Market scene
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Fixing Food Metrics – a call for nexus thinking and the application of the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework (The Economics of Ecosystems Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food)

Our food systems are incredibly complex, diverse and interlinked by trade, climate and a host of other factors that respect no national (or indeed ecological) borders. Today’s food systems range from local to global, from subsistence agriculture to highly mechanized, vertically and horizontally-integrated commercial operations which can dictate terms to national governments.

This diversity would not be a concern per se were our food systems achieving what we seek – food security coupled with nutritionally-balanced diets, achieving human health whilst not damaging the health and integrity of our natural ecosystems.

The argument proffered by the TEEBAgriFood Initiative is that the economic compass is broken, with the market (and the price signals it sends) being distorted by the existence of both positive and negative externalities, wherein agents do not account for the full spectrum of their impacts on others as they can ‘externalize’ costs (and benefits) to society. Further, we are not aware of our dependencies on the natural capital (and other forms of capital like social and human capital) without which there could be no agricultural production.

TEEBAgriFood seeks to address these issues. A first step has been the development of a universally-applicable Evaluation Framework that is comprehensive – it includes all impacts and externalities, some of which tend to otherwise remain invisible. The schematic below, from the TEEBAgriFood Scientific and Economic Foundations report provides an illustration of the value chain approach – from farm to fork, through to final waste management (TEEB, 2018).

Capital stocks and value flows in eco-agri-food systems

By 2019, the TEEB Secretariat will be implementing the Framework in 12 countries. One of these studies (on agro-forestry) is being led by ICRAF, in collaboration with UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The study is now in phase II, attempting to apply the Framework more fully, but the results from Phase I provide an indication of the value of the multi-disciplinary approach applied to what is a nexus issue, using an earlier version of the Framework as a reference (Namirembe et al., 2015).

Agroforestry is a practice involving the deliberate integration of trees or shrubs in farming landscapes involving crops or livestock in order to obtain benefits from the interactions between trees and/or shrubs the tree and crop or livestock component. The ICRAF study has three pilots: (i) cacao agroforestry in Ghana; (ii) coffee agroforestry in Ethiopia; and (iii) the Ngitili system in Tanzania.

Apart from being an application of TEEBAgrFood, the study also illustrates the TEEB Six Step Approach, i.e. this is not research seeking ex post a policy question - rather the drivers and potential policy interventions drive the research.

So what are the challenges in Ethiopia?

  1. In Ethiopia, the rate of deforestation is estimated at 1-1.5% per year (Teferi et al,  2013), mostly driven by smallholder coffee expansion (Davis et al. 2012)
  2. Coffee profitability is very low in smallholder agroforestry systems in Ethiopia, mostly due to volatility in global market prices
  3. Climatic predictions show that areas bio-climatically suitable for coffee production may reduce by 65% (Davis et al., 2012)

As a response to these challenges, the following future scenarios were modelled using a combination of Waterworld and environmental economics valuation approaches:

  1. Conversion to maize monocrop - drivers include price volatility, climate change, allocation of land to investors for biofuel
  2. Conversion existing agroforestry coffee to heavy shade grown coffee – drivers: ongoing Climate Resilience Green Growth Strategy, the national REDD+ program, certification programs and improvements in land tenure conditions.
  3. Conversion and further expansion of heavy shade grown coffee – drivers: contingent on success of scenario II

The figure below provides a synopsis of outcomes. Once we value even a sub-set of these hitherto invisible impacts and externalities, it becomes clear that a shift to a maize monocrop is a poor option. And yet it is taking place at an alarming rate (Namirembe et al., 2015:p.15).

Synopsis of outcomes Ethiopia

Under the TEEB approach, such scenario analysis is an important step in recognizing, demonstrating and then capturing a change. At this stage in the ICRAF TEEBAgriFood project we have begun to achieve ‘recognition’ and ‘demonstration’ -particularly as ecosystem services in this case have been valued in monetary terms – but the next stage (‘capturing values’) entails the development and implementation of a ‘Theory of Change’ via the engagement of change agents (as well as those resistant to change).

Real change on the ground in our food systems to achieve the aspirations set out in the introduction is, after all, what TEEB, UN Environment and we hope the CGIAR system is ultimately concerned with.  

The information and views posted here do not necessarily represent ISPC views, positions, strategies or opinions.


Davis, A. P., Gole, T. W., Baena, S. and Moat, J. (2012) ‘The impact of climate change on indigenous arabica coffee (Coffea arabica): predicting future trends and identifying priorities’, PloS one7(11), e47981. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 22nd November 2018]

Namirembe, S., McFatridge, S., Duguma, L., Bernard, F., Minag, P., Sassen, M., van Soersbergen, A. and Akalu, E. (2015) Agroforestry: an attractive REDD+ policy option? Ed. by Hussain, S., Sharma, K and Mulder, I. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd November 2018]

TEEB. (2018) TEEB for Agriculture & Food: Scientific and Economic Foundations. Geneva: UN Environment. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd November 2018]

Teferi, E., Bewket, W., Uhlenbrook, S. and Wenninger, J. (2013) ‘Understanding recent land use and land cover dynamics in the source region of the Upper Blue Nile, Ethiopia: Spatially explicit statistical modeling of systematic transitions’, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 165, pp. 98-117. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd November 2018]