Assessing Linkages Between Agriculture and Biodiversity in Central America: Historical Overview and Future Perspectives

Harvey, C. and Alpizar, F. and Chacón, M. and Madrigal, R. (2005) Assessing Linkages Between Agriculture and Biodiversity in Central America: Historical Overview and Future Perspectives. Technical Report.

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    Agriculture is widely considered the single most important threat to biodiversity conservation and the greatest driver of habitat destruction and change in Central America. Historically, agriculture has had a negative impact on biodiversity conservation primarily through the expansion of the agricultural frontier, at the expense of natural habitat. Today, the nature of the threat of agriculture to biodiversity conservation has changed. While agriculture continues to drive deforestation in the few remaining, remote areas where the agricultural frontier still exists, the main impact of agriculture is now due to the intensification of existing agricultural systems (and the concurrent increased use of pesticides, fertilizers and other inputs, the loss of hedgerows/live fences and natural habitats within these systems and the greater pressure on the remaining natural resources) and to a lesser degree, changes in the configuration of agricultural landscapes. A wide array of social, economic and institutional factors have contributed to (and continue to drive) the expansion of the agricultural frontier, the intensification of existing agricultural systems and changes in agricultural landscapes within the region. These include demographic and social factors, poverty levels, land tenure, government policies and laws, international prices and consumption tendencies, expansion of available infrastructure, market failures, technological factors, subsidies and tariff protection, and gaps in information and extension services, among other factors. In particular, the growing population and increased demand for land and agricultural products make it likely that the pressure to increase agricultural production (either through the conversion of additional habitat to agricultural production and/or the intensification of production of already existing agricultural areas) will intensify in upcoming decades. The eventual implementation of CAFTA is also likely to strongly affect agricultural activities in the region through the establishment of new laws that force exporters to comply with local environmental regulations and the creation of new markets for some agricultural products. Agriculture can affect biodiversity in a number of ways. The most immediate way in which agriculture impacts biodiversity is through the conversion, destruction of modification of natural habitats, the fragmentation of remaining natural habitat and the concurrent loss of landscape connectivity. However, other direct impacts include the degradation of the remaining habitat though hunting, plant or animal extraction and entry by domestic animals, the introduction and potential of non-native species (including GMO’s and potentially invasive species), and the pollution of streams, rivers and near-shore marine ecosystems with fertilizers, pesticides and fertilizers. In addition to these direct effects, agriculture may also impact biodiversity indirectly through changes in ecological processes (e.g., water cycles, fires, pest dynamics), the invasion of exotic species and changes in infrastructure that usually accompany agriculture and may further reduce natural habitat availability.Different agricultural production systems vary in the extent to which they affect biodiversity, due to differences in their requirement for new cleared land, pesticide and fertilizer use, susceptibility to soil erosion, cropping intensity, area occupied, and spatial configuration in the landscape, among other factors. Although the impact of individual production systems is likely to be site-specific and depend on the particular social, economic, ecological and biophysical conditions, a few production systems have disproportionately affected biodiversity in the region. These include cattle, coffee, banana and sugarcane production (all produced for export), which have consumed large areas of land and fueled the expansion of the agricultural frontier into new areas. There are many ways in which the negative effects of agriculture on biodiversity can be mitigated or even abated. Efforts to mitigate the impact of agriculture on biodiversity should focus not only on ensuring that agriculture does not extend into existing protected areas or remaining remnants of natural habitats, but also on finding ways to intensify production systems without the associated negative impacts on biodiversity and encourage landscape-level changes which positively affect conservation efforts. A variety of technological practices are available to enhance the conservation value of individual production systems or design and manage agricultural landscapes for conservation goals. There are also many opportunities for mitigating the impact of agriculture on biodiversity through changes in the legal framework, enhanced institutional support and the implementation of market based approaches, however these issues are complex and not easily or quickly resolved without considerable political will and government intervention. The key issue is how to create the appropriate incentives, policies, laws and socioeconomic conditions under which these sustainable practices can be applied and sustained, in such a way that the needs of the growing population are also met.

    Item Type: Technical Reports (Technical Report)
    Related URLs:
    Publisher: The Nature Conservancy
    Keywords: biodiversity, agricultural productivity, agriculture, overview, perspectives
    Subjects: (A) Biodiversity > (AA) Amphibians
    (A) Biodiversity > (AB) Birds
    (A) Biodiversity > (AH) Plants
    (A) Biodiversity > (AI) Reptiles > (AIC) Terrestrial
    (F) People and the Environment > (FB) Resource Use
    (Z) Other or Unspecified
    Publication Sources: (3) Other Source > (3B) NGOs
    Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2010 09:58
    Last Modified: 20 Jan 2011 14:27

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