Research Output
No dominion over nature: why treating ecosystems like machines will lead to boom and bust in food supply
  Healthy ecosystems are essential for the long-term wellbeing of humans as they provide vital services such as food production, pollination, climate regulation and flood protection.
Global trends including population growth, changing diets and consumption patterns, urbanisation and climate change will exert increasing pressure on supplies of food and other products of ecosystems. Many experts predict that food production will need to increase by up to 100 per cent over the next forty years and some suggest that this can only be achieved through intensification of current industrial agricultural practices. This is the dominant narrative. Others suggest that low input agriculture (such as organic) and extensification provide the only alternative path to food security.
We reject both these approaches. A focus on intensification of production at the expense of all else appears to take trends in population growth, diet and consumption as preordained instead of open to challenge and change. We argue that greater conventional intensification will erode ecosystem stability and resilience leading to periods of boom and bust and ignores growing ecological and economic constraints on inputs. Similarly an over-emphasis on low input alternatives risks ignoring genuine and irresistible growth in aggregate human needs and the threats to remaining wild ecosystems from conversion to agriculture.
We suggest an alternative approach is necessary – a focus on maintaining ecosystem health through the management of terrestrial and aquatic environments as multifunctional mosaics. This approach envisages ecosystems managed to provide a range of services, with sites of intensive production supported by contiguous areas providing different services. This is compatible with modest average increases in productivity and with greatly enhanced resilience in the face of natural and economic shocks. It recognises that ecosystems managed well can be both productive and resilient.

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  • Date:

    01 January 2014

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Huxham, M., Hartley, S., Pretty, J., & Tett, P. (2013). No dominion over nature: why treating ecosystems like machines will lead to boom and bust in food supply. London: Friends of the Earth England and Wales



Ecology; Climate change; Food production; Agriculture

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