event 02 févr. 2021

Nexus Blog // Bringing a Sea of Change: Ocean Ecosystem Services’ Contribution to Sustainable Food Systems

A blog post from the SDG Knowledge Hub IISD highlights how innovative aquaculture solutions benefit both land- and sea-based problems. Ines Fernandes, Melanie Schwartz and Lucy Hummer argue that there is an opportunity to include the sea in the conversation around sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services.

category Nexus Blog tag Food tag Aquaponics/Hydroponics
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Story Highlights

  • Innovative aquaculture solutions benefit both land- and sea-based problems.
  • For example, farming salt-tolerant crops and fish in the ocean is a solution that will help tackle pressures on land and sea from traditional methods and natural outcomes.
  • In addition, ocean farming technologies that use methane-negative crops can offset carbon emissions generated by its production, helping fight climate change.
  • There is an opportunity to include the sea in the conversation around sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services.

Bringing a Sea of Change: Ocean Ecosystem Services’ Contribution to Sustainable Food Systems

By Ines Fernandes, Melanie Schwartz and Lucy Hummer

The conversation around food systems, and more specifically sustainable agriculture practices, most often centers around land-based practices and solutions. Nutrient depletion, yield gaps and land management are among the most commonplace issues evaluated within the dominant farming discourse.[i] However, innovative aquaculture solutions are on the rise, and they benefit both land- and sea-based problems.[ii]

New methods in aquaculture that build on ocean ecosystem services are creating beneficial solutions by dealing with some of the most critical issues for ecological and sustainable development.[iii] The ocean is a carbon sink, a home to pollutant filters like oysters and land stabilizers like mangrove forests, and a critical, underutilized source for growing and harvesting food.[iv] We review just a few promising examples to illustrate the value of the ocean as a resource for the future of sustainable food systems, and sustainable development.

The farming of salt-tolerant crops and fish in the ocean is a solution that will help tackle pressures on land and sea from traditional methods and natural outcomes, and can contribute significantly to achieving many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[v] The promising frontier of growing food off the coast undeniably contributes to SDG 14 (Life Below Water), but also SDG 15 (Life on Land), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 13 (Climate Action), and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Ocean farming can reduce and sometimes altogether prevent marine pollution from land-based activities[vi] (SDG 14, Target 14.1). A farm off the coast of Italy, for example, organically grows local favorites like basil in air-filled pods attached to the floor of the Mediterranean Sea.[vii] The use of this technology leads to a decrease in the use of pesticides and fertilizers, both of which are significant sources of nutrient pollution on land and in the ocean[viii]. Such practices can contribute to SDG 15, specifically to Target 15.3, given that it reduces pressure on terrestrial soils and contributes to the achievement of “a land degradation- neutral world.”[ix],[x]

Off-shore fisheries and farms (OSFF) can also serve as alternative sources of protein, thus contributing to SDG 2 – Target 2.4 – as they can fortify sustainable food systems through its “resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems and that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change” and “that progressively improve land and soil quality.”[xi] Ocean farming technologies, such as the one designed by Agrisea, use methane-negative crops that offset carbon emissions generated by its production[xii], helping fight climate change (SDG 13).[xiii] A similar benefit is seen at a farm off the coast of Zanzibar, where seaweed is grown in a knee-deep area of the Indian Ocean, strengthening resilience to climate change in the process.[xiv]

OSFF can constitute another source of employment for coastal communities, contributing to Target 2.3 as an opportunity to focus the increase of agricultural productivity and incomes on small-scale food producers.[xv] It contributes to SDG 8, especially Target 8.3 – support “decent job creation” – and Target 8.4 – as it contributes to sustainable production, delinking “economic growth from environmental degradation”[xvi],[xvii]. The number of people across the globe employed by aquaculture and OSFF has nearly doubled since 1995, and the number of countries with related sustainability frameworks is growing, with the contribution of aquaculture to global fish production reaching 46 percent in 2018.[xviii]

Innovations like these can offset on-shore pollution, employ women and help protect the coastline, all while working to fight food insecurity and stimulate the local economies. Taking advantage of the invaluable ecosystem services that the ocean offers and combining them with clever agricultural methods[xix] presents a unique opportunity not only for coastal nations, but also for the world as it to seek progress towards the SDGs. Ocean farming has already proven that it can be a catalyst for improved, equitable and resilient food security in locations where it has been implemented.[xx] There is an opportunity to include the sea in the conversation around sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services. Aquaculture is a significant and growing industry that has the potential to foster sustainable coastal development and produce food for the world simultaneously, whilst tackling climate change and protecting the environment.

This article was written by Ines Fernandes, Melanie Schwartz and Lucy Hummer. Fernandes is an M.A. candidate in International Development Studies at The George Washington University. Schwartz is an M.A. candidate in Global Communication at The George Washington University. Hummer is an M.A. candidate in Environmental Policy at The George Washington University.

This article originally appeared here on IISD and is republished with the permission of IISD and the authors

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