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Focus | Biodiversity and the livestock sector. Guidelines for quantitative assessment



Biodiversity is essential to agriculture and human well-being, but it is declining at an unprecedented rate. Depending on the context and land use history, livestock is either a major threat for biodiversity or necessary to maintain ecosystems.

Despite the strong relationship between livestock production,biodiversity and ecosystem services, many assessments and initiatives on the environmental performance of the livestock sector have had a strong focus on GHG emissions and negative environmental impacts while biodiversity assessment has been largely ignored. Including biodiversity in environmental assessments is challenging, mainly due to its intrinsic complexity, scale issues and the significant difficulty associated with reducing biodiversity assessment to a single measure or conservation objective.

However, the inclusion of biodiversity in environmental assessment is an emerging but increasingly important area of work to address and communicate the impact of livestock production. There is a need to ensure that the livestock sector and its relationship with biodiversity are not left behind in recent developments on biodiversity assessment.

During LEAP1 (2012-2015), a first step was taken to tackle the challenge of biodiversity assessment in the livestock sector, with the formation of a dedicated Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on biodiversity and the development of Principles for the assessment of livestock impacts on biodiversity.

During LEAP2 (2016-2018), a second TAG on biodiversity was formed. The technical document Biodiversity and the livestock sector. Guidelines for quantitative assessment builds on this previous work and progresses it by moving from qualitative principles to guidelines for the quantitative assessment of livestock impacts on biodiversity.

The need for quantitative indicators

To integrate biodiversity along with other environmental criteria, there is a need to move from principles to quantitative and operational biodiversity assessments. In the absence of more holistic approaches, the risk of pollution swapping is real, and unrecognized trade-offs among different dimensions of agri-environmental sustainability may occur.

Quantitative biodiversity assessments could help integrate environmental criteria because biodiversity is at the endpoint of the environmental cause-effect chain and is impacted by, for example, climate change, water pollution, water withdrawals, and land use chance and soil pollution.

Quantitative biodiversity assessments are needed to support international agreements that recognize the importance of biodiversity conservation, such as the 2020 Aichi Targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals number 14 and 15 on protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

Furthermore, after the COP23 decision to address agriculture in the negotiation process, there is a potential for integration and synergies between biodiversity, climate change mitigation and nutrient management in the transition towards sustainable livestock production.

About the guidelines

In July 2019 the LEAP Partnership launched the public review of Biodiversity and the livestock sector. Guidelines for quantitative assessment. The objective of this document is to develop guidelines for quantitative assessment of the impacts of livestock production on biodiversity, based on existing indicators and methods.

These guidelines cover the range of positive and negative links between livestock production and biodiversity, adopt a life cycle perspective and include multiple possible and spatially dispersed impacts along livestock supply chains, and address biodiversity at both the species and ecosystem levels.

The assessment of livestock genetic resources is beyond the scope of this document but it provides background information and data sources on this aspect of biodiversity. It also describes the linkages between livestock, biodiversity and ecosystem services and highlights overlaps between assessment frameworks and methods.

To find out how to participate in the review process, click here.

Livestock species and production system

Indicators and methods described in these guidelines are relevant to a range of assessment objectives, users, scales, geographical regions, livestock species and production systems.

The document focuses on biodiversity at the species and ecosystem level, including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and buffalos. However, the recommended methods, procedure and certain indicators may be relevant to other types of animals, such as insects, aquaculture, ducks, reptilians, and amphibians.

Intended users

The guidance is relevant to a wide array of stakeholders in livestock supply chains including:

  • Livestock producers who wish to know the environmental performance of their production units assessed or to adopt biodiversity friendly practices;
  • Supply chain partners such as feed processors, livestock farming organizations, processors of animal products as well as retailers seeking a better understanding of the environmental performance of their production processes;
  • Policy makers interested in developing biodiversity assessment and reporting specifications for livestock supply chains;
  • Environmental organizations or land managers conducting biodiversity assessments for conservation purposes.

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