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Integrating agroecological production in a robust post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

To the Editor — The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting to the Convention on Biological Diversity in China — now to be held in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic — will provide new opportunities for biodiversity conservation (https://go.nature.com/31YAVNF) through the decision on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). In short, the GBF is a global and solution-oriented framework aiming for transformative action by governments, civil society and businesses, to help biodiversity recover for the benefit of people and planet1. Agriculture is the most extensive form of land use, occupying more than one-third of the global landmass, and imperilling 62% of all threatened species globally2. Habitat conversion and conventional farming practices — including heavy use of agrochemicals — have negative effects on biodiversity3, even spilling into protected areas. However, if designed appropriately, agricultural landscapes can provide habitats for biodiversity, promote connectivity between protected areas, and increase the capacity of species to respond to environmental threats4,5. While halting the loss of protected and intact nature is essential to halt species loss, bending the curve on biodiversity will require sustainable agriculture. We argue that the GBF must include conservation actions in agricultural landscapes based on agroecological principles (sensu High Level Panel of Experts6) in the three ‘2030 Action Targets’ (hereafter ‘Targets’) to reach its goals of biodiversity recovery. Agroecology is widely recognized as a necessary transformation in order to achieve food system sustainability.

Agroecological principles in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

Below, we elaborate on how agroecological production can help to support the GBF targets.

Target 1 — reduce the threats to biodiversity

Comprehensive spatial planning for diversified agriculture benefits biodiversity conservation and nature’s contributions to people (NCP)7,8, when integrating multiple spatial scales from local to regional and multi-stakeholder participatory approaches. Diversified farmlands enhance biodiversity, biocontrol, pollination and reduce pathogen and pest impact7, thereby contributing to achieve conservation objectives in proximate protected areas, as more protected areas are seeing impact in intensive land use in surrounding areas9. Agroecological practices can considerably reduce the use of synthetic pesticides10, a major cause of biodiversity loss11. A more effective use of fertilizers can reduce nutrient pollution and mitigate climate impacts by maintaining healthier, carbon-sequestering soil microbiota12. Diversified cropping systems can further mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by, for example, non-crop tree diversification in agroforestry systems, thereby enhancing agrobiodiversity benefits13,14.

Target 2 — meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit sharing

Agroecological production is a comprehensive framework for the sustainable use of biodiversity that also supports productivity and resilience15. Farmers benefit from diversified systems through increased economic resilience, reduced dependency on agrochemical inputs, and in subsistence systems more diverse and nutritious foods16,17,18. Moreover, agroecological production can reduce negative externalities and off-farm inputs, while increasing biodiversity and NCP19,20. Trade-offs between agroecological approaches and yield are often assumed, but not inherent21. New crop varieties, crop combinations and technological innovations will only further reduce yield gaps between conventional and agroecological production19,22, when the availability is fair and locally appropriate.

Target 3 — tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming

Eco-certification and agricultural policies — if well informed and implemented — provide important opportunities to encourage diversified farm and landscape measures for conservation23,24. Corporate and government commitments to zero-deforestation and eco-labelling could be enhanced by coupling production and protection goals within innovative investment models that emphasize natural assets. Investing in diversified systems can mitigate environmental vulnerability by embedding resilience into supply chains25. Promotion and equitable participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in decision-making processes is critical to incorporate their perspective on and knowledge about agroecological approaches. Lastly, an understanding of agroecological production, benefits for biodiversity conservation, food security, and overall better quality of life can help to shape new social norms for sustainability6.

A way forward for the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and agroecology

A global transition from conventional to agroecological production will be critical to achieve the action targets and meet the GBF goals. Diversification at the field, farm and landscape scale holds large promises to make food systems more sustainable; however, farmers alone cannot achieve this major transformation. Action is required across the entire supply chain, from the processing industry to distributors to the consumers. Future research on agroecological production (Box 1) needs to (1) depart from traditional research approaches and increasingly engage in multi-stakeholder networks to define options that work in practice and across scales; (2) build on ‘theories of change’ and indicators to develop actionable strategies and quantify change; (3) support policy makers through easily accessible advisory services to promote change in the wider socioecological landscape, incentivize local innovation systems and increase budget allocations for agroecological transition; and (4) enable public and private funding for long-term research programmes more apt for the timescales that agroecological interventions operate on. By integrating agroecological principles and related future research, the GBF will be more robust in considering threats to biodiversity, people’s needs and identifying tools and solutions in support of its 2050 vision of ‘Living in harmony with nature’.

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Acknowledgements

366 signatories from 42 countries support and agree with this Correspondence. The full list of signatories and their affiliations appears in the Supplementary Information. Many signatories provided valuable comments that improved the final document.

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T.C.W. initiated the idea, wrote the initial draft, and coordinated the sign up to the ‘List of Signatories’. T.C.W., F.D.C., L.A.G., J.G., D.K., A.-M.K., C.K., H.M., I.P., L.L.P., J.S., M.S., T.T. and W.W. discussed and refined the manuscript and distributed the document through their networks.

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Correspondence to Thomas C. Wanger.

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Wanger, T.C., DeClerck, F., Garibaldi, L.A. et al. Integrating agroecological production in a robust post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 1150–1152 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1262-y

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