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Ecosystem Services & Biodiversity (ESB)

FAO’s work in the landscape

20/09/2017 20/09/2017

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, envision a world characterized by reduced hunger, reduced inequality, better management of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, arrested climate change, and broad adoption of sustainable production and consumption systems, among other things. These goals can be reached only through broad and holistic approaches that address the range of ecological and societal impacts of current environmental challenges in the landscape we live in.

In line with this, and with the aim to identify FAO’s strengths in dealing with integrated landscape approaches for ecosystem services and biodiversity, a stocktaking of FAO field projects was recently carried out. This exercise allowed to get a better understanding on how the needs for food security, social welfare, and economic development can be met in a degrading environment, exacerbated by climate change.

The work was commissioned and supported by FAO’s Major Area of Work on Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity, a multi-disciplinary group of about 150 FAO staff representing all technical departments in headquarters and decentralized offices.

The analysis of the selected projects revealed for example that FAO implements integrated landscape management through several approaches, characterized by different entry points but sharing similar concepts and ideas such as supporting ecosystem services, integrating different sectors and policies, engaging in broad stakeholder involvement to manage and protect terrestrial, inland waters and marine ecosystems in different climatic zones.

FAO and its partners support local communities achieving food security and nutrition through improved management of ecosystems and harnessing the benefits of ecosystem services. The ecosystem services most addressed are:

  • Provisioning services (e.g. food production, water, raw material);
  • Regulating services (e.g. erosion prevention, CO2 sequestration, water purification and waste water treatment, pest and disease regulation/ biological control, erosion prevention and maintenance of soil fertility, moderation of extreme events, pollination); and
  • Supporting services (e.g. soil formation, habitat provision, maintenance of genetic diversity).

Support to farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and foresters is generally provided for restoring degraded ecosystems, addressing declining production, adopting sustainable practices, negotiating and agreeing on watershed management plans, or resolving conflicts between resource users.

Declining production is often caused by land and ecosystem degradation, water-related issues, loss of wild habitats and consequent lack of ecosystem services such as pollination, soil fertility and stability, primary productivity, and resilience to changes and to pests and diseases. In a significant number of projects degradation was caused by unsustainable crop, livestock, forestry, and fisheries practices.

Preliminary lessons learned:

  • Landscapes provide different goods and services to different stakeholders:

- Food security, rural livelihoods, biodiversity, economic development and climate change adaptation and mitigation can be addressed all together by using an integrated landscape management approach;
- Awareness of the importance of an integrated landscape management approach that include ecosystem services and biodiversity to ensure sustainability of production systems is needed in policy and practice.

  • Agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries benefit from ecosystem services:

- Sustainable practices make use of and provide ecosystem services;
- Sustainable practices and healthy ecosystems increase resilience of agricultural systems;
- More emphasis should be given to cultural ecosystem services in FAO’s field work.

  • Broad (spatial) scale planning is essential to balance the trade-offs between the demands of different stakeholders:

- In preparing project proposals, special attention should be paid to the opportunity to integrate landscape approaches;
- Different approaches can be implemented in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems that may have different labels but still be in line with integrated landscape management principles.

  • Improved knowledge is needed on existing tools and methods, especially on assessment and valuation of ecosystem services:

- Strategic partnerships should be established to generate and share knowledge;
- Simple tools for assessing status and values of ecosystem services proved helpful to support decision making (e.g. surveys on stakeholders’ perceptions, local experts’ opinions, market surveys to assess values, literature review, etc.).

  • Participatory processes for Monitoring and for Risk Managementneed to be more consistently established in projects

Next steps

The stocktaking analysis was discussed at a validation workshop in FAO in April 2017. The results of the analysis, the debate and of the whole process initiated by the Major Area of Work on Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity are being condensed in a Guidance Document that will also present lessons learned for both policy makers and practitioners.