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Biodiversity and ecosystems services

Our food systems and biodiversity are intimately connected. Without diverse ecosystems food production could not occur, including pollination by insects, nutrient cycling, regulation of the water cycle and pest control. Protecting the genetic diversity of species used in food and agriculture is vital since, according to FAO, they are “the biological basis of world food security and, directly or indirectly, support the livelihoods of every person on Earth”.

Biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate, partly due to the scale and methods of modern agriculture. There are many policies, schemes and approaches to land use and farming that recognise the need to protect biodiversity, and there is an urgent need to expand such approaches.

Growing global demand for meat and dairy poses significant threats to biodiversity through the destruction of tropical habitats for cattle grazing and the significant contributions made by livestock to climate change.

In recent years, policy makers and businesses have sought to understand the value that ecosystems contribute to the economy.  Monetising the costs of biodiversity loss and climate change translates such issues into language that makes sense to corporate decision-makers, helping to justify investment and regulation.

Nowhere is the crucial part nature plays in production more apparent than in farming and the food sector, where talk of ‘environmental externalities’ and ‘ecosystem services’ is commonplace. But do those of us working in this sector really understand the implications of these efforts to put a price on nature? What do they mean in practice for large and small food businesses? What are the potential problems and alternatives? Does putting a price on nature actually devalue it?

The May 2011 Business Forum meeting discussed these issues and more.

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