Valuing Biodiversity

As increasing pressure is placed on addressing food security, there are growing fears that the environment will lose out. Biodiversity underpins a wide range of services, many of which are currently undervalued. The bacteria and microbes that transform waste, insects that pollinate our crops and the biologically rich landscapes that provide enjoyment, are only a few. Importantly, 50% of all species in Europe rely on agricultural habitats to survive and 20% of crops in the UK rely on insect pollination. This is why it is so important for us to recognise the key role farming plays in the interdependency of a thriving nature alongside food production.

Photo Credit: Photo Munki | Flickr

European Ground beetle

By encouraging farmers to create valuable habitats such as beetle banks, healthy populations of beneficial insects will help to naturally control pests. Such a habitat may contain up to 1000 insects/m2 in winter and in spring there may be over 7 million insects on an area the size of a football pitch!

Enhancing biodiversity and reducing the rate at which it is depleting is critical. Alongside this, we have to ensure that political decisions recognise the true value of goods and services provided by biodiversity and its wider role in addressing food security challenges.

However, any discussion on food security, must address one key challenge: internalising the true value of biodiversity and understanding the range of ecosystem services that farmers deliver, in the price we pay for our food. Currently, we do not have a ‘currency’ that does this, one that can recognise the economic, social, environmental and cultural goods provided by our farming systems.

Meeting the challenge of food security will depend on intelligent, integrated and persistent efforts by government leaders, scientists, educators, retailers and food producers.

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5 responses to “Valuing Biodiversity

  1. “Internalising the true value of biodiversity” means that the farmer gets paid for protecting biodiversity through higher price INSTEAD of through agri-environmental payments and other subsidies? Because environmental subsidies can be regarded as a way of valuing biodiversity and environment, I think …

    • Indeed, but somehow if we do not start paying for the real price of food we will end up in even more debt – to the environment, society and the economy. Support payments currently help pay for public goods, such as habitat development and protection, with so much pressure on global finances it is essential we develop approaches that recognize the importance of the environment.

  2. Michael Bunney

    At present farmers would be unable to recoup these ecosystem costs via higher product prices as they cannot control such prices. the wholesale and retail network would also resist such price increases. So it is a case of market failure to which only government intervention can overcome. A tax on food and other products dervived from natural resources would face strong consumer resistance, until at least public opinion reognises more the need to value ecosytems. In which case agri-environment schemes paid from general taxation seems to be the only available approach at present. Even here there is a reluctance by successive governments to recognise the true costs of loss of biodiversity. The recent studies and the Natural Environment White Paper are starting to raise the profile, but there is a long way to go in the present economic climate – we are already seeing a reversal to dominant econmic considerations in various other policies and programmes to the further potential detriment of biodiversity.

    • Michael, thanks for this great comment. However, I disagree that agri-environment schemes are the only available approach. I believe that product certification schemes (of which LEAF can also be an example) are another approach fullfilling the objective. It is maybe not so widespread but can work much better in certain regards – e.g. raising awareness of consuments. Another example of a certified brand that I like very much is Austrian Heumilch (“hay milk”, http://www.heumilch.at) that links good management of grasslands with high product quality.

      On the other hand, I am afraid that existing economic evaluations of biodiversity are still not very robust and therefore the bussinesses do not take them very seriously.

  3. Thanks for a great post and discussion. I really agree with rewarding growers- via subsidy or certification scheme premiums- for the environmental services that benefit them and that they are custodians of.

    However I do encounter some growers who really don’t think that beetles in their fields etc can benefit them…what to say to these?

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