Incorporating ecosystem service values in agricultural planning

ID-1006603Ecosystem services, “the benefits that people derive from nature” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005), are rarely taken into account in the valuation of agricultural commodities, despite the impacts (both positive and negative) agriculture can have on such services, for example the provision of food and nutrition, climate regulation, water quality and soil fertility. Ecosystem services themselves can increase agricultural productivity and resilience. For example in Costa Rican coffee plantations, birds such as the yellow warbler, can reduce infestations of the coffee borer beetle by around half.

Research on ecosystem services has increased exponentially, from Gretchen Daily’s book, Nature’s Services in 1997, to the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment in 2005 and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) in 2010. Andrew Balmford and colleagues in 2002 investigated the economic implications for conserving wild land versus converting it to agriculture by including economic values for ecosystem services, finding a benefit-cost ratio of 100:1 for the preservation of natural habitats. Framing the issues in economic terms helps to identify the trade-offs that must be minimised.

Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) is a global partnership of organisations including UN agencies, governments, NGOs, academia and international organisations, which aims to “promote sustainable development by ensuring that natural resources are mainstreamed in development planning and national economic accounts”. Countries implementing this type of thinking include Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Madagascar, Philippines and Rwanda, where WAVES is working with government ministries of planning and finance and central banks to integrate ecosystem services, as opposed to GDP alone, into decision making.

Recently, and building on this work, a new model for assessing the values of ecosystem services in specific sites has been developed by a partnership of organisations including the University of Cambridge, BirdLife, UNEP-WCMC, RSPB, Tropical Biology Association and Anglia Ruskin University. The aim was to “develop and deploy a rapid assessment tool to understand how far conserving sites for their biodiversity importance also helps to conserve different ecosystem services relative to a converted state.” The resulting product, Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-Based Assessments (TESSA), was also designed to be used by non-experts, be quick to use, be reliable and be participatory. [Read more…]