Food security in a perfect storm: using the ecosystem services framework to increase understanding

March 3, 2014 • Climate Change & Mitigation, Farming Practices, Daily Email Recap

Food security in a perfect storm: using the ecosystem services framework to increase understanding

Achieving food security in a ‘perfect storm’ scenario is a grand challenge for society. Climate change and an expanding global population act in concert to make global food security even more complex and demanding. As achieving food security and the millennium development goal (MDG) to eradicate hunger influences the attainment of other MDGs, it is imperative that we offer solutions which are complementary and do not oppose one another. Sustainable intensification of agriculture has been proposed as a way to address hunger while also minimizing further environmental impact. However, the desire to raise productivity and yields has historically led to a degraded environment, reduced biodiversity and a reduction in ecosystem services (ES), with the greatest impacts affecting the poor. This paper proposes that the ES framework coupled with a policy response framework, for example Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR), can allow food security to be delivered alongside healthy ecosystems, which provide many other valuable services to humankind. Too often, agro-ecosystems have been considered as separate from other natural ecosystems and insufficient attention has been paid to the way in which services can flow to and from the agro-ecosystem to surrounding ecosystems. Highlighting recent research in a large multi-disciplinary project (ASSETS), we illustrate the ES approach to food security using a case study from the Zomba district of Malawi.

…Agricultural ecosystems are managed by humans largely to optimize provisioning ecosystem services (ES), such as food, fibre and fuel…

…Agriculture currently accounts directly for approximately 19-29% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is also the leading driver of deforestation and forest degradation globally, which accounts for an additional 17% of global carbon emissions [10]. For example, between 1980 and 2000, 83% of new croplands and pastures in the tropics were created at the expense of natural forests [11]…

…Flows of ES are shaped by complex and dynamic systems that operate over multiple temporal and spatial scales and often exhibit stochastic behaviour [53]. This complexity often makes it difficult to resolve an appropriate course of collective action to pursue sustainable livelihoods…

…there are always going to be trade-offs between which services are prioritized from which ecosystems and for whom. Some authors go so far as to argue that all environmental management interventions in the Global South are likely to lead to both justices and injustices [73]. The greater the human demands on a landscape, and the less transparent or legitimate local governance or authority systems are, the more intractable the trade-offs…

…Malawi is a country experiencing rapid population growth and significant land-use change already exacerbated by climate change. The country is characterized by persistent high fertility rates underpinning the high population growth. On average, Malawian women have more than five births, and as a consequence the population of the country has more than quadrupled in 50 years since 1960 to just under 15 million [96], placing an increasing strain on the country’s natural resources [28]. By 2050, the UN predicts that Malawi’s population will exceed 45 million. Although the uptake of family planning methods is increasing, there is still a preference for large families [97]. Approximately half of all children under the age of 5 years are chronically malnourished [97] and more than 50% of the population live below the national poverty line [98]. The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee [99] estimates that the number of people at risk of being food insecure in October 2012 was 1.97 million (13%). In the following sections, we show how national-level estimates of undernourishment are important but may need to be grounded at local scale in order to design appropriate policy responses. In particular, we highlight the importance of disaggregating beneficiaries and of supporting a transparent negotiation of trade-offs among different ES users…

…Many forecasts of the future show that human development cannot continue on the current trajectory without large-scale changes in ES that underpin human well-being. Using the example of the ES framework as applied to promoting or ensuring food security, we have demonstrated the inextricable links between ES and human well-being, illustrated by the situation in Malawi as a typical developing country. From this, we offer the following conclusions — Business as usual in science, agriculture and ecosystem management is not going to be sufficient to meet the challenges of near- and longer term futures, especially in the face of ‘perfect storm’ combinations of stressors….

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