Farming to feed rising human population will destroy wildlife

The world’s human population relentlessly rises and there is real concern but thankfully at last people are talking about it. Some people think that the world is already overpopulated by humans and there are questions as to the maximum human population that the planet can sustain. No doubt there will be improved methods of food production which brings me to the point of this article.

Huge cattle ranch Brazil causing deforestation
Huge cattle ranch Brazil causing deforestation. Photo in public domain.

Farming is a threat to thousands of wild species because it takes away their habitat. And it takes it away in alarming quantities. Teams from the universities of Leeds and Oxford worked out how an increased human population, with the resultant increase in farming, will have on the conservation of many wild species. Here are some of their findings as per the report in The Times newspaper today. The figures are based on carrying on as usual by which they mean farming and producing food as we do today without any adjustments.

  • There will be an increase in global cropland of 26% which equates to 3,350,000 km² over the period 2010 to 2050.
  • The increase in agricultural land will negatively impact almost 20,000 species of amphibian, bird and mammal.
  • 80% of the species that they analysed will lose some habitat by 2015.
  • 1200 species will lose more than 25% of their remaining habitat.
  • 347 species would lose at least 50% of their remaining habitat
  • Ninety-six species would lose at least 75% of their habitat and
  • Thirty-three species would lose at least 90%.

The greatest problem in terms of loss of habitat to agricultural use is occuring and will continue to occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Two primate species, the white throated guenon and Sclater’s guenon, both living in forests in Nigeria, will lose, under their analysis, 96% and 99% of their habitat respectively.

In addition to sub-Saharan Africa, the Atlantic forests of Brazil and eastern Argentina and parts of South and Southeast Asia are also highly jeopardised. On a slightly optimistic note they decided that achieving better crop yield per hectare together with a low human population growth would result in a small decrease in agricultural land in certain areas of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and China.

The lead author, David Williams from Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment said that a species is far more likely to go extinct if they lost a quarter or more of their remaining habitat. He says that there needs to be “big changes to food systems. Ultimately we need to change what we eat and how it is produced if we are going to save wildlife on a global scale.”

The current method of wildlife conservation alone will not work, which is why they are focusing on agricultural land use and the way it destroys the habitats of so many wild species.

A change in diet away from meat, for example, will help because beef requires up to 28 times more land to produce each calorie than chicken. In addition it requires up to 160 times more land to produce than rice, wheat and potatoes.

Alarmingly, 25-30% of food produced and sold is ultimately wasted, thrown away. This statistic is compounded by the equally alarming news that more than a quarter of the world’s population is overweight. This information comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The researchers wanted four key changes to occur to help conserve wildlife, namely: improving crop yields, better land use planning, moving to a more healthy diet and dramatically reducing i.e. halving, food waste.

Comment: the combination of huge food waste and obesity is a dramatic symptom of the wanton greed and carelessness of humankind while ignoring the health of the planet and the species that live on it with humankind.


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