Mapping potential conflicts between global agriculture and terrestrial conservation

Nguyen Tien Hoang , Oliver Taherzadeh , Haruka Ohashi, and Keiichiro Kanemoto | Ecology 120 (23) e2208376120 | 2023 | Peer Reviewed | Original research |


Despite efforts to promote sustainable agriculture, food and agricultural production remain the main driver of global biodiversity loss. However, where food production conflicts with biodiversity conservation and which products and countries contribute the most has not been as comprehensively assessed. Based on spatial models of farming and conservation priority areas, we estimate how production and consumption of 48 agricultural commodities driven by 197 countries may conflict with conservation priorities for 7,143 species. This study provides a quantitative basis to better understand and manage the large-scale transformative changes between humanity and nature through decisions concerning food consumption, production, and trade.

Demand for food products, often from international trade, has brought agricultural land use into direct competition with biodiversity. Where these potential conflicts occur and which consumers are responsible is poorly understood. By combining conservation priority (CP) maps with agricultural trade data, we estimate current potential conservation risk hotspots driven by 197 countries across 48 agricultural products. Globally, a third of agricultural production occurs in sites of high CP (CP > 0.75, max = 1.0). While cattle, maize, rice, and soybean pose the greatest threat to very high-CP sites, other low-conservation risk products (e.g., sugar beet, pearl millet, and sunflower) currently are less likely to be grown in sites of agriculture–conservation conflict. Our analysis suggests that a commodity can cause dissimilar conservation threats in different production regions. Accordingly, some of the conservation risks posed by different countries depend on their demand and sourcing patterns of agricultural commodities. Our spatial analyses identify potential hotspots of competition between agriculture and high-conservation value sites (i.e., 0.5° resolution, or ~367 to 3,077km2, grid cells containing both agriculture and high-biodiversity priority habitat), thereby providing additional information that could help prioritize conservation activities and safeguard biodiversity in individual countries and globally. A web-based GIS tool at systematically visualizes the results of our analyses.