Drawing a balance between food security, biodiversity and environment

It is an undisputable fact that food security and environmental pollution are intertwined. As the world marks the World Environment Day, JOHN OBA, writes on the need to draw a balance between food security, biodiversity and the environment.

Food security is said to exist when all humans, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active, healthy life.

And this is not possible without a healthy, available land and conducive environment.

Food insecurity globally is said to be increasing in absolute terms despite recent decreases in percentage terms. Experts raise concerns that options to increase food production while protecting the environment exclude further expansion of crop land, leaving increased agricultural productivity as an option assuming the world addresses its associated technological and societal challenges while exercising environmental conservation.

Also, biodiversity is linked to the resilience of ecosystems. In Agriculture, it ensures resilience to the impacts of climate change and losses in biodiversity and habitat according to experts can increase the spread of infectious diseases and viruses through indiscriminate felling of trees which encourages endangered species of these habitats to migrate to places of safety carrying along with them diseases as they move.

Improving productivity according to a research published in Science Direct, with the title: “Food security and the environment: Interdisciplinary research to increase productivity while exercising environmental conservation,” requires redoubled efforts in interdisciplinary work to design and implement sound agricultural management practices and efficient use of inputs. Based on a historical perspective of the last few decades on hypothesized environmental limits to food production and looking at prospective futures, we analyze the required type of interdisciplinary research to improve productivity. We conclude that bringing together increased food supply and environmental conservation requires research that integrates engineering, technology, science, policy, and action.

Agric on ecosystem

A report from European Environment Agency on food security and environmental impact, Agriculture is one of the main sectors affecting the environment through its direct impacts on land cover and ecosystems, and on global and regional cycles of carbon, nutrients and water. At the global level, agriculture contributes to climate change through emission of greenhouse gases and reduction of carbon storage in vegetation and soil.

The report further stressed that locally, agriculture reduces biodiversity and affects natural habitats through land conversion, eutrophication, pesticide inputs, irrigation and drainage. Adding that unsustainable agricultural practices may also lead to direct environmental feed-backs such as soil erosion and loss of pollinators, because of excessive pesticide application.

“Estimates show that the total amount of reactive nitrogen in the environment has doubled globally since the pre-industrial era, and more than tripled in Europe. This is primarily due to fossil fuel combustion and the application of industrially produced nitrogenous fertilisers. Excess reactive nitrogen causes air pollution and eutrophication of terrestrial, aquatic and coastal ecosystems. Agriculture contributes 50–80 % of the total nitrogen load transported into Europe’s freshwater ecosystems and, ultimately, coastal waters and seas

“The environmental pressures from agriculture are reflected in loss of natural capital. The conservation status of agricultural habitats protected under the Habitats Directive is worrying and considerably worse than average. Only 7 % of the assessments showed a favourable conservation status compared to 17 % for all habitat types. Half of the agricultural habitats are considered to be in a bad status. Lake and river ecosystems fare slightly better, but their conservation status is also worse than average. As for the marine environment, all habitats in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea are considered to be in a bad or inadequate state.

“On the other hand, agriculture may also contribute to the maintenance of species-rich semi-natural habitats. Conservation of this ‘high nature value farmland’, primarily restricted to peripheral regions in northern and south-eastern Europe, is an explicit goal of EU biodiversity and agriculture policy. Many of the species listed under the Bird and Habitat Directives occur on farmland (some almost exclusively) and many of the targeted habitats are semi-natural and depend on continued (extensive) agricultural management. Conserving these extensive farming systems is increasingly difficult because of socio-economic constraints (lifestyle changes, demographic trends, economic marginalisation.

Effects of Poverty

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, poverty and environmental degradation are closely linked, often in a self-perpetuating negative spiral in which poverty accelerates environmental degradation and degradation results in or exacerbates poverty. While poverty is not the only cause of environmental degradation, it does pose the most serious environmental threat in low-income developing countries. The many millions of people who live near the subsistence minimum will exploit natural resources to survive.

“We must not blame the victims but must seek to eradicate extreme poverty. Accelerated agricultural intensification is a key component of the strategy to alleviate poverty and protect the environment. Sustainability of future agricultural development must be ensured, otherwise we undermine the welfare and survival of our own species. Contrary to what some will have us believe, agricultural development is part of the solution to protect the environment, not part of the problem.

“Those limits are set by: losses of farmland to other uses; diminishing opportunities for irrigation; erosion and degradation of soils; biological limits to yield increases; diminishing returns from fertilizer use; chemical pest-control problems; declining genetic diversity of crops and their wild relatives; depressed yields from increased ultraviolet-B radiation and pollutants; possible rapid climate change and sea-level rise; and a general deterioration of the free services supplied to agriculture by natural ecosystems. Dramatic declines in human fertility, ecologically sustainable agriculture, preservation of biodiversity, and revised socioeconomic policies are essential to preventing further reductions of Earth’s long-term carrying capacity,” the institute said.

But as Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the year 2020 World Environment Day, on Friday June 5, stakeholders in the industry has called for massive national Tree planting, encouragement of agroforestry; harmonious work with nature, stoppage of pollution and respect for the wild.

Oxfam Nigeria in a press briefing addressed by the Country Director, Constant Tchona, on Friday, said environmental challenges result in food insecurity, loss of lives and property, destruction of means of livelihood and generally increased scarcity of resources. 

He opined that the issue of food security is of paramount importance and is largely linked to the environment and climate.

Tchona said: “The international theme this year is ‘Time for Nature’, and for Nigeria, we have chosen to focus on ‘Action for the Environment’. Nigeria is plagued with various environmental challenges including: Climatic change, oil pollution, drought and desertification, flooding, erosion, water pollution, and solid waste that isn’t bio-degradable.

“These challenges and more result in food insecurity, loss of lives and property, destruction of means of livelihood and generally increased scarcity of resources. The issue of food security is of paramount importance and is largely linked to the environment and climate.

Protection of Biodiversity

Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) called for urgent and collective effort to protect and preserve biodiversity. The ecological think tank explains the importance of biodiversity, the threats to it and how it must be preserved, in a set of videos which have been released to mark this year’s World Environment Day.

HOMEF’s Project Officer, Mfoniso Antia said: “Biodiversity is life. It is the hanger that sustains human existence. It helps maintain the balance of ecosystems and keeps them functioning and self-sustaining. A continued destruction of biodiversity will mean a distortion of the balance of life.

Support for farmers

Oxfam laments government insufficient support for smallholder farmers saying government is not doing enough to support farmers to continue to provide food for a nation of an estimated 200 million people, and in order to confront that, it therefore recommended  introduction of a National Tree planting day, saying Nigeria can grow additional 4million trees nationwide every year and by so doing citizens would breathe in cleaner air, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by about 10% yearly, farmers as well as the environment would be protected from destructive erosion.

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