August 22, 2014

Meeting Food Needs in a Perfect Storm


By Eva Fillion, EcoAgriculture Partners

The world’s population continues to outgrow our capacity to produce and distribute enough nutritious food for all. With this steadily ballooning population, increasing hunger and evidence that industrial agriculture contributes heavily to climate change, achieving food security is far from simple.

We too often turn to agricultural intensification as a way to increase yields and improve food security. Initially, this may seem like the obvious way to alleviate world hunger. But if we take a step back and really look at the effects of intensification, we see that it is not quite the quick fix that we thought it was. In fact, industrial agriculture, while increasing yields somewhat, generates roughly 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, pollutes waterways, causes soil degradation and threatens biodiversity, among other harmful impacts.

But what about sustainable agricultural intensification? Perhaps we should shift our focus to consider ramping up sustainable practices that address a broad range of issues including local livelihoods, food security and environmental impact. It is important to keep in mind that food security and ecosystem health are not mutually exclusive, even though current trends may suggest otherwise. What we need is a reasonable way to make decisions about sustainable practices and their implications.

That’s where DPSIR comes in. DPSIR is an integrated, causal framework meant to illuminate the relationship between humans and the environment using five focal points—Drivers, Pressures, State, Impact and Response. Drivers, such as a community’s need for water, causes members of the community to exert pressures on the environment that may change its state. In turn, those changes may impact the community. These relationships and reactions must be considered when crafting a response. In other words, responses in the DPSIR framework are based on the relationships between drivers, pressures, state and impacts. DPSIR broadens the scope beyond single-sector endeavors to examine relationships on a more holistic level and eases the facilitation of a response. Poppy et al., in their paper entitled Food security in a perfect storm: using the ecosystem services framework to increase understanding, introduce the framework as a way to evaluate current practices and develop sustainable responses.

The paper includes a case study of charcoal production in the Zomba district of Malawi to demonstrate a possible application for this framework. Charcoal is the third largest industry in Malawi, and researchers know that it contributes heavily to deforestation but lack information about how it interacts with other forest-based industries and ecosystem services. Poppy et al. propose the use of the DPSIR framework along with a modeling platform to fill these research gaps. The advantage of DPSIR is that it forces consideration of drivers, their impacts and possible responses. Because the main drivers in the charcoal industry are externalsuch as urban fuel needsdiscussions must be held at various levels, as well as with concerns in mind beyond deforestation. Other effects of the industry, such as water contamination and habitat loss, must be addressed as well. Examining these and other issues through the DPSIR lens will enable responses that aim to improve livelihoods, increase food security and lessen the environmental impact of charcoal production.

Conceptual frameworks like DPSIR are great tools for addressing the so-called “perfect storm” of population growth and environmental degradation by coaxing an integrated landscape approach. This holistic approach considers various aspects of a landscape as interconnected entities and addresses multiple factors such as ecological health, local livelihoods and food security. You can read more about integrated landscape approaches that work across sectors here.

It will be increasingly important to develop similar strategies that work on the ground to address the immediate impacts of population growth in a changing climate. Join the discussion! Do you think DPSIR can be realized in complex, multifunctional landscapes? How might DPSIR work in your area or field of work? What are other tools that encourage considerations of interconnectivity in sustainable land management?

Photo: Travis Lupick on Flickr

Comments are closed.