FAO publication urges making a better use of nature to transform agricultural systems
Budapest, 27 November 2023 — In the quest for sustainable agriculture amid environmental crises and food security concerns, the recent report “From nature-negative to nature-positive production – A conceptual and practical framework for agriculture based on thermodynamics” emerges as a guiding light.
This groundbreaking document, rooted in the call set forth by the 2021 United Nations Food System Summitand informed by the significant outcomes of the 2023 United Nations Food Systems Stocktaking Momentintegrating food systems transformation and climate action, drives forward the conversation surrounding nature-positive production agriculture. Its aim is to revolutionize our connection with nature, highlighting the profound interplay between revitalizing ecosystems and enhancing agricultural productivity.
At its core, the concept of nature-positive production harnesses the potential synergies among biodiversity, ecosystems and agriculture. This report pivots around a thermodynamic perspective to address such questions as “What does nature-positive entail?” and “How can agriculture contribute to ecosystem restoration?” It illuminates the inherent functioning of agroecosystems, spotlighting the critical trifecta of complexity, energy storage and energy mobilization capacities.
“Nature-positive production agriculture offers a holistic approach, recognizing the interdependence of agricultural systems and the environment,” said Marta Arnés García, an FAO international consultant on agricultural heritage and nature-based solutions. “It aligns with FAO’s principles of agroecology and nature-based solutions, fostering resilience and sustainability.”
The report contains three integral parts, each carving a distinct facet of nature-positive production agriculture. First, it delves into a theoretical framework, unravelling the essence of nature positivity in agricultural systems. Here, the theory of thermodynamics of living systems reigns supreme, elucidating energy storage, energy mobilization and structural complexity as cornerstones of productivity.
Practical tools for assessing an agroecosystem’s nature positivity take centre stage in the second chapter. Material and energy flow accounting methodologies emerge as potent instruments to gauge energy profiles, complemented by the energy-landscape integrated analysis methodology. These tools not only track energy efficiency but also decipher the intricate linkages between landscape and biodiversity.
The third chapter prescribes five priority operational domains – drawing inspiration from nature-based solutions, agroecology and permaculture – for steering the implementation of nature-positive production agriculture: soil and water conservation, soil improvement, evolutionary populations, integrated farming practices and holistic pest management strategies.
“Sustainability hinges on understanding and emulating nature’s self-sustaining mechanisms,” said Tania Santivañez, an FAO agricultural officer and coordinator of Regional Priority Programme 3. “The report champions net energy positivity and endogenous sustainability as keystones for a nature-positive system. It advocates minimizing external inputs, nurturing complexity and optimizing biomass production through nature-centric solutions.”
This work by the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia spearheads a pivotal effort towards realizing nature-positive production agriculture. Embracing the United Nations Food System Summit and the main outcomes of its follow-up process, this report steers towards the rational, sustainable and coordinated utilization of finite natural resources – a beacon of hope in a world striving for ecological harmony and food security.
FAO’s work on nature-positive production in the Europe and Central Asia region implies enhancing knowledge, policies and capacities on biodiversity for food and agriculture, ecosystem restoration, integrated pest management, protection and enhancement of seed management systems,, biopesticides to reduce chemical pesticide use, and water and land conservation through sustainable agriculture practices based on traditional knowledge supported by science and innovation.
As the world embarks on this transformative journey, the report beckons stakeholders to heed nature’s cues, fostering agricultural landscapes that not only yield sustenance but also restore and thrive in symbiotic harmony with the environment.
by Elizabeth Hodson, Urs Niggli, Kaoru Kitajima, Rattan Lal, Claudia Sadoff (July 2021)
Forum of discussion: Are Nature-based Solutions (NbS) a realistic paradigm for greening agrifood systems?