Towards synergies between biodiversity conservation and food security: an outlook

By Joern Fischer

Today I gave my own talk at the conference discussed in the previous few blog posts. Some of the conference had been a little less radical than I would have liked … and so I tried to change this a little.

The slides of my talk are posted below. My argument went like this:

  • Most ecologists, including at this conference, engage with food via a production focus;
  • This is problematic because more production has not solved food security problems so far;
  • Moreover, setting out to “meet rising demand” is ignoring that demand is rising because of two fundamental drivers of biodiversity loss and un-sustainability — namely rising consumption expectations and increasing human population;
  • Rising consumption primarily leads to obesity, not to more happiness;
  • Some human population growth is inevitable, but good family planning now could still make a difference of billions by 2050;
  • Focusing on cases such as rural Africa, instead of singling out the need to produce more, in many cases one could equally single out the need to have smaller families;
  • Female secondary education thus could be a better measure to improve conservation and food security than producing more!
  • Educated women have fewer children;
  • This means education would reduce the need for food increases, and would reduce pressure on land (such as primary forest);
  • Even better though would be a focus on food systems as a whole;
  • Following Ostrom’s example, we could as if there are social-ecological system properties that benefit both food security and biodiversity conservation;
  • Once we think about systems, it is also important that to change systems in major ways requires more than a change in some parameters;
  • Changing the system goal, and questioning the paradigms underpinning the system are among the most influential ways of changing systems — according to Donella Meadows (1999);
  • A rational analysis suggests that our global food systems are set up around values and paradigms that ultimately do not serve food security or biodiversity conservation;
  • This means scientists need to enter uncomfortable normative territory: the values that our global systems are based on are not conducive to the system outcomes we aspire to;
  • Scientists must not shy away from engaging with these issues.

7 thoughts on “Towards synergies between biodiversity conservation and food security: an outlook

  1. Thank you, very thought provoking.

    I think the elephant in the room is that scientists already balance their job requirement of objectivity with implementing their own beliefs and value systems. Sustainability scientists are in a unique position where they can both study and implement their ideas, including through advocacy and behaviour change activities, without being accused of any conflict.

    Enjoying reading Tim Kasser’s work on value systems and consumerism at the moment, which, along with food sovereignty, is another piece in my sustainability puzzle.

    • Thanks for your comment Jess! Personally, I would shy away from straight “activism”, but I think we can’t help engaging with normative issues as sustainability scholars. The key to me is to be honest and upfront about our values — e.g. inter- and intragenerational justice. Based on that, we can then conduct our analyses, the analytical part of which should of course be impartial.

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