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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

April 2021: Conventional food production systems can have severe impacts on biodiversity through the degradation of local habitats. To transition to more sustainable farming systems, a new report from Chatham House is calling for food production systems to be diversified and made more resilient. This includes a global approach to embedding sustainability in international policy processes that govern food production systems.


A new report from Chatham House published in Nature identifies global conventional food production systems as one of the core accelerators for biodiversity loss through habitat degradation. Conventional food production can have severe impacts on biodiversity loss and threatens 24,000 of the 28,000 (86%) species at risk of extinction. These figures coincide with reports that the global rate of species extinction today is higher than the average rate over the past 140 million years. Over the last decades, streamlined industrial scale agricultural systems have been providing cheaper food a global scale. The benefits of food availability at lower price points notwithstanding, this form of agricultural farming has been linked to higher uses of fertilizers, pesticides, energy, land, and water which are severely impacting the viability of ecosystem and the biodiversity they are supporting.

Implications and opportunities

Ways to mitigate biodiversity risks from agriculture include diversifying current production systems that focus on one or two crops towards including a range of crops and foods such as nuts and vegetables. Diversifying food systems could alleviate pressures on land, energy, and water and could contribute to preserving natural habitats for a range of species. This approach could allow for more resilience in food systems against droughts and pests while supporting a shift in dietary patterns to more plant-based diets. It coincides with the World Bank’s latest blog post calling for more resilient food systems to prevent future food crises due to factors such as climate change, conflict, and the COVID-19 pandemic which threatens food availability amongst the poorest and most vulnerable countries around the world. Efforts for more sustainable farming practices could be supported by setting aside land for nature by means of re-establishing ecosystems on spared farmland or integrating connected pockets of natural habitat into farmland. These changes could be embedded in a global approach to integrate sustainability in international policy processes that govern agricultural systems.


Food system changes are complex, interconnected, and governed at national and international levels. This means that transitions need to be incentivised and designs for sustainable farming systems need to be adjusted to geographical and political contexts.


Benton, T., (2021). Food system impacts on biodiversity loss. Nature, February 2021. Available at

Newsroom (2021). Our global food system is the primary diver of biodiversity loss. Available at