Farming: Habitat conversion & loss

The main impact from farming comes from clearing natural habitats for agriculture and aquaculture – especially for intensive monocultures.
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Wheat stacked up to dry in paddocks, Western Australia. In some parts of the Southwest Australia Ecoregion, more than 90% of the original native vegetation has been cleared to make way for agriculture.
© Richard McLellan / WWF-Canon

A major – and growing – land use

Agriculture is a major land use. Around 50% of the world's habitable land has already been converted to farming land. Overall, farmland covers 38% of the world's land area.1

This area is still expanding. It is predicted that in developing countries, a further 120 million hectares of natural habitats will be converted to farmland to meet demand for food by 2050. This will include land with high biodiversity value.

Natural habitats converted to monocultures

Agricultural ecosystems provide important habitats for many wild plant and animal species. This is especially the case for traditional farming areas that cultivate diverse species.

However, rising demand for food and other agricultural products has seen large-scale clearing of natural habitats to make room for intensive monocultures.

Recent examples include the conversion of lowland rainforests in Indonesia to oil palm plantations, and of large areas of the Amazon rainforest and Brazilian savanna to soybean and cattle farms.

This ongoing habitat loss threatens entire ecosystems as well as many species. Expanding oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, for example, pose the most significant threats to endangered megafauna including Asian elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, and tigers.

Freshwater and marine areas also affected

Aquaculture is also in direct competition with natural marine and freshwater habitats for space.

For example, marine fish farms often need the shelter of bays and estuaries to avoid damage from storms and currents. In addition, farmed fish need good water quality, frequent water exchange, and other optimal environmental conditions.

But these locations are also very often ideal for wild fish and other marine life.

Some European fish farms have been placed in the migratory routes of wild salmon, while in Asia and Latin America, mangrove forests have been cleared to make space for shrimp farms.

Land lost to desertification

On top of habitat loss due to clearing, unsustainable agricultural practices are seeing 12 million hectares of land lost each year to desertification.



 1. CBD/UNEP (2001) Global Biodiversity Outlook
 
 / ©: World Resources Institute 2000
Natural areas converted globally (until 2000)
© World Resources Institute 2000
Natural areas converted globally (until 2000; click to enlarge)

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