Biodiversity Needs Down-to-Earth Help – Yes to Biodiversity

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The outlook for preserving biodiversity on our planet, particularly in agriculturally used soils, has been better in the past – making it all the more important that we do everything we can.

Biodiversity builds resilience. This applies not only to the world's ecosystems but also to the part of nature humans rely on for their livelihoods. Monocultures of wheat, corn, potatoes, and other calorie sources are not good for the soil in the long run. Crops with only a few different species become genetically impoverished and more susceptible to diseases. This leads to increased use of chemicals against "weeds" and "pests" that proliferate uncontrollably.

Soils used primarily for monocultures also become impoverished: the microbiome of conventionally farmed soil contains significantly fewer microorganisms than soil cultivated according to regenerative agriculture principles. A soil with a diverse biome is much better at providing nutrients and moisture to the plants growing in it. Thus, impoverished soils need artificial boosting to perform. Machines are deployed, and industrial products are introduced into the soil, furthering its degradation.

The Swiss NGO Pronatura notes alarming trends:

  • One-third of all studied animal and plant species are threatened.
  • Since 1900, moors have decreased in area by 82%.
  • Dry meadows and pastures have declined by 90% over the same period.

The reasons for this development, both in Switzerland and globally, include the expansion of living spaces and the growing demand for space for motorized individual transport. Additionally, increased nitrogen inputs from the extensive use of artificial fertilizers and declining habitat quality due to soil compaction, pesticides, and erosion play a role.

Unlike the highly politicized issue of climate change, the central importance of biodiversity for our lives is hardly disputed. Accordingly, Switzerland joined the international Convention on Biological Diversity in 1995. Yet, efforts to protect biodiversity are regularly blocked or reversed by politics, and existing laws are not enforced. While monocultures and overdevelopment of valuable land are not resilient, they are more profitable in the short term.

Pronatura, therefore, calls for "more areas managed in harmony with biodiversity, more protected areas, and more funds for widespread promotion of biodiversity" with its biodiversity initiative, which will be voted on September 22.

There are indeed successes in preserving biodiversity, and not all is lost. For example, the situation has improved for dragonflies and amphibians, as their threat levels have decreased. The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) reported in 2023 that certain species have benefited from the revitalization or creation of suitable habitats in recent years. Additionally, under FOEN's guidance, 156 km of flowing waters have been revitalized in the past ten years – mostly in agricultural and settlement areas of the Central Plateau. This is very positive news, as near-natural waters are crucial for biodiversity conservation. Around 80% of all known plant and animal species in Switzerland are found in waters and adjacent shore and floodplain habitats.

Swiss agriculture is also aware of its responsibilities: The Swiss Farmers' Association states on a dedicated website that it is "right for the federal government to currently develop a national biodiversity action plan that includes all areas." Agriculture will cooperate in the implementation because it "depends on rich biodiversity for the sustainable production of its food." Specifically, pollinating insects are a focus for farmers. Biodiversity promotion areas, for which farmers receive direct payments from the federal government, are intended to support their flourishing. To receive these funds, a farm must meet the ecological performance proof, maintaining diverse crop rotations instead of monocultures and dedicating seven percent of its area to promoting biodiversity. These areas can include extensive meadows, colorful fallows, field margins, high-stem trees, hedges, or piles of branches. According to the Farmers' Association, Switzerland has 190,000 hectares of such biodiversity promotion areas.

However, it must be noted that no one can live solely on food produced in Switzerland, and we thus outsource biodiversity problems to other countries. It is important and requires a certain awareness when shopping to ensure we consume food produced with soil-conscious methods; ideally, these should come from organic or biodynamic farming, preferably regenerative agriculture. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a monoculture of humans, prevalent in many parts of the world, is susceptible to diseases, directly affecting us. Moreover, with avian flu already spreading to cows in US agriculture, our health systems face the next major challenge. It's time to act, and there are plenty of good reasons to support biodiversity.

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Images:
Scotty Turner, Unsplash
Richard Bell, Unsplash