Ecosystem Services & Biodiversity (ESB)
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Protecting ecosystem services and biodiversity: FAO’s mission and solutions

One of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s strategic objectives is to make agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable through FAO’s vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture.

Ecosystem services are the engine of the environment. They are essential to life. Land, water, air, climate and genetic resources must be used responsibly if they are to also benefit future generations.

Most food production hinges on the wise management of ecosystem services and biodiversity – they maintain healthy soils, enable pollination and regulate pests and disease, amongst other services. Healthy ecosystems are the best way to ensure productive agriculture and nutritious food.

These services enable the biological functions that underpin agriculture, and they should not be on the fringe of agricultural planning. Ecosystems need to be supported in order to keep supporting agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries. Click on the left on one of the four types of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural, to learn more.

FAO’s work around the globe helps to maintain and restore ecosystem services and biodiversity: promoting dialogue, building capacities, improving knowledge and understanding and providing guidance to include ecosystems in national and international policies on agriculture.

What FAO does

1. Assessment and valuation of ecosystem services and biodiversity

The first step towards protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, linked to the natural resources a country or community depends upon, is knowing and understanding the role that they play.FAO works with partners to assess ecosystem services linked to food production and agriculture. For example, the fisheries resources of the Amazon Basin, on which millions of people depend, are in turn highly dependent on the health of adjacent forests. Knowing that it’s important for the forests to be healthy is the first step towards protecting the fishing industry as a food source for surrounding communities.

2. Skills development: managing ecosystem services and biodiversity

The next step is to know how to manage ecosystem services. This implies trade-offs and synergies across sectors and draws on skill sets that are not explicitly part of modern agriculture, forestry or fisheries training. They include identifying and undertaking measures that enhance biological functions underpinning production. There is an existing base of knowledge and practices – training materials and tools – that FAO makes available to improve insight into how ecosystem services and biodiversity can be managed.

3. Policy and Dialogue to improve the management of ecosystem services and biodiversity

Ecosystem services’ role in sustainable agriculture calls for them to be integrated into both global and national agriculture and natural resource policies. FAO works on policy briefs, helps stimulate dialogue with stakeholders and facilitates dialogue to promote ecosystem services and biodiversity and explain how strongly the sustainability of our natural resources depends on these systems.

4.Incentives for ecosystem services: creating value for the support for ecosystem services and biodiversity

Society (direct and indirect beneficiaries) needs to compensate for environmental damage (e.g. pollution) and remunerate farmers for enhancing ecosystem services and biodiversity – creating value for these services. Designing incentive packages requires input from many sectors, and incentives range from regulatory – such as issuing permits and quotas – to voluntary – such as improving market access, labelling or certifying products. FAO supports public and private stakeholders to define the best incentive schemes, and then assists with implementing them in the specific context/country.

A multi-disciplinary approach

Natural resource management has historically sought to control nature for specific objectives: for example, to harvest products for consumption, or for commercial sale. In contrast, FAO calls for governance approaches that recognise that ecosystems are complex, and that they generate multiple benefits. A multi-disciplinary approach is key to the successful management of ecosystem services and biodiversity. Social, economic, environmental, political and nutritional aspects must be considered as a whole.

FAO’s goals:

  • To equip society and governments with tools to asses and value the benefits of ecosystem services
  • To equip society and governments with the tools to enhance and maintain ecosystem services
  • To empower those in charge or users of ecosystems to better maintain and restore ecosystem services
  • To strengthen governance through dialogue and policy actions for ecosystem approaches support, including recognition of the rights of local communities and their knowledge systems