Valuing ecosystems key to food security

25th August 2011

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Agriculture ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Adaptation



Global food supplies will not meet future demand unless there is a fundamental shift in governments and businesses' appreciation of ecosystems services, warns the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to the UNEP’s latest report, “An ecosystems approach to water and food security”, it is possible to double world food production and improve resilience to climate change, but only if there is a radical change in the value placed on the natural environment.

The paper, written jointly with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and published at the World Water Week event, argues that policymakers must think of farmland as “agroecosystems”, providing water purification and flood protection as well as food supply.

“It is essential that in the future we do things differently,” said David Molden, deputy director general for research at IWMI. There is a need for a seminal shift in the way modern societies view water and ecosystems and the way we, people, interact with them.”

“Managing water for food and ecosystems will bring great benefits, but there is no escaping the urgency of this situation. We are heading for disaster if we don’t change our practices from business-as-usual.”

According to the report an ecosystems-based approach to agriculture could result in more efficient water use, reduce the amount of farmland lost to degradation and provide benefits to poor communities dependent on ecosystems.

Agriculture accounts for more than 70% of global water use and the report argues that better management of rain, surfacewater and groundwater can provide sustainable way to tackle to water scarcity.

Other recommendations in the 200- page paper include placing a recognisable value on ecosystems services, promoting the movement of livestock to reduce overgrazing and land degradation and diversifying land use to integrate crop, tree and livestock production and promote soil fertility.

“Agriculture is both a major cause and victim of ecosystem degradation and it is not clear whether we can continue to increase yields with the present practices,” said Eline Boelee of IWMI, the report’s lead scientific editor. “Sustainable intensification of agriculture is a priority for future food security, but we need to take a more holistic ‘landscape’ approach.”

“Ensuring food security, managing water resources and protecting ecosystems must be considered as a single policy rather than as separate, and sometimes competing, choices,” agreed UN under-secretary-general Achim Stiener.

The UNEP report echoes the findings and recommendations of the UK’s National Ecosystems Assessment (NEA) published in June and the subsequent natural environment white paper (NEWP). The NEA found that ecosystems services in the UK have been consistently undervalued in the UK over the last 60 years and as a result, 30% are in decline.

In the NEWP the government outlines its recommended actions to protect the UK’s natural capital including using the findings of the NEA to put a monetary value on ecosystems services and working with businesses to lessen their impact on the environment, including launching a water footprinting tool in 2012.


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