Concerned About Biodiversity in 2020?
January 22, 2020
Land Use & Biodiversity
Biodiversity is the variety of all living things – from plants to animals to microorganisms. However, there are concerning trends regarding its preservation and scientists have said the Earth is being driven towards a “mass extinction event” – only the sixth in the last half-billion years.
What are these challenges? How can innovation in agricultural technology help in 2020?
Here, we look at some of the key concerns regarding biodiversity, why you should know about them now, and how plant science is trying to stop them in their tracks:
Concern#1 – Deforestation
Rainforests are biodiverse ecosystems and home to billions of different animals, plants and microorganisms. Unfortunately, deforestation due to population growth, higher demand for food production and cultivation, and the expansion of urban areas have destroyed close to 502,000 square miles of forest – an area larger than South Africa. Just last year, fires destroyed an area of more than 12 times the size of New York City, so saving the trees is top-of-mind for environmentalists in 2020.
Over the last 40 years, if it wasn’t for innovations that increased crop yields, the equivalent of 60% of the Amazon rainforest would have been needed for agriculture.
Plant science has helped farmers can grow more food on the same amount of land. This helps reduce the need to convert natural habitats into farmland and preserve biodiversity. GM crops, in particular, have helped increase crop productivity and helped conserve 183 million hectares.
Concern #2 – Not Having Enough Water
Biodiversity, nature and food crops all rely heavily on fresh bodies of clean water for survival. But according to the UN, more than two billion people live in countries experiencing higher demand for water than there is water available, which will likely become a more widespread issue with time – in 2020, 21 cities in India will run out of groundwater. Therefore, it’s vital that we become more efficient in how we use our water.
Plant science can help save water and biodiversity. In fact, growing biotech cotton reduces the water required to grow enough cotton for a pair of jeans by 1,500 gallons. That’s roughly 20 full bathtubs!
Concern #3 – Greenhouse Gasses
The effects of climate change could be devastating for the Earth’s biodiversity and scientists are saying that “things are getting worse” and will continue to accelerate through 2020.
Plant scientists are working to continue to combat the effects of climate change, for example through developments in plant biotechnology, crop protection, and conservation tillage, which uses less fuel and therefore reduces the emission of greenhouse gases by more than 27 billion kilos.
Recycling, meanwhile, lessens pollution by decreasing energy, electricity and water consumption, and the need for landfill sites.
Programs around the world have collected and recycled almost 800,000 metric tons of empty pesticide containers and agricultural plastics – more than the weight of 100 Eiffel Towers – in the last 13 years.
Concern #4- Globalization
While globalization has countless benefits, it also has an impact on our environment. Global markets are essential for feeding growing populations and some countries are located in areas where it is difficult to grow enough crops, making imports essential. Unfortunately, globalization is considered a driver of environmental and biodiversity stress due to increased consumption, production, movement of goods and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In Ghana, the government announced plans in 2019 to drastically cut its food imports. Experts in the region believe GM crops, such as GMO rice, could revolutionize farming in the country and be key to cutting imports of rice from countries like the USA, Thailand and Vietnam, which cost Ghana a reported $331.2 million in 2017 alone.
While open trade is essential to feeding a growing population, if farmers across the world are provided with access to innovations in agricultural technology like crop protection and plant biotechnology in 2020, biodiversity can be better preserved.