Ecosystem services are the benefits in public goods that people derive from ecosystems (Fisher et al., 2008). Agricultural and forestry systems are both dependent on and, through good management, can provide a whole range of ecosystem services.
The value of biomass produced by agriculture and forestry is in part due to inputs of labour and human ingenuity applied through fuel, fertiliser and plant protection products, but also due to ecosystem services provided without cost by the environment to support production. The latter include the supply of water, fertile soils, pollinators and natural predators of pests and diseases (GO-Science, 2010). The capacity of an ecosystem (such as an ‘agroecosystem’ or forestry ecosystem) to provide beneficial goods and services is called its natural capital.
Policies and management practices can have positive or negative effects on this ability and soil management is a case in point. Well managed soil can provide provisioning services, such as biomass production, water supply and genetic resources; regulating services such as climate regulation, water regulation and water purification; and cultural services that may be recreational, educational or spiritual, or contributing to heritage through archaeological remains (MEA, 2005). Too great a focus on biomass production without consideration of other ecosystem services or poor management within any ecosystem can result in a reduction in natural capital and reduced ability to provide basic and desired requirements for a healthy and rich human existence. From the ecosystem services perspective, a sustainable food system should not erode any aspect of natural capital, for example soil quality, the value of farmland in flood protection, or the capacity to purify water (GOScience, 2010). The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (http://uknea.unep-wcmc.org) provides valuable information about ecosystem services.
Valerie theme leader: Hein ten Berge