Paying farmers for conserving environmental services

K.L. Heong
International Rice Research Institute
Los Baños, Philippines

Wildlife in California rice fields From:

Ecosystem services (ES) are benefits humans gain from the environment which include providing food, fuel, fresh water and other resources or provisioning services.  Other services that are often not well publicized and grossly underrated are the regulating services, supporting services and cultural services (Click here for more details ). The supporting services provide maintenance to the resource base, like nutrient cycling, soil formation, and primary production. The cultural services provide humans with aesthetic and spiritual values, education, and recreation and the regulating services provide water purification, climate, and flood regulation. Regulating services relating directly to sustainable agriculture are pollination, pest invasion resistance, natural biological control, and pest and disease regulation. Many of these non provisioning services are taken for granted and are often treated as “free services” and often exploited for financial gains. They are in fact public goods that benefit all humans without which the provisioning of food will be degraded.

Economists have been debating about developing a system whereby public goods and in particular ecosystem services are fairly valuated.  This is often referred to as PES or payment for environmental services that are either directly paid for or are paid for through a new economic activity. It is often difficult to generate a sustainable economic activity and some are exploring for ways to pay farmers directly for environmental services.  This concept was explored and discussed by FAO in the annual publication the 2007 SOFA (State of Food and Agriculture).

In the US, farmers are often paid to provide ecosystem services and recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service at the Louisiana State University AgCenter’s Vermilion Parish announced a new program that could compensate them for agricultural practices that provide habitat to wildlife (Read details here).  The program would pay rice farmers for creating mud flats in their fields, pumping water onto fields and holding water. It would pay farmers for measures that are beneficial to waterfowl and other water birds.  The wildlife provides humans the cultural and aesthetic ecosystem services.

Nectar-rich flowers provide food for pollinators

Pollination and biological control services are important public goods to agriculture and to sustain them agriculture departments in Asia should consider paying farmers to populate their rice bunds with nectar producing flowers, reduce unnecessary insecticide use (like withholding insecticide spraying in the first 40 days after sowing) and for other innovative measures that will increase pollinator and natural enemy biodiversity.  Such individual practices may not bring direct benefits but when practiced over a large area, the biodiversity and ecosystem services in the area can be restored. Several rice communities in China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand are exploring the use of such habitat manipulation techniques to conserve ecosystem services (See examples in


Ecosystem services in tropical rice in “Atlas of Biodiversity Risk”

K.L. Heong
International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines


Atlas of Biodiversity Risks

The new publication, “Atlas of Biodiversity Risk” summarizes in a comprehensive, easy-to-read and richly illustrated form the major pressures, impacts and risks of biodiversity loss at a global level. The impacts and consequences of biodiversity loss are analyzed with a strong focus on socio-economic drivers and their effects on society. Three scenarios of potential futures are the baseline for predicting impacts and explore options for mitigating adverse effects at several spatio-temporal scales. The Atlas, edited by Josef Settele, Lyubomir Penev, Teodor Georgiev, Ralf Grabaum, Vesna Grobelnik, Volker Hammen, Stefan Klotz, Mladen Kotarac & Ingolf Kuhn, was recently published by Pensoft Publishers.  The book is divided into chapters and in Chapter 10, “The Future of Biodiversity and Biodiversity Research”  is “Biological Control Ecosystem Services in Tropical Rice” contributed by Heong, K.L., Hijmans, R. Villareal, S. & Catindig, J.L. (click here to read) from research done in the Philippines.

Left to right – Cyrthorhinus lividipennis, Metioche vittaticollis, Ophionea nigrofasciata (top) and Trichomma cnaphalocrosis (bottom)

The Atlas is developed for a wide spectrum of users. Scientists can find summaries of well-described methods, approaches and case studies. Conservationists and policy makers can use the conclusions and recommendations based on academic research output and presented in a comprehensive and easy-to-read way. Lecturers and teachers will find good examples to illustrate the main challenges in our century of global environmental changes. The Atlas is a useful text book for the library or institution in biodiversity and environmental sciences.

Orders available from

G8 leaders emphasize critical importance of biodiversity

The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8 in their annual summit, held on 25-26 June in Muskoka, Canada emphasized the critical importance of biodiversity to human well-being, sustainable development and poverty eradication. They highlighted the serious threat posed by the alarming rate of biodiversity loss and that 2010 target to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity will not be met.

In the Muskoka Declaration G8 leaders noted that:

“In 2010, the UN International Year of Biodiversity, we regret that the international community is not on track to meeting its 2010 target to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity globally. We recognize that the current rate of loss is a serious threat, since biologically diverse and resilient ecosystems are critical to human well being, sustainable development and poverty eradication. We underline our support for Japan as it prepares to host the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity this October and in particular we underline the importance of adopting an ambitious and achievable post-2010 framework. We recognize the need to strengthen the science-policy interface in this area, and in this regard we welcome the agreement to establish an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).”

Member States of the United Nations meet in New York in September in a special high-level meeting on biodiversity prior to the opening of the general debate of the sixty-fifth session of the UN General Assembly. The tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) will be held from 18 to 29 October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan. The two meetings provide the opportunity for the international community to renew and strengthen commitment to halt the loss of biodiversity.