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Ecosystem-based Adaptation in Agriculture A Path to Climate resilient Food Systems



January, 2019


  • UN Environment programme


Conventional agriculture has been the major driving force of increased yields over the past decades and still makes up most agricultural production practices. However, this food production system and a significant amount of associated waste (approximately 30 per cent of global production) has come at a cost, depleting or polluting bodies of water, replacing natural ecosystems, and eroding the rich ecosystem underlayer supporting microorganism biodiversity, the basis of soil fertility. To compensate, more ecosystems are continually converted to agricultural or grazing land. In the course of a global analysis conducted in 2020, researchers found more than 90 per cent of the conventionally farmed soils they studied were thinning, while 16 per cent had lifespans of less than a century, and nearly 33 per cent had a lifespan under 200 years (Evans et al. 2020). Additionally, conventional agriculture’s steady march into ecosystems and the reliance on a handful of crops such as corn, rice and wheat – which constitute over 40 per cent of the world’s calorie intake (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO] 2018) – have greatly diminished genetic diversity, rendering our food systems highly vulnerable to a variety of shocks (Campbell et al. 2017). Climate change only adds to all these problems. For example, by 2050, it is predicted that agricultural yields could drop by up to 25 per cent by 2100 (Wing et al. 2021) due to climate impacts. This picture is worse for regions like sub-Saharan Africa, where social fragility and poverty (a lack of assets to rely on during shocks) compound the effects of climate change. Furthermore, major ongoing global crises – such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine – are serving to deepen the pressures on the world’s food systems by constraining exports and skyrocketing the price of food.


UN Environment Programme


Global Adaptation Network

Rights Holder

UN Environment Programme