Ecosystem services and food security: a new line of investigation
Ecosystem services offer material and non-material benefits. These services are in four broad categories including that of provisioning (such as food and water), regulating (such as in the control of climate), supporting (such as crop pollination) and culturally important support services. These benefits, possessing not only monetary but also major non-monetary values, are reflected in human well-being. Certainly, ecosystem services are essential for directly and indirectly assuring the food security and nutritional diversity of rural communities, with major implications for the poorest and most vulnerable households. This is, for instance, through the provision of wild foods (vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, animal meat, fish, edible insects) from a wide array of farming and forest landscapes; the provision of fuel-wood for cooking and fodder for animal feed; the support of agriculture, agroforestry and livestock production; preventing risks of natural disasters and soil erosion, while supporting water conservation; and enabling income-generating activities. As a result, the Ecosystem Services Research Theme, part of the Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area (DAPA) at CIAT, decided to further explore the relations between ecosystem services and food security as a new line of investigation.
According to the World Food Summit (FAO 1996), food security exists ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.’ The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2008) further identified four main dimensions (or pillars) that should be simultaneously present in order to be food secure: availability, access, utilization and stability. Availability refers to having a supply of enough good quality food; access is related to having adequate economic resources and/or physical access or entitlements to acquire food; utilization refers that the food consumed is offering the energy and all nutrients required for a healthy life, involving food preparation, dietary diversity, access to clean water and intra-household distribution of food; finally, stability assures that availability, access and utilization are satisfied throughout the year and at all times. In this new line of investigation, ecosystem services will be analyzed through the lens of these four dimensions and agriculture will be approached beyond food productivity.
The first project along this line of investigation is ASSETS – ‘Managing ecosystem services for food security and the nutritional health of the rural poor at the forest-agricultural interface’ – which is conducted as part of an international consortium of different organizations. ASSETS is part of the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation initiative (ESPA) funded by DFID, NERC and ESRC from the UK. ASSETS investigates the relations between ecosystem services, food security and the nutritional health of rural and indigenous communities from the Lower Caqueta basin and Ucayali, located in the Colombian and Peruvian Amazon respectively, as well as in Lake Chilwa catchment area, in Malawi. It is planned to further develop research with the main objective being to have a better understanding of the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystem services to food security and nutrition in impoverished rural areas, and ultimately the implications of ecosystem services for the wellbeing of the rural poor.
About the author:
Dr. Gisella S. Cruz-Garcia is Social Scientist at the Ecosystem Services Research Theme part of the Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area (DAPA) at CIAT. She joined CIAT last December.
Links to related blogs:
The role of ecosystem services on food security and nutrition in the Amazon (Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog, CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems):
Researchers travel to the Colombian Amazon to understand the relations between ecosystem services, food security and health using participatory methods:
ASSETS project: http://espa-assets.org/
Weeds: are they really undesirable?: /weeds-are-they-really-undesirable/
FAO (1996) Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. World Food Summit: Rome, Italy; pp.13-17.
FAO (2008) An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security. EC-FAO Food Security Programme: Rome, Italy.