In an era marked by rapid environmental changes and growing concerns about food security, the importance of biodiversity in agriculture cannot be overstated. Biodiversity is not just a buzzword; it is the backbone of a resilient and sustainable agricultural system that can feed our planet's ever-growing population while preserving the delicate balance of our ecosystems.
According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) the area of agricultural land has increased 500% over the last 200 years, from 1 billion hectares worldwide in 1800 to 5 billion hectares at its peak in 2000.
However, farming practices have become, over time, more efficient, and many farmers have embraced innovative technologies such as precision agriculture ,crop rotation and cover cropping. This has led to producing more food than ever, but on less land. These efficiencies provide an opportunity to return some land back to nature.
Throughout history farmers have responded to political and societal pressures to grow more food at lower prices, while the connection to nature has increasingly been overlooked. Farmers are now realising that biodiversity in their soils is beneficial to them and their crops, leading to higher yields and in some cases less pest and disease. Farmers are therefore promoting this move to more "sustainable" agriculture, a shift in perspective which reflects a growing awareness of the interconnectedness between agricultural practices and the overall health of the environment.
Increasing the biodiversity of agricultural land can help improve crop yields, reduce agrochemical use and save money on costly inputs. In fact, ecological insights such as succession sowing and soil ecology underpin the entire farming paradigm. While many pioneers have been trying to challenge certain dogmatic elements of conventional farming for several years, agroecological practices have recently gained more interest due to increasing climate change awareness and rising prices of fertilisers and other agrochemicals.
There are many agricultural practices that improve biodiversity, such as zero till, buffer zones, pollinator strips and limiting the use of herbicides. The Group’s arable operation, CC Lawrie, pioneered zero till practices in the 1990’s. By not tilling the soil, several benefits are received including reducing soil erosion, increasing the organic matter content of soil, weed suppression, and increasing water storage capacity. Furthermore, CC Lawrie rotate crops to take advantage of nitrogen naturally fixed by leguminous soya and plant cover crops to ensure that the soil is never bare.
In terms of the impacts of agrochemicals, the Group has projects to reverse the adverse effect of historic degradation of their soils. Projects such as growing Guatemala grass in Malawi for land rehabilitation before replanting to new tea bushes. Guatemala grass acts as a living mulch, retaining moisture in the soil, fixing nitrogen through phyllo- sphere micro-flora and protecting young plants. Similarly, Vermicompost sites in India and Bangladesh turn organic waste into high quality compost which acts as a natural fertiliser for the tea bushes. Across the Group’s tea operations, tea waste and pruning’s are used as mulch and compost. There are also two certified organic tea gardens where no chemicals are used at all.
In addition to several of our operations completing periodic flora and fauna and bird counts, we launched our first Group wide biodiversity watch in April 2023 and to date have had a great response from all the operations in monitoring species within a number of categories, birds, mammals, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, plants and fungi.
Improving biodiversity is a central part of the Group’s sustainability strategy and is vital to our reduced use of agrochemicals and our path to net zero. By taking the ecology of our land into account, our Group operations contribute not only to their own economic sustainability but also to the broader goal of creating resilient and environmentally friendly food systems. This shift towards ecological consciousness in agriculture is crucial for addressing the challenges of resource depletion, biodiversity loss, and climate change.