A Delicate Balance: Ensuring Food Supply and Safeguarding Biodiversity in Italy
Intensive industrial agriculture continues to have a devastating impact on global biodiversity. In 2021, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) reported that the global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone responsible for 86% of the extinction-level threats facing 28,000 species.
Moreover, 80% of global deforestation, 60% of fresh water usage, and 23% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the impact of agriculture's massive footprint.
Food for thought
While home to the highest numbers and densities of animal and plant species within the European Union plus very high rates of endemism, Italy also faces a conflicting relationship between biodiversity and agriculture – a relationship that is strained by the global “cheaper food paradigm” that drives up humanity's collective demand but pressures already threatened ecosystems with agricultural sprawl.
And, crucially, our food system exists in symbiosis with biodiversity – to keep humanity fed, natural ecosystems in turn need to thrive.
Biodiversity, for example, ensures that soil is productive; provides the genetic resources for the crops, livestock, and marine species that land on our plates; and enables the resilience of crops against pests and disease.
Any threat to biodiversity is in turn a threat to humanity's own well-being and longevity.
With this in mind, WWF, Rainforest Connection (RFCx), and Huawei have reunited to launch a new agroecosystem project that aims to balance sustainable farming and biodiversity protection.
The 12-month project will deploy 24 offline RFCx AudioMoth edge devices to record environmental sounds across eight sites, including WWF Oasis nature reserves: Valle dello Sporeggio (TN), Bosco di Vanzago (MI), Ghirardi (PR), Ripabianca di Jesi (AN), Calanchi di Atri (TE), Lake Penne (PE), Monte Sant'Elia (TA), and Lake Preola and Gorghi Tondi (TP). Running from the Alps to Sicily, the selected sites include apple orchards, vineyards, olive groves, citrus groves, wheat fields, and land intended for the cultivation of cereals and vegetables.
Installing an AudioMoth device in one of the selected sites
AudioMoth devices can record environmental sounds 24/7, including the vocalizations of endangered animals. The vast amounts of data collected will be aggregated to the RFCx Arbimon cloud platform for analysis by an AI model trained to recognize specific sounds. The resulting data insights, which would be impossible to acquire through conventional manual methods, will be used to study the biodiversity characteristics and trends in agroecosystems, including the relationship between different farming practices and nature conservation, which can in turn help guide future best practices.
Aligned with WWF's Food4Future campaign, the agroecosystem project aims to help guide the planet towards a food supply system that is resilient, inclusive, sustainable, and healthier. Current farming practices have not just heavily impacted the environment and biodiversity, but practices like the uncontrolled spread of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides also continue to negatively affect human health.
AudioMoth devices deployed
The project reunites the WWF, Rainforest Connection, and Huawei teams that launched the Nature Guardian project in Italy in August 2021.
Covering three WWF Oasis sites in Italy – Lake Burano, Orbetello Lagoon, and Astroni Crater – the Nature Guardian system in this project is designed to study biodiversity and detect illegal activities that harm nature, like poaching, unauthorized dirt bikes, and logging. The 45 offline AudioMoths and 10 online solar-powered Guardian devices installed in the three Oases have so far collected 870,000 recordings, validated the automated recognition of 49 species of birds and mammals, sent over 2,000 real-time alerts on sounds potentially associated with illegal activities, and prompted over 30 field checks. Moreover, in December 2021, the Nature Guardian system in Astroni Crater led to the identification and destruction of an electroacoustic device designed to help bird poachers.