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New study to assess the connections between ecosystems and agri-food systems

Healthy and resilient ecosystems are essential for agriculture to thrive and produce food for humans. In turn, agricultural practices, the process of food production, its distribution and consumption patterns, have positive and negative impacts on ecosystems. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 80% of the world’s cultivated area is rain-fed, a figure that highlights these dependencies. In spite of these significant links, ecosystems, agricultural and food systems are typically evaluated in isolation from one another, mainly because these links remain economically invisible.

The TEEB secretariat, with support from UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), on 22 and 23 January brought together 50 experts to develop a concept note for a forthcoming study entitled “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Agriculture and Food (TEEB-AF)”. The concept note is intended to provide a comprehensive economic evaluation of the eco-agri-food system complex.

The participants included representatives of the European Commission, charitable trusts, FAO, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) network, academia and non-governmental organizations.

As documented in the final communiqué of the meeting, the agriculture ministers attending the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin on 18 January expressed the concern that: “The progressive scarcity of natural resources, the negative impacts of climate change, extreme natural disasters, and the loss of genetic diversity and soil fertility prevent agriculture from being fully realized”.

The TEEB-AF study, planned to start in the first quarter of 2014, will assess the social, environmental, economic and health-related benefits and costs of agricultural production systems. The assessment will help governments and business understand the economic trade-offs between short-term productivity gains and the longer-term ecosystem impacts, and the effects on agricultural productivity.

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