High conservation value or high confusion value? Sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation in the tropics

David P. Edwards, Brendan Fisher, David S. Wilcove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Green labeling of products that have been produced sustainably is an emerging tool of the environmental movement. A prominent example is the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies timber that is harvested to manage and maintain forests defined as having High Conservation Value (HCV). The criteria for HCV are now being applied to four rapidly expanding crops in the tropics: oil palm, soy, sugarcane, and cacao. However, these criteria do not provide adequate protection for biodiversity when applied to agriculture. The only criterion that provides blanket protection to forests is one that protects large expanses of habitat (≥20,000-500,000 ha, depending on the country). Absent of other HCVs, the collective clearing of forest patches below these thresholds could result in extensive deforestation that would be sanctioned with a green label. Yet such forest patches retain much biodiversity and provide connectivity within the agricultural matrix. An examination of forest fragments in biodiverse countries across the tropics shows that future agricultural demand can be met by clearing only forest patches below a 1,000 ha threshold. We recommend the development of a new HCV criterion that recognizes the conservation value of habitat patches within the agricultural matrix and that protects patches above 1,000 ha.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-27
Number of pages8
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


  • Agricultural conversion
  • Connectivity
  • Deforestation
  • Green labeling
  • HCVF
  • Land-use planning
  • Sustainable agriculture


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