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Ecological and economic perspectives on sustainable agriculture

Posted by on May 10, 2012

Sustainable agricultureThis week, the Natural Capital Initiative ran a workshop to discuss how ecologists and economists can collaborate to increase sustainability in agriculture.

Two keynote presentations outlined how farmers could be given incentives to protect environmental goods and services. These came from the perspective of ecologist Professor William Sutherland (University of Cambridge) and economist Professor Ian Bateman (University of East Anglia). Both argued that land management decisions must be based on natural science evidence and reflect the complexity of the natural environment.

A panel discussion focussed on the most pressing issues around sustainable agriculture. It quickly became clear that UK agriculture must be seen in global contexts of food security and ecological and social impacts of land uses. The discussion also showed that no “one size fits all” solution can be found; sustainable agriculture might mean intensification in some areas and more protection for biodiversity and environmental services in others.

After lunch, workshop participants discussed which issues they saw as the most pressing, and suggested possible activities on how these could be explored in more depth by collaboration between ecologists and economists.

For example, some participants discussed how farmers could be encouraged to do the ‘right thing in the right place’. Others outlined a comprehensive study of farmer and consumer behaviour across different regions and farming types. This could help to identify the gap between desirable farm management and current behaviour, and reveal possible reasons for this.

Yet another group explored the possibility of integrating environmental services into existing certification schemes like the Soil Association’s Organic Food label. With four out of the six discussions focussing on spatial arrangements of agricultural incentives it appears that ecologists and economists alike think a critical problem with current initiatives lies in a lack of spatial planning and targeting of farmland management measures.

Feedback from participants was very positive and suggested that the debates of the day helped them to better understand both the issues around sustainable agriculture and the perspectives of the other disciplines. Hopefully, some seeds of ideas for further research and co-operation between ecologists and economist were planted during the event.

The Natural Capital Initiative will publish a report on the event. Stay tuned!

Daija Angeli, Project Officer, Natural Capital Initiative, Society of Biology

The Natural Capital Initiative is a Special Interest Group of the Society of Biology, a partnership between the Society of Biology, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the British Ecological Society. To learn more about us, click visit the NCI website.

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