Feeding the hungry in the world's hotspots

Posted: 22 October 2001

Breaking with both traditional conservation policies and common agriculture techniques, a new report is urging for the adoption of eco-agriculture. This involves helping farmers, notably those living in or near threatened biodiversity "hotspots" rich in species, to grow more food while conserving habitats critical to wildlife.

"The eco-agriculture approach recognises the fact that endangered species and desperately poor humans occupy the same ground," said Sara J. Scherr, co-author or the report. "Eco-agriculture could transform agriculture and environmental protection to save wild biodiversity while also addressing the realities of human hunger and population growth."

The report, Common Ground, Common Future, produced by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Washington DC-based Future Harvest, indicates that 45 per cent of the world's 17,000 major nature reserves are already being heavily used for agricultue, and that hunger and malnutrition are pervasive among people living in at least 16 of the world's 25 key hotspots. And just as people are compelled to encroach on the reserves, the animals inside have a vital need to move beyond their enclosures.

Co-author Jeffrey McNeely explained that many animals need the ability to migrate in order to avoid extinction because the enclosures do not contain large enough populations to maintain the species. If no more than the existing protected areas continue as wildlife habitat, between 30 - 50 per cent of the species living in these areas will be lost.

According to the report, biodiversity hotspots are located in areas that are home to one-fourth of all the undernourished people in the developing world. And in 19 of the 25 hotspots, population is growing faster than in the world as a whole. The number of animal species, though, is shrinking.

The report contains case studies of eco-agriculture in Australia, the UK, the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Common Ground, Common Future is available on the Future Harvest website.