By Jesse Chang
In July, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) held a seminar addressing the challenges of sustaining agricultural productivity for a growing global population, without harming the environment. Entitled “A Greener Revolution: Improving Productivity and Increasing Food Security by Enhancing Ecosystem Services,” the seminar featured a panel of agriculture, biology and economic experts.
The speakers, moderated by Chris Kosnik, leader of USAID’s Land Resources Management Team, included Ecoagriculture Partners President–and contributing author to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet Sara Scherr, USAID Senior Livestock Advisor Joyce Turk, and The World Bank’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Advisor James L. Anderson.
The seminar focused on local farmers and the impact they can have on transforming landscapes. According to Scherr, farmers and livestock-raising pastoralists manage the land directly, and to this end, are key stewards of ecosystems and biodiversity.“Landscape management is a local process,” said Scherr. She noted that “separating production and ecosystem has worked in only a few settings.” The efforts of local producers could be supported by harmonizing policy agendas, including agriculture, food security, climate, ecosystems, biodiversity. This benefits farmers by increasing their profits, protecting their right to operate, and enhancing their quality of life. Their success is essential for producing agricultural products sustainably and for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services.
In similar fashion, properly managed livestock can help generate ecosystem services. According to Turk, “livestock can be used to mimic the role those herds once played in maintaining ecosystem health.” 65 percent of the world’s dryland area is used as grassland for livestock production, and because most dryland systems are ecologically grazing-dependent, these lands have the potential for sequestering an additional billion tons of carbon per year.
The importance of fisheries, especially aquaculture, was also emphasized at the presentation. Over 200 million people in developing countries depend on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihood and the value of international fish trade exceeds the international value in all other animal proteins. Feed conversion rates for farmed fish in aquacultures, the world’s fastest growing food production system, are more efficient than those of land based animals, and aquaculture is an efficient use of water. These reasons, along with increasing demands for fish, prompted the World Bank to launch PROFISH in 2005, a global program dedicated to improving sustainable livelihoods in the fisheries sector of developing nations.
The experts also highlighted the mismanagement of environmental resources. For fisheries, weak governance has led to a vast loss of wealth across the world. Over 75 percent of fisheries and aquacultures are considered fully or over-exploited, and the core of the problem is often the poor management of both fisheries and aquaculture – especially in poor nations that do not have access to information and knowledge products. Potential net gains from good governance alone could total $50 billion a year from improving production efficiency alone. Mismanaging livestock also decreases rangeland productivity, as reducing mobility or excluding grazers destroys the health of grassland ecosystems. In fact, not only is pastoralism environmentally sustainable and climate-resistant, pastoralist systems are three to ten times more productive than fixed ranching systems in dryland areas.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to ending world hunger, and the pathways to reform are many. Collaboration between diverse stakeholders, integrating technical innovations, crop-livestock rotations, improving access to markets, pricing ecosystem services and supportive policy developments are all part of the answer. According to Scherr, what really needs to happen for land transformation, is synergy at scales that really matter, for millions, even billions of people.
What are some other issues that need to be addressed to simultaneously conserve biodiversity, provide sustainable agricultural products, and support local farmers? Tell us in the comments!
Jesse Chang is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
To read more about ecosystem services, see: FAO report calls for crop production intensification, with an ecosystem approach, Conserving Fisheries, Protecting Ecosystems, Win-Win: Maintaining Agricultural Yields while Increasing Biodiversity with Wildlife Friendly Farming, What Works: Farming with trees, Helping Farmers Benefit Economically from Wildlife Conservation, What Works: Healing the Soil with Agriculture, What Works: Innovations that protect both agriculture and wildlife, Restoring Biodiversity to Improve Food Security.
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