Payments for Ecosystem Services in Agri-ecosystems

Sustainable Food Production: Making the Case through PES Pilot Activities in Agri-food Ecosystems

Agri-food ecosystems are the largest managed ecosystems in the world. The FAO reports that of a total global land area of approximately 13 billion hectares, crops and pasture occupy almost 5 billion hectares and this figure is growing rapidly. To meet the food production challenges posed by our growing population and degrading environment, it is crucial that ecosystem-based management practices are adopted on agricultural land and in marine fisheries.

Payments for ecosystem services (PES) programs harness the power of markets to generate sustainability and to minimize negative environmental externalities. As "the largest group of natural resource managers on Earth," agri-food producers both depend on and generate a wide variety of ecosystem services, and their actions can both enhance and degrade ecosystems. By paying farmers to adopt practices that bolster environmental services such as the storage of greenhouse gases, the provision of clean and plentiful water, and the conservation of biological diversity, PES schemes can provide farmers with the critical financial incentives to invest in, and manage, new techniques for resource efficient and sustainable production that will allow us to meet the agricultural, environmental, and societal demands of the future.

Under the Ecosystems Management Programme coordinated by the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation, the Ecosystems Management: Evaluating Sustainable Food Production: Making the Case through PES Pilot Activities in Agri-food Ecosystems, currently in development by UNEP DTIE, will deploy pilot projects in selected agri-food landscapes to apply PES-type schemes in ecologically vulnerable locations. The project will utilize targeted and coordinated interventions at the policy, business and production levels, utilizing trade-off analyses to ascertain best paths to sustainability in selected sectors, and to generate essential buy-in from stakeholders. Pilot projects will be defined by wide stakeholder participation throughout the design and implementation phases. It is the goal of the project that key lessons will be learned to foster thriving markets for ecosystem services in the selected locations. The project will disseminate these lessons widely, to promote the wider application of PES-type projects globally.

PES schemes have been piloted in agri-food production systems only to a limited extent. As is the case with the world's current foray into carbon markets, it is anticipated that essential lessons will be learned that will further the applicability of such market based approaches. DTIE is well positioned, together with strategically chosen partners, to pilot this potentially game-changing approach. The severity of the food-environment challenge requires dynamic public/private interventions. This project aims to generate critical financial incentives for sustainable production, as well as crucial intellectual capital for wide dissemination. UNEP is actively seeking donor partners for this project. Interested parties should contact James Lomax.