FAO highlights the importance of sustainably managed agro-ecosystems


A new FAO publication 'Ecosystem-based adaptation in the agriculture sector: a nature-based solution (NbS) for building the resilience of the food and agriculture sector to climate change' highlights the importance of sustainably managed agro-ecosystems and biodiversity for food and agriculture in supporting longer-term adaptation and food security, and illustrates good practices across ecosystems as showcased during the Ecosystem-based Adaptation in the agriculture sector webinar series. 

Agro-ecosystem services and Biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) are central to food security and climate resilience

Agro-ecosystem services and biodiversity for food and agriculture, underpin our food systems, regulate our climate, and enable us to manage and mitigate the impact of health and climate shocks and crises. Unsustainable, fossil fuel dependent, and wasteful food system practices are a leading cause of the loss of this natural capital, land degradation, and the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. 

Integrated and sustainably managed landscapes have an important role to play in addressing the impacts of climate change and in supporting longer-term human-well being and sustainable development. With the increasing impact of climate change on agriculture and food security, set to push millions more people into hunger and poverty under a warming of 1.5 degrees, and evidence that our Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture (BFA) is disappearing by the day – the new publication further underscores the urgent need to prioritize policies and practices that harness the potential of nature to buffer against climate related shocks, support sustainable land management, improve the food security of the most vulnerable, and keep carbon in the ground. 

Mainstreaming agro-ecosystems and biodiversity for food and agriculture into adaptation planning processes can strengthen the sustainability and resilience of our food and agriculture systems against shocks and crises. 

Maintaining and enhancing ecosystem services and biodiversity for food and agriculture enables farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change. As illustrated in the publication, agro-ecosystem-based management approaches that target the sustainable use and management of crops, forests, livestock and aquatic systems can provide guiding frameworks and support for adaptation planning processes when they are employed to: a) reduce social and environmental vulnerabilities; b) generate societal benefits in the context of climate change adaptation; c) restore, maintain or improve ecosystem health; d) are supported by policies at multiple levels; and e) support equitable governance and enhances capacities. 

Diversity in food and agriculture systems is vital

Many of the agro-ecosystem services on which our food production systems depend are provided by biodiversity for food and agriculture. Biological diversity is the variability that exists among all living organisms on land, in fresh water bodies and in the oceans. It includes forests that provide habitat for animals, animals that eat plants, plants that need healthy soil to grow, fungi needed to help fertilize the soil, and bees and other insects that support plant production through pollination. 

Threats to species diversity are on the rise, impacting ecosystem functioning and the sustainable and nutritious food production. From a biodiversity perspective, the science makes sense when we consider that our current food and agriculture systems are heavily dependent on a narrow range of species where only 9 species supply nearly 66 percent of our total crop production, only 8 of the 40 domesticated mammalian and avian species provide more than 95 percent of the human food supply from livestock, and only ten species account for 50 percent of total aquaculture production. 

Higher species diversity can work to provide a pool of desired characteristics for climate action (disaster risk reduction, adaptation, and mitigation). From a resilience and food security perspective, higher functional diversity contributes to an “insurance effect” where the loss of species performing a particular function is compensated for by other species that have a similar function, but react differently to disturbances and persist. Furthermore, diversity in agricultural production systems provides a wider range of products that often have higher nutritional value than crops that are cultivated in monocultures, and that can supply an extra source of income. 

Several nature-based interventions that can enhance the role of biodiversity for food and agriculture in supporting sustainable, nutritious and resilient food systems are embedded in ecosystem-based management approaches. Examples of this include breeding crops for more positive crop–crop interactions, including the integration of a wider range of crops into production systems; the introduction of pollinator populations into production landscapes, including the protection and improvement of pollinator habitats; and greater integration of perennial legumes into farmland (and agro-forestry). 

Ensuring support to longer-term adaptation and food security 

The publication further emphasizes that the selection of solutions should be based on participatory, inclusive and trans disciplinary approaches that promote locally appropriate strategies built on the nexus between scientific and traditional knowledge. Such solutions should also be strengthened through adaptive research, including deepening the understanding of the impacts of climate change and land use on ecosystems and their specific functions, as well as incentive and financial mechanisms that support adoption and uptake by food producers.

The publication can be downloaded here


Additional reading

The Contribution of Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture to the Resilience of Production Systems 

National Adaptation Plans – An entry point for ecosystem-based adaptation 

FAO, Voluntary guidelines to support the integration of genetic diversity into national climate change adaptation planning 

State of the Worlds Biodiversity for Food and Agricuture, FAO 2019   

How the world’s food security depends on biodiversity, FAO