Bridging the gap between biodiversity conservation and international trade: A developing country perspective.

Researcher name: Lessah Mandoloma

Period: (April, 2021 to October, 2025)

Supervisors: Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland, Lauren Coad and Karl Hughes (ICRAF)

Funder: Government of Malawi, Oxford University and World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)


DPhil Overview:

My DPhil research focusses on finding synergies and trade-offs between trade in agriculture and biodiversity conservation with a particular focus on Malawi.

Outline of research: 

Biodiversity loss is amongst the world’s most pressing issues and there is a growing concern about the status of biological resources on which so much human life depends especially through agriculture production and value chains. While agriculture has generated biodiversity-rich environments, it is also a major cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. For example, around 80% of threatened terrestrial mammal and bird species are under threat by agricultural expansion. Worse still, assessments of the impacts of agricultural trade have tended to neglect biodiversity despite its crucial role in maintain productive ecosystems. While global frameworks and policies recognises that international trade can be an engine for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction there is still a knowledge gap in understanding the trade-offs which may be necessary in development of policies as well as in supporting the trade negotiations there by reducing the risk of biodiversity loss in agriculturally productive landscapes. This challenge has been perverse due to the demand for wild and agricultural commodities (including legumes and tree crops) which is often driven by world’s growing population at escalating rate per capita food consumption as well as data constraints in the understanding of the complexity of the linkages that exists between international trade and biodiversity conservation.

Global responses to these challenges have been limited by a lack of coordination among stakeholders and inter-dependencies inherent in the trade system, information gaps in relation to life cycle analysis of products with impacts on biodiversity and economic as well as social impacts of trade measure has also exacerbated the situation at hand. Although many studies have linked export-intensive industries with biodiversity threats in both developed and developing countries, such studies are neither systematic, inclusive, integrated nor comprehensive in their coverage of international trade and other interconnected environmental related problems. Consequently, policy aimed at reducing local threats to species should be designed from a global perspective, considering not just the local producers who directly degrade and destroy habitat but also the consumers who benefit from the degradation and destruction. The study therefore aims at developing a framework for integrating the international trade in agricultural commodities with conservation of biodiversity.


Using high quality research methodologies, high resolution spatial data and bio economic models such as SEI-PCS (spatially explicit information on production to consumption system) and trade models, the study specifically will assess the following:

•            The extent to which international and domestic policies relating to Coffee, Soy and Bush mangoes have impacted biodiversity conservation on agriculturally productive landscapes;

•            How trade influences local Coffee, Soy and Bush mangoes production and how that affect the wellbeing and conservation simultaneously;

•            The extent of biodiversity loss due to local and international related trade on agriculture; and

•            The incentive measures for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

Malawi provides a unique research setting for achieving the above objectives. Malawi has the highest population density in Sub-Saharan Africa and 93% of its population depend on agriculture and natural resources such as forest products for their sustenance. The different land management system of the limited land allows for testing of factors affecting trade and its effects on biodiversity using different research and spatial methodologies.

Summary of planned activities: 

  • Desk work (Literature review)
  • Field work: pilot study
  • Field work: data collection
  • Report writing and publications
  • Research dissemination

Project outputs:

This research and its outcomes provide a significant contribution to the development of sustainable pathways to international trade through provision of tools that will help integrate the effects of trade liberalization into biodiversity conservation strategies. It will also help develop tools to support assessment of biodiversity impacts that can support trade negotiations and reduce risks of unforeseen consequences for important biodiversity and those who depend on it for their livelihoods. Framework created through the study will also be useful in forecasting possible biodiversity impacts of trade, as it will provide tools for predicting how trade policies might benefit biodiversity and humans. Filling gaps in knowledge through science-based solutions is critical, both for conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of ecosystems, as well as successful implementation and achievement of sustainable development goals.