Reconciling food security and biodiversity conservation: a conference

By Joern Fischer

There has been a lot of talk about the trade-offs between food production and biodiversity conservation. Without doubt, some trade-offs are inevitable, and where they are, it’s important we find ways that somehow minimise the harm; or perhaps maximise the “efficiency” of meeting multiple goals at the same time. But even though win-win scenarios don’t always exist, there may still be a lot of unexplored “spaces” in which synergies are possible. I very much believe this is true – in general terms – for the simultaneous attainment of high levels of human well-being and ecological intactness. It’s obvious that when we try to generate well-being simply in conventional ways (= own ever more stuff), this isn’t so very good for things like biodiversity conservation. But it’s quite possible that there are undiscovered synergies if it’s different kinds of activities through which we try to generate human well-being.

Given my belief that there is still room for more synergies, I am very happy to co-lead one of the sessions at the upcoming conference “Biodiversity and Food Security – From Trade-Offs to Synergies” (Oct 29-31, Aix-en-Provence, France). It promises to be a nice conference, covering many interesting themes – an overview of the conference programme is available here.

The session I’m involved in has been organised together with Muriel Tichit (Director of Research, INRA). We’re trying to get at some of the deeper issues in the debate around food security and biodiversity that have perhaps not been touched on enough in the past. Our session is entitled “Conceptual Pitfalls in the Food-Biodiversity Nexus”. This is meant to indicate that there are many issues we can trip over, or which may cause problems or undue disagreements – simply because of a lack of conceptual clarity. Some of the questions touched on in our session will include the following.

  • Optimisation has been a major method to integrate economic and ecological considerations, but are there other ways of approaching multiple objectives? E.g. what about if we assumed a need for multiple safe minimum standards?
  • What does multi-level governance have to say on the issue of food sovereignty, which has very much highlighted the value of “local” wisdom?
  • How sustainable is “sustainable intensification”?
  • With a lot of talk about ecosystem services, is it not disservices that are much more on the minds of the poor?
  • We assume that the conservation of ecosystem services will somehow benefit biodiversity – but most rare species are neither very useful, nor very harmful. Do they even have meaningful (positive or negative) value for human communities?

That, of course, is just a glimpse of what the speakers in our session will cover, and there are many more sessions, which I’m sure will be just as interesting! I’m hoping to blog more about this conference as the week goes on. Stay tuned!

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