Plants and animals work symbiotically to balance the earth’s ecosystems, providing necessary services and environments to produce food. Ecosystem services refer to any positive benefit that nature provides to people. Protecting ecosystem services builds resilience and can lead to greater on-farm productivity. Farms mimic natural ecosystems, as well as increase and protect biodiversity. This is an important part of reducing emissions to mitigate climate change. Healthy ecosystems absorb more carbon and have greater resilience to climate shocks. By enhancing on-farm biodiversity, we protect the ecosystem services that produce our food. BC farmers are enhancing and protecting biodiversity in several ways, including; maintaining wetlands, grasslands, forests, and waterways; protecting riparian areas, specifically around salmon-bearing streams; and introducing animals and inviting wildlife onto farms.
Strengthening farmland biodiversity and ecosystems can improve water management, provide greater habitat for wildlife, increase carbon sequestration, and ultimately lead to greater on-farm productivity. Sean Smukler is an associate professor and chair of Agriculture and Environment at UBC. Smukler provides farmers in BC with actionable research on how to better address their environmental impacts and adapt to climate change.
It is important to recognize the ecosystem services that we rely on for food production. Smukler says, “For a long time, we’ve been pretty singular in the expectations of our cultural landscape to provide [food], with this intense focus on yield and calories. Now, we need to really think about water quality and climate regulation, and the services that other organisms provide, like pollination.” It is not just about food production, “We’re sharing this space with other organisms. They deserve services too,” says Smukler. Managing soil is one way to enhance and protect ecosystem services. Smukler suggests farmers adopt a long-term plan to utilize areas that are out of production. “There are spaces that could be enhanced so that they are providing habitat for these other organisms and the services they provide,” says Smukler. His lab researches on-farm edge habitat enhancements like hedgerows, riparian buffers, and grass margins. Smukler suggests these are all things farmers could implement to increase biodiversity.
Overall, enhancing biodiversity improves things such as nutrient cycles, pollinator habitat, and crop productivity. Ecosystem services must be protected. “These are common goods, these are goods and services that we all should be investing in. We all have to see them as integral to the health of our communities and ecosystems,” says Smukler.Strengthening farmland biodiversity and ecosystems can improve water management, provide greater habitat for wildlife, increase carbon sequestration, and ultimately lead to greater on-farm productivity #FFCFClimateAction Click To Tweet
There are a number of potential ways governments and consumers can incentivize farmers to protect these services. Smukler says, “I think that farmers are already expected to do too much and get too little for what they do. So adding the additional burden of trying to manage all the ecosystem services that we need is not fair unless we’re paying for it.” He recommends supporting extension and education services for farmers to demonstrate the long-term benefits of increasing on-farm biodiversity.