Grasslands are versatile ecosystems, generating a diverse array of goods and services that are useful to humankind. It is widely recognised that grasslands support high quality livestock produce, chiefly from ruminants. By maximising pastures as the primary diet, grasslands provide alternatives to concentrate feed. This reduces the inefficient use of arable land and increases the food that is directly available for human consumption from cereals.
Grasslands also provide a much wider range of ecosystems goods and services that are often neglected. In addition to sustaining cultural values and the provision of fruits and vegetables, grasslands provide critical ecosystems services that regulate, support and underpin the environment that we live in. These include climate regulation, water storage, nutrient cycling, erosion control, pollination and biodiversity.
Despite their multiple functions, the potential role of grasslands in addressing environmental and food security challenges is often poorly understood and under-valued. Within future population modelling scenarios for 2050, projections of crop production have focused almost entirely on cereals and food crops (including intensive animal feed crops). In contrast, the contribution of grasslands, permanent pastures, forage crops and crop residues (for integrated systems) are ignored. This is particularly surprising, given that grasslands and permanent pastures amount to 3.5 billion ha globally – more than twice the total area of croplands.
There is an urgent need to recognize and add value to the multiple ecological functions of grasslands before large areas of this vital resource are degraded or diverted into agricultural land. An important goal is to raise awareness about the potential of sustainable grassland management to achieve positive outcomes for the environment, people and economies.