Loss of agricultural biodiversity

Other Names:
Diminishing agrobiodiversity
Loss of genetic resources in agriculture

The rapid expansion of industrial and "green revolution" agriculture over the last 100 years has resulted in the loss of more than 90 per cent of crop varieties from farmers' fields, and more than half of the breeds of domestic farm animals.

Locally diverse food production systems—the basis of agricultural biodiversity—are under threat globally and, with them, the accompanying local knowledge, culture and skills of the food producers. With this decline, agricultural biodiversity, including harvested and unharvested species, is disappearing.


The rapid modernisation of northwest European agriculture has resulted in intensification, marginalisation, concentration and specialisation of farming. This modernisation continues today in southern Europe—and has begun, and is certain to increase, in central and eastern Europe. It has resulted in a fundamental imbalance between farming and the environment.

The biodiversity and landscape values in much of Europe have suffered a dramatic decline over the last 50 or more years. Semi-natural habitats have become very rare in the Northwest European lowlands and many of the formerly collectively farmed regions in Central and Eastern Europe. However, important strongholds still exist in less intensively farmed regions, like uplands, mountains and certain river valleys. Important Bird Areas are still numerous in Europe but in many cases the quality has declined, especially for breeding birds. Regions rich in landscape features have equally suffered great losses, although important concentrations do still exist, in the Atlantic region. Most of the losses were caused by intensification of agriculture but land abandonment is becoming more and more important as a threat as well. At this moment this is already visible especially in Central and Eastern Europe.

Across much of Europe farming practice can be characterised by increasing specialisation and intensive production. Where production has been the main objective, the result has been a decline in biological and landscape diversity. The picture varies however, as a result of differences in specific agriculture policies employed—for example the levels of funding associated with these policies and the response of farmers. In countries in transition, there have been drastic reductions in agricultural inputs since 1989, which has led to a relatively favourable environmental situation from the viewpoint of nutrients and pesticides. Although this large-scale extensification may have been accompanied by some recovery in the biological diversity in agro-ecosystems, it is likely that the bulk of biodiversity is still concentrated in those areas where it already was before 1989, seeing the long time required for he development of many of these ecosystems. Against the background of recent land redistribution, the collapse of livestock farming in many areas, leading to outright abandonment, and uncertainties about future developments in agriculture as well in policies, the status of these biodiversity rich areas is still highly uncertain.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 15: Life on Land
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST