Thursday, May 10, 2012
PUBLICATION: How Valuing Nature Can Transform Agriculture
An article in the open-source journal Solutions argues for designing payments for ecosystems services (PES) mechanisms through collective action institutions.
Society must increase food production and restore vital ecosystem services or suffer unacceptable consequences. Unfortunately, conventional agriculture may be the single greatest threat to ecosystem function. At the same time, reducing ecologically harmful agricultural inputs or restoring farmlands to native ecosystems threatens food production. We fell into this predicament because we designed agricultural and economic systems that failed to account for ecosystem services, and the path forward requires redesigning both systems. Agroecology—which applies ecological principles to design sustainable farming methods that can increase food production, wean us away from nonrenewable and harmful agricultural inputs, and restore ecosystem services—promises to be an appropriate redesign of agricultural systems. We focus on the example of management-intensive grazing (MIG), which mimics natural grassland-grazer dynamics. Compared to conventional systems, MIG increases pasture growth and cattle production, reduces the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and enhances biodiversity, water quality, nutrient capture, and carbon sequestration. Redesigning economic institutions to reward the provision of ecosystem services and provide the public goods required for the global-scale development and dissemination of agroecology practices still presents a serious challenge. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are a promising mechanism through which those who benefit from ecosystem services can compensate those who provide them, for mutual gain. Numerous schemes already exist that pay landowners for land uses that sequester carbon, regulate and purify water, and enhance biodiversity, but their effectiveness is debated. We propose a form of PES in which the potential public beneficiaries of ecosystem services at the local, national, and global scales fund the research and development, extension work (i.e., farmer education, usually supported by government agencies), and affordable credit required to scale agroecology up to the level required to provide for a growing global population.