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Global Coverage of Agricultural Sustainability Standards, and Their Role in Conserving Biodiversity

Tayleur, Catherine, Balmford, Andrew, Buchanan, Graeme M., Butchart, Stuart H. M., Ducharme, Heather, Green, Rhys E., Milder, Jeffrey C., Sanderson, Fiona J., Thomas, David H. L., Vickery, Juliet, Phalan, Ben
Conservation letters 2017 v.10 no.5 pp. 610-618
biodiversity, biodiversity conservation, business enterprises, certification, corn, cropland, crops, deforestation, financial institutions, rice, staple foods, sustainable agriculture, tea, wheat
Voluntary sustainability standards have increased in uptake over the last decade; here, we explore their potential contribution to biodiversity conservation and other aspects of agricultural sustainability. We reviewed the content of 12 major crop standards and quantified their global coverage. All standards included some provisions for the protection of biodiversity, but we only identified two with criteria that prohibited all deforestation. We found records of certified cropland in 133 countries, and estimated that certified crop area increased by 11% (range 8.8–13.5%) per year from 2000 to 2012, but still only covered 1.1% (range 1.0–1.2%) of global cropland. The crops with the highest levels of certification were heavily traded commodities: coffee, cocoa, tea, and palm oil each had 10% or more of their total global production area certified. Coverage was lower for other crops, including the world's most important staple foods (maize, rice, and wheat). Sustainability standards have considerable potential to contribute to conservation, but there is an ongoing need for better evaluation of how effectively they are implemented. We present examples of ways in which governments, companies, financial institutions, and civil society can work together to scale up and target certification to places where it can have the greatest positive impact.