Conservation Biology and Agroecology: De Un Pajaro Las Dos Alas

By Perfecto, Ivette | Endangered Species Update, July-October 2003 | Go to article overview

Conservation Biology and Agroecology: De Un Pajaro Las Dos Alas


Perfecto, Ivette, Endangered Species Update


Abstract

One of the strategies used by conservation agencies and governments to curb biodiversity loss has been to establish priority areas where species richness and levels of endemism are high. The strategy to purchase land and protect it has been based primarily on the idea that the conversion to agriculture is the main cause of habitat loss for wildlife and on the assumption that local people and their livelihood practices constitute the most important threat to biodiversity conservation. However, over the last decade, it has become obvious that these efforts to reduce the loss of biodiversity are not working and that the assumptions on which the main conservation efforts are based ignore the role of external factors related to political economy, as well as the vast array of livelihood practices that maintain and even increase biodiversity at the landscape level. In this paper, I propose various reasons to explain the failed strategy. The importance of agriculture for the conservation of biodiversity has three main components: 1) the matrix that surrounds protected areas is composed primarily of a mosaic of agricultural and other managed systems (this means that particularly in a fragmented landscape, migration to and from "natural" habitat fragments must take place within the agricultural matrix), 2) agroecosystems per se can be important habitat for wildlife, and 3) human communities inside and outside protected areas engage in productive activities that can not be ignored when the protected area is established. The "problem" with agriculture is not agriculture per se, but rather the intensification of agricultural and livestock systems. The major drop in biodiversity occurs with the "intensification" of agriculture, not with its initiation. The main challenge for the new generation of conservationists is to incorporate agriculture and other managed systems as an integral part of conservation policies, and vice versa, to integrate biodiversity conservation into the development of agricultural policies. Part of the challenge ahead is the recognition that agroecology and conservation biology are both essential components of an integrated policy and that they are, metaphorically speaking, the two wings of the biodiversity conservation bird.

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The loss of biodiversity became frontpage news more than ten years ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Heads of states of more than 182 nations signed the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCED) to confront the crisis. Ten years later, the possibility of mass extinctions without precedence is still front-page news, with little evidence that progress has been made. In 2002, for the anniversary of the UNCED, newscasts at CNN, BBC, and others covered the lack of progress on curbing biodiversity loss. According to a recent survey of 400 scientists commissioned by the American Museum of Natural History, the majority of the nation's biologists are convinced that a "mass extinction" of plants and animals is underway and agree that the loss of biodiversity is one of the most pressing environmental problems facing us in the new millennium (American Museum of Natural History 2003).

One of the strategies used by conservation agencies and governments to curb biodiversity loss has been to establish priority areas where species richness and levels of endemism are high, the so-called "hot spots of biodiversity" (Myers 1988; Cincota and Endelman 2000). The focus within these areas has been to purchase land and set it aside through the establishment of protected areas. The establishment of protected areas is hardly a new concept, with examples of sacred groves and recreational areas established throughout history and in all areas of the world. In India for example, sacred groves were established millennia ago for the protection of wildlife (Gadgil and Ramachandra 1993) and local farming communities in Mexico routinely set aside nature reserves for watershed protection and recreation. …

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