Photo credit: Lucas Jans/Creative Commons
Climate change, increasing population, land degradation, and increasing affluence are combing to create a serious threat to the world's food supply. Lots of strategies have been suggested including increased water efficiency and a renewed emphasis on small-scale production.
One possibility that is seldom considered, however, is using conservation programs to rebuild food security in areas most threatened.When the idea is explained, it almost seems obvious, but by applying efforts to conserve and rebuild the habitats of endangered species, scientists have helped to reestablish clean drinking water and reliable food stocks in some parts of the world.
As simple as it sounds, the link between food security and conservation only emerged after years of work. A prime example is the Tonle Sap Program in a lake region of Cambodia. Leading a team for Conservation International, David Emmett began working in the region to protect critical otter habitat that had become degraded and was threatened by a hydroelectric dam proposal.
"The project grew from conserving species by protecting their flooded forest habitat," Emmett explains, it "is grounded in freshwater conservation with clear links to food security and human health."
Those links emerged once protections for the habitat had been secured and restoration began. Emmett's team worked to rebuild local fishstocks—critical to nurturing a sustainable otter population—which led to improved yields for local fisherman.
The primary dilemma in many areas already struggling with food insecurity, is that those most severely impacted resort to farming practices that worsen the situation out of desperation.
"The rural poor are often the most directly dependent upon natural resources, and they can get stuck in a real dilemma," John Buchanan, Conservation International's Senior Director of Food Security, explains, "immediate needs for food and income can lead to unsustainable production practices or over-harvest of resources, which undermines the long-term viability of those same resources. Furthermore, (the rural poor) often don't have control of those resources, making them even more vulnerable."
Clearly, there is no one conservation plan that can be applied to every area and, Conservation International's work has shown, there is no single solution to food insecurity. Improved health and access to food provides incentive for local people to participate in relevant conservation projects, however, and serves as another reminder that protecting and restoring habitats help people in addition to endangered species.