Food for Thought: Biodiversity Management on Farms - Links to Demand-Driven Value Chains

Article excerpt

Traditionally agricultural production in western countries has been driven by commodity markets, where farmers are price-takers, dependent on market demands. Agricultural intensification combined with the globalisation of markets and declining terms of trade for many farmers have all impacted on farm land management decisions, which in turn had impacts on biodiversity. Globally the production of food and fibre has had detrimental impacts on the environment. Native vegetation clearance and the intensification of agricultural land management in Australia have adversely affected native biodiversity. The pressure on farmers to produce low-cost commodities has a biodiversity cost, one that is driven ultimately by internal and external factors, including consumer demands. This paper discusses the known and potential impacts of food and fibre production on biodiversity, and the consequences of consumer demand for quality, low cost produce.

Introduction

The development of agriculture has been a significant factor in deterioration of Australia's biodiversity and continued degradation of the landscape (Beeton ef al. 2006). This outcome has received greater attention in recent decades as western consumers have become more environmentally aware (Hartman and Wright 1999, Toyne ef al. 2004) and Australian farmers have become increasingly concerned about salinity (van Bueren and Price 2004) and soil erosion (Conacher and Conacher 2000). These concerns prompted the formation of farmer-centric environmental programs funded by the Australian Government through groups such as Landcare (Campbell 1994), the Natural Heritage Trust (Bardsley ef al. 2002) and alliances with agricultural research and development corporations (RDCs) (Price 2009).

Consumers have contributed to change in environmental land management directly through political pressure and indirectly through taxation (Beeton ef al. 2006). However, we propose that many Australian consumers have limited understanding of their influence on biodiversity outcomes as a result of their demand for food and fibre. This is reflected in commonly perceived images of 'biodiversity' (see discussion below). In this article we will provide an overview of links between consumer demands, land management practices and biodiversity outcomes at paddock, farm and landscape scales. We will:

a) Define biodiversity and provide examples of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes;

b) Provide an overview of the external drivers affecting farm management decisions;

c) Discuss how a combination of market forces including consumer behaviour and farm management decisions impact on biodiversity; and,

d) Discuss alternative approaches that may enhance biodiversity management on farms.

Defining biodiversity

Biodiversity has been defined as 'the variety of life, its composition, structure and function at a range of scales' (Freudenberger and Harvey 2003). Personal definitions of biodiversity are value-laden and are strongly correlated with contextual/cultural values (Dettman ef al. 2000, Williams and Cary 2001). Popular images of biodiversity include natural or semi-natural systems such as rainforests or coral reefs, images that dominate the media (Dettman ef al. 2000). Less common are images of soil micro-organisms or the abundance of beetles in a pasture. Terrestrial biodiversity in an Australian farming context is commonly represented by woody vegetation and birds (Williams and Cary 2001, Bridle & Price 2009).

In the European Union (EU), environmental policies reflect the multifunctionality of agricultural landscapes for production, biodiversity conservation and aesthetic values (Bennett et al. 2004). By contrast, Australian policy makers have generally focused on a subset of the agricultural landscape, patches of native vegetation, for on-farm biodiversity conservation actions (Dettman et al. 2000). However, as is the case in Europe, native biodiversity can be found across all land use types commonly associated with farming, and at a range of scales, from paddock to landscape/catchment scale

Examples of Biodiversity within Agricultural Landscapes - Paddock and Farm Scale

Every day land management decisions impact on biodiversity. …