Ecoagriculture: Strategies to Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity / Edition 1

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<p>Although food-production systems for the world's rural poor typically have had devastating effects on the planet's wealth of genes, species, and ecosystems, that need not be the case in the future. In Ecoagriculture, two of the world's leading experts on conservation and development examine the idea that agricultural landscapes can be designed more creatively to take the needs of human populations into account while also protecting, or even enhancing, biodiversity. They present a thorough overview of the innovative concept of "ecoagriculture" - the management of landscapes for both the production of food and the conservation of wild biodiversity. The book:<ul><li>examines the global impact of agriculture on wild biodiversity<li>describes the challenge of reconciling biodiversity conservation and agricultural goals<li>outlines and discusses the ecoagriculture approach<li>presents diverse case studies that illustrate key strategies<li>explores how policies, markets, and institutions can be re-shaped to support ecoagriculture</ul>While focusing on tropical regions of the developing world - where increased agricultural productivity is most vital for food security, poverty reduction, and sustainable development, and where so much of the world's wild biodiversity is threatened - it also draws on lessons learned in developed countries. Dozens of examples from around the world present proven strategies for small-scale, low-income farmers involved in commercial production.<p>Ecoagriculture explores new approaches to agricultural production that complement natural environments, enhance ecosystem function, and improve rural livelihoods. It features a wealth of real-world case studies that demonstrate the applicability of the ideas discussed and how the principles can be applied, and is an important new work for policymakers, students, researchers, and anyone concerned with conserving biodiversity while sustaining human populations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559636445
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 10/18/2002
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 323
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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Strategies to Feed the World and Save Wild Biodiversity

By Jeffrey A. McNeely, Sara J. Scherr


Copyright © 2002 Island Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55963-645-2



During the twentieth century we humans witnessed momentous economic, social, and technological changes. New technologies such as automobiles, airplanes, container ships, telephones, and computers profoundly affected our way of life, enabling us to escape reliance on local ecosystems and become part of a global economy. Radio, movies, and television transformed the way we related to one another and to the world. Public health systems and education became much more widespread, and material wealth—even in the poorest of countries—reached levels inconceivable at the beginning of the century. Our population more than quadrupled, from 1.4 billion in 1900 to more than 6 billion in 2000. As a species, we had a very good century in many ways.

Our twentieth-century prosperity was fueled in part by a constantly growing supply of food, enabling us not only to feed a rapidly growing population, but also to amass food surpluses on a scale never before reached. Based on improved seeds, widespread use of agricultural chemicals, modern farm machinery, and better transportation systems, agricultural production soared. In the past decade alone, production of cereal crops increased by 17 percent, roots and tubers by 13 percent, meat by 46 percent, and marine fish by 17 percent (World Resources Institute 2000).With such impressive gains on so many fronts, why should we worry about the twenty-first century?

First, although more people are consuming more food than ever before, inequity is increasing as well: some parts of the world suffer from growing overconsumption while others go hungry. The World Bank estimates that some 800 million people remain undernourished, in large part because they cannot access the food that is produced. That number is likely to grow because the world's population increases by 75 to 85 million people each year. Some experts suggest that in thirty years we will need at least 50 to 60 percent more food than we produce now, in order to meet global food demand and enjoy at least a modest degree of greater affluence. If that food is to be accessible to the rural poor, then much of it must be produced where they live, and in ways that increase both their consumption and income. Yet food-producing systems throughout the world are already stressed by eroding soils, declining freshwater reserves, declining fish populations, deforestation, desertification, natural disasters, and global climate change. These and various other factors are making it increasingly difficult to maintain, much less increase, food production in many areas of the world.

What is more, the impressive gains for our species have often come at the expense of other species with whom we share our planet. The main victim of our affluence has been wild biodiversity—the nondomesticated portion of our planet's wealth of genes, species, and ecosystems. Agricultural production has converted highly diverse natural ecosystems into greatly oversimplified ecosystems, led to pollution of soils and waterways, and hastened the spread of invasive alien species. According to Heywood and Watson (1995), "overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that modern commercial agriculture has had a direct negative impact on biodiversity at all levels: ecosystem, species, and genetic; and on natural and domestic diversity."

While major investments continue to improve agricultural productivity in centers of surplus commercial production, the needs of the rural poor tend to be ignored. As a result, the poor struggle to survive, managing their resources to meet immediate needs rather than invest in a more secure future. Many of these poor people live in areas remote from modern agricultural development but close to habitats supporting the greatest wild biodiversity. Often they have little choice but to exploit these habitats for survival.

Without urgent action to develop the right kind of agriculture, wild biodiversity will be further threatened. The resulting destruction of natural habitats will deprive both local people and the global community of important benefits such as food, fodder, fuel, construction materials, medicines, and genetic resources, as well as services such as watershed protection, clean air and water, protection against floods and storms, soil formation, and even human inspiration.

These threats to biodiversity pose a major dilemma for modern society. On the one hand, modern intensive agriculture has made it possible for the expanding human population to eat more food. On the other hand, agriculture is now spreading into the remotest parts of the world, often in destructive forms that further reduce wild biodiversity and undermine the sustainability of the global food production system. At the same time, reducing biodiversity and simplifying ecosystems can undermine local livelihoods by destabilizing ecosystem services. Recent mudslides in several Latin American countries, floods in Bangladesh, and droughts in southern Africa are all "natural" phenomenon made into a disaster for local people due at least in part to loss of biodiversity.

This situation has led many in the environmental community and the general public to promote the establishment of protected areas where human use—in particular agricultural use—is supposed to be greatly restricted. While such management measures clearly are needed to preserve many types of wild biodiversity, they face many challenges. Some centers of the greatest or most valued wild biodiversity are being surrounded by areas of intensive agricultural production and high rural population densities. In some areas, large human populations preclude the establishment of extensive reserves, so the protected areas tend to be too small to support viable populations of the species they are designed to protect. In these human-dominated ecosystems, conservation action in isolated protected areas is doomed to fail, unless fundamental changes also take place in the adjacent agricultural landscape. Moreover, some types of wild biodiversity, such as some species of birds and butterflies, actually thrive best in farmed and populated landscapes. Farming is a practice that extends at least 10,000 years back into human history, and many species of plants and animals have evolved in concert with the development of agriculture. Some species of large mammals (especially wild cattle in Asia) may even depend on shifting cultivation (Wharton 1968).

Aggressive efforts to conserve wild biodiversity have sometimes reduced the livelihood security of rural people, especially the poor in developing countries (Pimbert and Toledo 1994). But this need not be the case (McNeely 1999). Rural populations historically have established conservation practices to protect environmental services important to their own food production, water supply, and spiritual values (see, for example, Western and Wright 1994; Singh et al. 2000). Examples from this book will show that managing biodiversity through a combination of conservation measures and improved and diversified agricultural systems can increase incomes and household nutrition, reduce livelihood risks, and provide collateral benefits such as increased freshwater reserves and fewer mudslides after heavy rains.

Thus new models for biodiversity conservation need to be developed, involving effective links among the fields of farmers, the pastures of ranchers, the managed forests of foresters, and the protected areas managed especially for wild biodiversity. Conservation options are available besides just "locking away" resources on which the poor depend for their survival and assets that low-income countries could use to promote development and national food security. Agricultural landscapes can be designed more creatively to take the needs of local people into account while pursuing biodiversity objectives.


A central challenge of the twenty-first century, then, is to achieve biodiversity conservation and agricultural production goals at the same time—and, in many cases, in the same space. In this book the management of landscapes for both the production of food and the conservation of ecosystem services, in particular wild biodiversity, is referred to as ecoagriculture. For a start, improved natural resource management and technological breakthroughs in agriculture and resource use is essential to enhance our ability to manage biodiversity well. Genetic improvements in the major agricultural crops that feed the world will continue to be essential for maintaining and increasing productivity. But a much wider range of genetic, technological, environmental management, and policy innovations must be developed to support wild biodiversity in the world's bread baskets and rice bowls as well as in the extensive areas where food production is more difficult.

Diverse approaches to make agriculture more sustainable, while also more productive, are flowering around the world; many of these reduce the negative effects of farming on wild species and habitats. Such approaches need to be integrated more intentionally with conservation objectives, particularly in biodiversity "hotspots" (Myers 1988) and areas where the livelihood of the poor depends on ecosystem rehabilitation. New approaches to agricultural production must be developed that complement natural environments, enhance ecosystem functions, and improve rural livelihoods. While trade-offs between agricultural productivity and biodiversity conservation often seem stark, some surprising and exciting opportunities exist for complementarity. Local farmers and institutions, such as universities and agricultural research centers, are leading the way through active experimentation and adaptation of existing knowledge. But more targeted research on ecoagriculture is needed, and such research must be considered a global priority if major advances are to occur. Environmental and agricultural researchers must learn to work closely together to resolve existing conflicts between natural biodiversity and agricultural production in different ecoregions and under different management systems.

This book examines some of the current linkages between wild biodiversity and agriculture. It suggests strategies for improving agriculture while maintaining or enhancing wild biodiversity, assesses dozens of systems where this is already being done, and describes how research and policy action can contribute to conserving wild biodiversity. The book is structured in three parts. The first part describes the challenge of reconciling conservation and agricultural goals in areas important for both. The second part discusses the ecoagriculture approach and presents diverse case studies illustrating key strategies. The third part explores how policies, markets, and institutions can be re-shaped to support ecoagriculture in areas that are hotspots for both biodiversity and food security.

The emphasis here is on tropical regions of the developing world, where increased agricultural productivity is most vital for food security, poverty reduction, and sustainable development, and where so much of the world's wild biodiversity is threatened. But the book also highlights lessons learned in developed countries (for example, California Wildlife Coalition 2002) where these are of wider relevance. While profitable ecoagriculture systems can and must be developed for large-scale commercial farming enterprises that are operating in areas of threatened biodiversity, most examples in this book emphasize strategies for small-scale, low-income farmers involved in commercial or subsistence production.

The biodiversity of domesticated crop and livestock species, and the complex of wild species that directly support agriculture (such as wild pollinators), is also critically important to future prosperity and is also suffering from numerous threats. This book will address how increased agricultural diversity can enhance habitat for wild species, and how strategies to enhance wild biodiversity can build on the beneficial effects of many wild species for agricultural production and sustainability. However, it will not address the topic of genetic diversity of domesticated agricultural species, which has recently begun to receive wide attention from ministries of agriculture and the many agencies that support them (Gemmill 2002).

As the distinguished British ecologist Norman Myers pointed out, "It is in the common interest of both agriculture and the natural world that a mutually supportive relationship be developed between them. Production of food need not destroy the wild ecosystems of the world and their wealth of biological diversity. And preservation of wild ecosystems does not pose a threat to humanity feeding itself. In fact, just the opposite is true. Sensible use of nature, which includes substantially increased nature conservation efforts, is essential to feed the planet.... Nature equals food. Without wild places, we cannot hope to have food on our tables" (Myers 1987). And without healthy agriculture, we cannot expect nature to prosper.


Wild Biodiversity under Threat

The variety of life on earth includes the millions of animals, plants, and microorganisms, the genes they contain, and the complex ecosystems they help form. These plants, animals, and microorganisms, evolving over hundreds of millions of years, have made our planet fit for the life we know today. This chapter provides a brief discussion of the value of wild biodiversity, its geography in relation to human populations, and the trends that reveal globally significant threats.

Definitions of Biodiversity

In the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (Box 2.1), governments agreed on an "official" definition of biological diversity (sometimes shortened to "biodiversity"). It is "the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems." But this simple definition hides a much more complex picture, including diversity of genes, populations, landscapes, and biomes (Table 2.1).

Diversity is a characteristic of all living organisms, and thus it is just as relevant to agricultural crops as to wildlife in remote wildernesses. "Wild" biodiversity does not mean "pristine" or untouched by humans, because virtually all ecosystems have been profoundly affected by people. For example, many of the tree species now dominant in the mature vegetation of tropical areas were, and still are, the same species that were protected, spared, or planted in land cleared for crops (Gomez-Pompa and Kaus 1992). Furthermore, virtually all tropical forests have been cleared at least once and probably several times over the past 10,000 years (Spencer 1966), and the temperate forests are likely to have been similarly treated (at least in areas accessible to people). As a result, the current pattern of habitats reflects complex interactions among physical, biological, and social forces over time. The landscapes that we see today form an ever-changing mosaic of unmanaged and managed patches of habitat that vary in size, shape, content, and arrangement in accordance with the history of resource exploitation by people (Redman 1999).

Value of Wild Biodiversity

We humans find beauty and pleasure in the diversity of nature. This diversity is also a foundation for human creativity and a subject for study. Many argue that biological diversity should be conserved as a matter of principle, because all species deserve respect regardless of their use to humanity, and because they are all components of our life-support system. But others need to see economic benefit in order to appreciate such a resource. Biodiversity plays a critical utilitarian role as well, supporting rural livelihoods, agricultural production, and ecosystem functions. All societies, urban and rural, industrial and nonindustrial, draw on a wide array of ecosystems, species, and genetic variants to meet their ever-changing needs. Biodiversity is the source of all biological wealth, supplying all of our food, much of our raw materials, and a wide range of goods and services, plus genetic materials for agriculture, medicine, and industry. The combined commercial worth of these genetic materials is estimated at U.S.$500–800 billion per year (ten Kate and Laird 1999). People spend additional billions of dollars to appreciate nature through recreation and tourism.

While the value of genetic resources—nature's goods—is substantial, the value of nature's services is far higher. Because natural ecosystems and associated wild biodiversity help maintain the chemical balance of the earth's atmosphere, protect watersheds, renew soils, cycle nutrients, and provide many other ecosystem functions essential to human welfare, they are in a sense priceless because they are essential to life and cannot be replaced. The relationship between species diversity and ecosystem functioning remains a central issue on the global biodiversity agenda. For example, it is not yet known to what extent ecosystem structure, including the network of species interactions, affects how the system will respond to the climate changes expected to result from increased levels of carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels. This limits the ability to predict which species or functional groups will benefit or suffer from such changes and to understand the underlying mechanisms.


Excerpted from Ecoagriculture by Jeffrey A. McNeely, Sara J. Scherr. Copyright © 2002 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Cases, Maps, Figures, Tables, and Boxes
List of Acronyms
Pt. I The Challenge: Agricultural Intensification, Rural Poverty, and Biodiversity 1
Ch. 1 Introduction 3
Ch. 2 Wild Biodiversity under Threat 9
Ch. 3 Agriculture and Human Welfare 31
Ch. 4 Agriculture and Wild Biodiversity 51
Pt. II The Opportunity: Integrating Biodiversity Conservation in Agricultural Development 87
Ch. 5 Ecoagriculture: Genesis of the Approach 89
Ch. 6 Making Space for Wildlife in Agricultural Landscapes 115
Ch. 7 Enhancing the Habitat Value of Productive Farmlands 149
Ch. 8 Coexisting with Wild Biodiversity in Ecoagriculture Systems 191
Pt. III Policy Responses 199
Ch. 9 Policies to Promote Ecoagriculture 201
Ch. 10 Market Incentives for Ecoagriculture 217
Ch. 11 Institutions to Support Ecoagriculture 231
Ch. 12 Bringing Ecoagriculture into the Mainstream 249
Glossary 267
References 281
About the Authors 317
Index 319
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