Five questions with Alexander Müller, TEEBAgriFood Study Leader

“TEEBAgriFood is in the process of  developing a comprehensive analysis of food systems and their positive and negative externalities”

Alexander_Interview

 

(1) How is TEEBAgriFood study evolving?

Alexander Müller (AM): The TEEB for Agriculture and Food (TEEBAgriFood) project has successfully continued to strengthen our global network. This “TEEB –community” has worked very hard in the last months and made important progress. Participants from different scientific disciplines, civil society and from philanthropic foundations met in workshops and agreed on a comprehensive valuation framework for TEEBAgriFood.

We also have decided to broaden the scope of our work by putting a stronger focus on the linkages between agricultural production and human health. TEEBAgriFood is going beyond accounting of natural and social capital by integrating costs of human health into our analysis.

A simple example: what are the costs of production of meat when antibiotics are used to produce cheap food? The global health system has to face a momentous challenge: Already today the health sectors in many countries have to deal with rapidly growing anti microbial resistance creating huge costs for societies. We are risking to run out of effective antibiotics to treat human diseases! Cheap meat is very expensive when you include this health costs as negative externalities of a specific production systems which is otherwise considered to be very effective. TEEBAgriFood is in the process of  developing a comprehensive analysis of food systems and their positive and negative externalities. This can only be done if we go beyond the barriers of traditional scientific disciplines.

 

(2) What are your impressions about the first findings/results coming out from the exploratory studies?

AM: Our so called feeder studies are presenting a state of the art analysis of externalities of different agricultural production systems and they clearly showcase the added value of our approach. And they also provide new and challenging insights in the need for a transdisciplinary analysis.

Another example might clarify this. In traditional agricultural research increasing yields of maize and more efficient and cheap production is an end in itself. We are currently working together with research partners on a study analyzing the impacts of such an increased production on human health. More and cheaper produced maize is very often the source for sweeteners in soft drinks. Soft drinks are cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables and they contribute to the rapidly increasing number of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in both developing and developed countries.

The costs of dealing with those diseases are huge and growing. TEEBAgriFood is presenting an integrated analysis of the food chain and is including the use of agricultural produce. Increasing yields of maize as a stable food for more than 900 Mill people in small farms is very different and it is a contribution to the fight against hunger. Producing fructose from corn for soft drinks is a different story.

 

(3) How important is the new Valuation Framework?

AM: The Valuation Framework was an important step forward to reach agreement on this framework because it provides the basis for our work. Let me, however, also explain that this framework is no attempt to commodify nature or to put a Dollar or Euro label on all human activities. We will also use the framework to describe in a qualitative way interaction between society and food production. Food production has also very specific cultural values. Our framework aims to combine monetary valuation – where appropriate – with qualitative analysis to present a different picture of dependencies and impacts. And we are just in the beginning to illustrate these links with concrete examples.

 

(4) What is the feedback you are getting from scientists, researches and policy makers at the different International events where you presented TEEBAgriFood?

AM: We are receiving a lot of support and contributions! It is good to see how many people are interested in our work and how much knowledge is already available. And we are continuously identifying research gaps!

And of course there are also critical questions around whether such a project can really be completed in the next years. I am happy for all such critical questions because we want to connect the dots in the food chain in a different way.

 

 

(5) What are the next steps for TEEBAgriFood?

AM: We are expecting to receive the results of two major studies on maize and rice in the next weeks and we will have to start the necessary review process.

Soon we are going to publish results of two feeder studies on palm oil and livestock. Both studies are an important contribution to the development of our framework and they are covering different aspects of our work. And our Steering Committee will have to decide if we also have to commission new research and on which areas we will have to focus. From my perspective it is important to strengthen our knowledge on the linkages between production systems and human health.

Finally, we will start in parallel to all these activities our work on a report on the scientific foundations of TEEBAgriFood.

 

Alexander Müller’s biowww.teebweb.org/agriculture-and-food/steering-committee 

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