A recent report commissioned by the UK government on the economics of biodiversity stresses that overlooking the role that nature plays in economic activities has severe consequences and that the risks from environmental damage to human welfare and development are greatly underestimated by economists. While each economic sector and a particular activity must be viewed separately, the first one to look at is agriculture – an activity responding to the basic human need for nutrients. The purpose of this article is to emphasise the importance of regenerative approaches in our food production system as only through regeneration can we preserve the life and vitality of agricultural systems.
Loss of nature’s services
The author of the report, ‘The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review’, provides hard evidence for a biodiversity case and the services provided by nature which represent an indispensable input to the economy. While some of these are more visible, others are more difficult to discern: water purification, seed dispersal, or, for instance, complex systems that ensure nutrients are recycled – a process indispensable not only for food production but also for groundwater recharging.
While the cost of inaction on biodiversity loss is estimated at USD4-20 trillion per year in ecosystem services, these services are seldom taken into account.
“Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive global direct driver of land degradation, causing significant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services – food security, water purification, the provision of energy and other contributions of nature essential to people” concluded the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an independent body established by 94 governments.
What can we hope for?
While the report points out the impact of modern conventional agriculture using fertilisers and pesticides, the world has seen agroecology, regenerative farming, and similar approaches emerging and supporting biodiversity. By using less or no agrochemicals at all, no-tillage, and by using a range of other practices these techniques are able to support living systems and nature’s services. Furthermore, their whole function relies upon diversity in many different ways, e.g., diversity in the soil (for the soil food web) and diversity in crops (allowing pest control). These are living examples of why ecosystems are capital goods and show how the economy works through agriculture which integrates environmental concerns
Indeed, as Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank Group, commented in the report, nobody breathes or eats GDP. “We must change our wealth construct to take nature into account. Growth must be discounted for negative impacts on the environment, health and biodiversity,” he added.
To conclude, the author of the report confirms that one of the sources of biodiversity’s value is the human existence itself. The environment represents a complex system with which people are in constant interaction and ‘one measure of biodiversity loss is an expression of the human lives that are lost in consequence.’ Restoring biodiversity and regenerating ecosystems is, therefore, a matter of life for all of us.