Agricultural trade and its impacts on cropland use and the global loss of species habitat

Agricultural expansion and intensification are threatening biodiversity worldwide, and future expansion of agricultural land will exacerbate this trend. One of the main drivers of this expansion is an increasingly global trade of agricultural produce. National and international assessments tracking the impact of agriculture on biodiversity thus need to be expanded by a consumption-based accounting of biodiversity loss.

This study uses global trade data, provided by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to construct national trade profiles for 223 countries, at the level of 191 produced items and over the time span of 15 years. The study shows how bilateral trade data and a national biodiversity indicator, the Species Habitat Index (SHI), can be combined to quantify the consumption-based impacts of agricultural trade on biodiversity. Results show that the cropland area for agricultural trade has increased from 17 (in 2000) to 23.5% (in 2013) of the global total cropland area. Especially, countries in Western Europe, North America, and the Middle East, create a large part of their biodiversity footprint outside their own country borders, because they import large amounts of agricultural products from areas where the SHI records high biodiversity loss.

The authors identify countries where consumption-based interventions might be most effective for the protection of global biodiversity. Analyses like the one presented in this study are needed to complement territorial sustainability assessments. By taking into account trade and consumption, they can inform cross-border agreements on biodiversity protection.

Author: Florian Schwarzmueller; Thomas Kastner

Publisher: Sustainability Science Journal

Language: English

Year: 2022

Ecosystem(s): Agricultural Land

Location(s): Global

Related Publications