Sustainably managed natural resources
Environmental impacts refer to the positive and negative changes associated with ecosystem services in all their various forms. Ecosystem services provide inputs into production processes, provide well-being directly (e.g. via enjoyment of ambient environmental quality), provide well-being indirectly (e.g. drinking water of a given quality) and have non-use values associated with simply knowing that a particular environmental resource exists.
However, remarkably little has been done to seriously trace the entire chain of outputs, outcomes, and impacts of CGIAR research as it pertains to the natural environment. Moreover, studies that have been conducted tend to focus on technologies or knowledge-based management regimes that redress some negative environmental aspect of existing production systems. This paper (Renkow, 2010 - pdf) provides a review of impact assessments to date and provides a framework for how the CGIAR can move forward in assessing environmental impacts of agricultural research.
Conceptually, potentially the single biggest environmental impact from CGIAR research relates to the changes in the total area under agricultural production as a result of widespread adoption of productivity-increasing technologies (relative to a counterfactual situation in which there was no new technology). There are two competing types of impact here – one positive, one negative.
On the positive side, increases in agricultural productivity on the areas already used for agriculture may provide a disincentive to clear more land for agriculture (via a reduction in the price of outputs). On the negative side, if the technology raises productivity significantly but only dampens output prices a little, there may be net incentive for further clearing of land for agriculture. The relative importance of these two scenarios features in a study in progress by SPIA.
Other environmental impacts relate to off-site “externalities” from the agricultural production system – whether adoption of CGIAR technologies increases net carbon emissions, reduces biodiversity, or increases the rate at which pollutants are emitted from the farming system. Getting good data on these impacts is difficult and the relative importance of these factors are highly uncertain – scale effects and the resilience of ecosystems to withstand such disturbance all factor into the equation. The use of economic valuation methods (Bennett, 2009)such as contingent valuation and choice modelling can help in teasing out where such impacts are important to people locally and globally.