is available at and high-resolution photos to support this story are available at


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