Ecological Intensification and Ecosystem Services

Forests play an important role in the production of food, fuel, fibre and the provisions of other goods and services critical for human well-being. The quality and quantity of biodiversity, that underpins production systems, also benefits from forests.

IFAD’s Oliver Page, speaking at The Rio Pavilion at CBD COP13, said that every year large areas of forests are lost. The majority of crop and livestock production systems are, unfortunately, still among the most significant drivers of global deforestation.

Page was facilitating a session in the Forest and Agriculture Day on Ecological Intensification and Ecosystem Services. The event was co-organised by UNEP, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

TEEB’s Salman Hussain opened the session with a keynote address on ‘Recognizing the value of agro-forestry systems to global production‘.

Hussain said that TEEB AgriFood commissions feeder studies on forestry, investigating the co-benefits of carbon mitigation as it is not just about sequestration.

TEEB are trying to avoid just giving a value to agroforests as policy makers prefer to have an analysis of the status quo vs different inputs. In this way, they can highlight the value added using various valuation methods.

Oliver Page rounded off the presentation by saying how this study provides the hard evidence which allows us to take this beyond the walls of the already converted and influence policy.

He spoke of a new FAO publication linking mainstreaming ecosystems services and biodiversity. But why the focus on ecosystems and biodiversity?

Mba said that sustainable agricultural production systems can reduce carbon footprints. However, agricultural and food systems have significant social and biological constraints. Agriculture at the farm level can be regenerating, but solutions need to be targeted as ‘one size fits all’ does not work.
Bernardo Strassburg, Executive Director, IISD, gave an illuminating presentation on ’Agricultural intensification as a key to achieving climate commitments in Brazil while reducing pressure on biodiversity in the Cerrado’.

Achieving climate change commitments in Brazil will require a mix of policy, science and practice. The biggest challenge of the 21st century is how to feed the world, produce enough food and at the same time protect land.

He gave an in-depth review of the IISD hypothesis that Brazil already has enough suitable land to intensify farming with no more deforestation needed and actually with some restoration of existing agricultural land.

In this hypothesis, meat production would increase with more efficient land use, meaning higher carrying capacities. Carrying capacity is the number of livestock units a certain area of land can support - relative to a 100 per cent efficient pasture. When pastureland is well managed and efficient, its carrying capacity increases. Ideally there would be an increase to just 49 per cent carrying capacity in 30 years. It is currently producing between 32-34 per cent of what it could.

“By 2040 we could go from 32 per cent to 49 per cent carrying capacity which would still only equal the production of Mexico. If we could get to 70 per cent by 2040 it would liberate 36 million hectares of land.”

There have been extremely good results with this hypothesis and it is ready to be up-scaled. Failure to do so could see catastrophic loss of biodiversity in the Cerrado, equalling if not exceeding that of recent global extinctions.

He said that they have done studies as to why this intensification coupled with land restoration/liberation hasn’t been taken up sooner - mainly the high cost of intensification and the limited access to finance. One surprising obstacle was the lack of access to qualified labour. Strassburg believed this was one of the most significant barricades and needed to be rectified with trainings.

Overall it was a fascinating and engaging session, prompting many questions and encouraging audience participation.

Oliver Page rounded off the session saying that with all the information and techniques currently available we have a duty to upscale sustainable action and push forward at all levels.