Space, the final frontier

biodiversity & environment

By Gavin

May 21st, 2010


Pesticides are used to kill the bugs and diseases that destroy agricultural crops. These bugs and diseases are part of ‘biodiversity’, the variety that exists between life forms.

Paradoxically agriculture needs biodiversity – relies on it in fact. Biodiversity pollinates plants, it purifies water, prevents soil erosion, it even helps control the climate through the sequestration of carbon dioxide. Without biodiversity there would be no agriculture.

If our crops are left to the mercy of biological diversity, and the hard knocks rule of survival of the fittest (Darwin’s ‘natural selection’) we would struggle to feed ourselves – pests and plant diseases taking food from our mouths.


By controlling the impacts of pests and diseases pesticides allow us to maximise agricultural productivity and ensure food supply meets the demand of a rapidly growing population. As much as 40-80% of crop yields can be lost to pests and disease – this is the reality of pesticide free agriculture. Organic farming might be considered proof that an alternative to pesticides exist, but in reality organic crops are also protected with pesticides – without them yield loss is too great.

Plant more

If we want to farm pesticide free, but still produce the required quantities of food, we simply have to plant more crops to compensate for expected losses. If we want ten potatoes, we will have to plant 20 because we anticipate pests and disease will claim up to half of them. This approach could theoretically rid us of the need to use pesticides, but at what cost?

Space, the final frontier – not least for biodiversity

Biodiversity needs space to survive, areas for habitats that support the wildlife upon which agriculture relies. Europe uses around 40% of its land for agriculture, so it is not surprising that demand for agricultural land is cited as the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss in Europe.

If the biggest threat to biodiversity is the loss of habitats to agricultural land, then perhaps the key focus for biodiversity conservation should be to support the implementation of modern agricultural practices that maximise output on the existing agricultural land base. Fact: inefficient farming practices require more land to produce the same yield.

agriculture vs nature

Save biodiversity

So we return to the paradox of pesticide use. Pesticides can be harmful to biodiversity, but they also provide a means to save biodiversity by making best use of existing agricultural land and avoiding continued loss of natural habitats.

As populations continue to grow, demand for food rises, and so do concerns about food security. Today, farmers are required to increase productivity and at the same time protect nature and biodiversity to ensure we have continued means to feed ourselves.

Pesticides are frequently cited by environmental groups as something nature and biodiversity could do without – but is the opposite true – could modern agricultural practices be the savior of biodiversity?

One last thing…

It is important to note that the presence of agriculture does not always result in less biodiversity – in many cases the opposite is true, for example, land abandonment of extensive farmland in Central and Eastern Europe has resulted in a regional loss of biodiversity.


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