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Chapter 3

Ecosystem Services and Food Production

By 2030, the world's human population could rise to 8 billion people and world food demand may increase by 50%. Although food production outpaced population growth in the 20th century, it is clear that the environmental costs of these increases cannot be sustained into the future. This challenges us to re-think the way we produce food. We argue that viewing food production systems within an ecosystems context provides the basis for 21st century food production. An ecosystems view recognises that food production systems depend on ecosystem services but also have ecosystem impacts. These dependencies and impacts are often poorly understood by many people and frequently overlooked. We provide an overview of the key ecosystem services involved in different food production systems, including crop and livestock production, aquaculture and the harvesting of wild nature. We highlight the important ecosystem impacts of food production systems, including habitat loss and degradation, changes to water and nutrient cycles across a range of scales, and biodiversity loss. These impacts often undermine the very ecosystem services on which food production systems depend, as well as other ecosystem services unrelated to food. We argue that addressing these impacts requires us to re-design food production systems to recognise and manage the limitations on production imposed by the ecosystems within which they are embedded, and increasingly embrace a more multi-functional view of food production systems and associated ecosystems. In this way, we should be able to produce food more sustainably whilst inflicting less damage on other important ecosystem services.

Print publication date: 01 Jul 2010
Copyright year: 2010
Print ISBN: 978-1-84973-018-1
PDF eISBN: 978-1-84973-105-8