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Assessing the costs and benefits of agricultural production using an ecosystem approach

By Robert Lillywhite, Rosemary Collier and J. Pole


Integrated Farm Management (IFM) is seen as one way for agriculture to contribute towards the UKs challenging national targets for climate change, pollution, biodiversity and other environmental factors. Whilst it is clear that IFM and associated assurance schemes have a role in food quality and enhancement of the environment, they fail to address a number of issues. In particular, they fail to take sufficient account of ‘impact’ and ‘outcome’. In contrast, the relatively new concept of an ecosystem approach does consider these and there is extensive synergy between this approach and IFM. This is pertinent because the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is taking steps to embed an ecosystem approach in policy-making and delivery. This paper sets out to explore the links between IFM and an ecosystem approach and introduces a simple matrix to show how an ecosystem approach might be used to assess the outcome of IFM practices. Limited use of an ecosystem approach suggests that this type of methodology could deliver useful results for IFM. However, it should be used as a decision-support tool rather than a decision-maker. The advantage of using an ecosystem approach for assessing the impact of IFM is that it provides a holistic assessment of land management strategies, rather than focusing on either cropping, or environmental management, alone. However, the values assigned to individual parameters are generally based on expert opinion and, as such, are open to interpretation. Indeed, an ecosystem approach should be interdisciplinary, utilising the knowledge and expertise of a range of stakeholders. Whilst the development of an ecosystem approach for use within an agricultural setting shows promise, it is still in its infancy. There is a need for much discussion, between many disciplines, before it becomes accepted practice

Topics: S1
Publisher: Association of Applied Biologists
Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:2185

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