Aquaculture and the resilience of global food systems

The food systems upon which humans rely are fragile and are being constantly put under strain due to the relentless rise in global demand for animal protein. Resource scarcity & degradation of ecosystems combined with the greater frequency of shocks and unexpected events creates cumulative pressures. What is the role of aquaculture in addressing this dilemma?

A new article to be published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of sciences authored by a group of globally renowned interdisciplinary scholars led by Dr Max Troell of the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics and the Stockholm Resilience Centre asks the question: Will aquaculture (farming of fish for human consumption), the fastest growing sector of the food system, enhance or detract from the resilience of the global food system? 

The global food system: fragile and vulnerable

More food is needed for a growing global population. There is an increasing appetite for animal protein – particularly in countries with growing economies such as China and India. This poses an epic challenge in terms of using natural resources (feed, water, and energy) as efficiently as possible while minimising environmental impacts. Furthermore, resource scarcity and the impacts of climate change put pressure on food production systems. “These effects occur in the context of rapidly fluctuating food prices which undermine food security” says Prof. Roz Naylor, a co-author based at Center on food security and the Environment, Stanford University.

This was powerfully demonstrated during 2008 when spikes in food prices led to food riots in many places around the world. As noted by a co-author on the paper Dr Marten Scheffer; “Our current system based around chicken, pork and beef is terrifyingly monolithic, inflexible and exposed to potentially disastrous shocks.” 

Enter Aquaculture

Aquaculture offers the potential to reduce the fragility of the global food system by acting as a powerful buffer by deepening the portfolio of proteins that are available for human consumption. “The incredible, meteoric rise of aquaculture during the last two decades provokes both optimism and apprehension among scientists and policy analysts concerned with global food security,” says Dr Marc Metian. 

The growth is indeed remarkable. The cultivation of fish and shellfish in freshwater and marine systems grew at an annual rate of 7.8% worldwide between 1990 and 2010; a rate that substantially exceeded that of poultry (4.6%), pork (2.2%), dairy (1.4%), beef (1.0%), and grains (1.4%) over the same period). As a general trend, the price of farmed seafood has been less variable than prices in other sectors of the food system. The amount of industrially produced feeds currently used by aquaculture is a small fraction (~4%) of global animal feed utilization. 

Aquaculture’s net contribution to global food supplies will depend not only on its use of food-grade crops and its ability to use agriculture residues, but also on its future utilization of wild fish for feeds which is also entangled with issues of social equity and ethics. A key example is the ethical trade-off between fish and crops being used directly for food versus using them to feed farmed aquatic animals and livestock. 

An innovative approach

The paper uses an innovative framework called Portfolio theory which enabled the authors to measure how growth in aquaculture and diversifying food production enhances the ability of the global food system to meet future demands under changing conditions. Dr Troell says that; “This first set of global quantitative and qualitative estimates of aquaculture crop feedstuff use indicates a strong overlap with terrestrial animal farming, but that the volumes used for aquaculture are still low.” 

A call to action – moving beyond academia

At the conclusion of the article, the authors make a strong call to action; 

“If the aquaculture industry seeks to dominate the global market for animal protein, it should take a leading role in promoting a strategy of resilience. By doing so, it can contribute to improving the stability of the world’s portfolio of proteins in support of global food security. This requires the development of a diversity of aquaculture species; the promotion of ethically sourced co-products from the crop, livestock, and fisheries sectors for feeds; infrastructure design that uses renewable energy and, the implementation of management practices that minimize wastes and environmental impacts.”

Troell, M., Rosamond L. Naylor, M. Metian, M. Beveridge, P. Tyedmers, C. Folke, K. Arrow, S. Barrett, A-S. Crépin, P. Ehrlich, Å. Gren, N. Kautsky, S. Levin, K. Nyborg, H. Österblom, S. Polasky, M. Scheffer, B. Walker, T. Xepapadeas, A. de Zeeuw. 20104. Does Aquaculture Add Resilience to the Global Food System? PNAS, August 18, 2014

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Book: Principles of social-ecological urbanism

This new publication is the result of a close collaboration between researchers at the Beijer Institute,  the School of Architecture, Stockholms Resilience Centre and KIT Arkitektur. It presents the principles of urban design articulated in the work on the project Albano Resilient Campus, a new multi-university urban district on the edge between Stcokholm city centre and the Royal National City Park.

As a case study, the project shows how urban development can interact with precious local ecosystems and greenspaces. Its ambition is to formulate a new model for sustainable urban development in accordance with social-ecological principles. 
For questions on distribution or review copies, please contact Lars Marcus, Professor of Urban Design at KTH School of Architecture.
Barthel, S., J. Colding, H. Erixon, S. Grahn, C. Kärsten, L. Marcus, J. Torsvall. 2013. Principles of Social-Ecological Urbanism - Case Study: Albano Campus, Stockholm. Trita-ARK Forskningspublikationer 2013:3

Water resilience for human prosperity

New book introduces new framework for water governance and management

Water is the bloodstream of nature and wise stewardship of freshwater, from the very local to the regional, is central to human development and prosperity. But over-use and mismanagement of freshwater resources now threatens the functioning of ecosystems that are crucial to human activities.

The new book Water Resilience for Human Prosperity, analyses the problems and provides examples of successful water resource management with main focus on freshwater use for current and future food production. The key message of the book that by identifying and understanding the available water resources for humans and nature, we can find solutions that provide prosperity for more people and for a longer time.

The two major forces impacting the water cycle are human-induced: land-use change and consumption for agriculture, households and industries. Understanding the feedbacks in social-ecological systems can help in building water resilience, argue the authors.

"Water is key for maintaining and enhancing the resilience of social-ecological systems that we depend on," says Johan Rockström, director of Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) who is lead author of the book written together with Beijer Institute director Carl Folke and other colleagues at SRC, Stockholm Environment Institute and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Click here to read more 

Water Resilience for Human Prosperity. Johan Rockström, Malin Falkenmark, Carl Folke, Mats Lannerstad, Jennie Barron, Elin Enfors, Line Gordon, Jens Heinke, Holger Hoff and Claudia Pohl-Wostl, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 2014.

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Seminar with Cass R.Sunstein: Freedom of Choice

How a gentle nudge can change our behaviour

Tuesday 29 April 2014, 15.00-16.30
The Beijer Hall, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm
One approach for influencing and changing human behavior, that can be a useful complement to current public policies, is to rely on so-called nudges. Nudging is about making small changes in people’s environment to steer behavior in a specific direction. In Britain the prime minister created a Behavioural Insights Team (known as the “nudge unit”) to implement the concept for shaping public policies, for example to increase organ donations. There is a growing interest to use nudges also for environmental purposes.
Cass R. Sunstein, Harvard Professor and former advisor to President Obama, presents the science behind the concept and arguments for using it. Behavioral economists have established that people often make decisions that run counter to their best interests. Sometimes we disregard the long term, are unrealistically optimistic, or fail to see what is in front of us. With this evidence in mind, Sunstein argues for a new form of paternalism, one that protects people against serious errors but also recognizes the risk of government overreaching and usually preserves freedom of choice.
Cass R. Sunstein is currently the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University and the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School. He writes widely on topics ranging from behavioral economics to constitutional, administrative and environmental law and author of the books Why Nudge?: the Politics of Libertarian Paternalism (2014) and Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler, 2008).
15:00 Carl Folke, Director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Scientific Director of Stockholm resilience Centre, opens the seminar.
           Gunhild Stordalen, Chair of the board of GreeNudge, introduces the main speaker
15:10 Cass R. Sunstein, Harvard University. Freedom of choice.
16:00 Steffen Kallbekken, GreeNudge and CICERO. An introduction to GreeNudge.
            Therese Lindahl, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics. The potential for green nudges in Sweden
16:15 Panel discussion on nudging in Sweden with Cass R. Sunstein, Therese Lindahl and Steffen Kallbekken. Moderated by Agneta Sundin.

The seminar is organised together with GreeNudge and Stockholm Resilience Centre

Download invitation

No registration is needed

Short course: Applied Methods Related to Regime Shifts in Social-Ecological Systems

The course is arranged by the Beijer Institute in conjunction with the World Conference of Environmental and Resource Economists, WCERE 2014 June 27-28, 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey. Its target audience is researchers from developing and transition countries, especially encouraging applicants from the regional environmental economics networks CEEPA, EEPSEA, LACEEP, and SANDEE.

Many ecosystems have nonlinear features that can cause them to shift abruptly from one state to another. Human action is typically the trigger for such regime shifts, which can be difficult to reverse and can cause the loss of valuable ecosystem services. Regime shifts have been documented for example in coral reefs, savannahs, and lakes. More details and examples can be found in the Regime Shifts database ( Economists have become increasingly interested in understanding how regime shifts affect environmental management and policy decisions.
The course is a standalone follow up to the one held two years ago in Prague which was mostly on theory. This time we will focus on two methodological approaches for conducting applied research on environmental regime shifts: statistical methods for identifying thresholds and tipping points in empirical data sets, and experimental methods to assess behavioral responses of people to regime shifts.
Deadline for applications is 1 February 2014. For more information and how to apply click here.

Mangroves offer protection against storm winds

It is well known that mangrove forests can protect lives and property from storms and earth quakes by buffering the impacts of storm surges and tsunamis.  A Beijer Institute article now shows that mangrove forests also damper wind velocity and provide protection from damage caused by wind.
Mangrove forests are areas with woody trees or shrubs in tropical and subtropical tidelands. Rich in biodiversity, mangrove leafs and roots release nutrients  and many commercially attractive fish species reproduce in its waters. Half of the world’s mangrove forests have disappeared since the middle of the last century.  Conversion of the waters for shrimp-farming constitute 25 percent of the loss, wood extraction, industrial development and tourism are other major drivers.
Theoretical model and empirical observations agree
Former Mäler Scholar Saudamini Das, now at Institute of Economic Growth India and Beijer Institute researcher and SRC theme leader Anne-Sophie Crépin constructed a theoretical mode in order to investigate whether mangroves can slow down wind velocity and thereby provide protection. They calibrated it to simulate wind damage caused by a storm that hit the state of Odisha in 1999, and ran the model looking for a relation between mangroves and damage caused by wind.
The model showed indeed that the presence of mangrove forests along the coastline served to decrease the amount of damage from wind to houses.
“We found that in villages that were protected by mangroves there was also significantly less damage to houses caused by wind, the forests along the coast seem to break wind velocity so much that we see a clear pattern where villages located behind the forests were not as hard hit,” explains Anne-Sophie Crépin.
Using empirical data from records of the storm in Odisha the authors were able to test the accuracy of the predictions given by the model, finding that they provided an accurate representation of what happened in real-life.
“We could see that the damage that was simulated in the model matched the damage that was recorded after the storm quite accurately. This validates the model and tells us that we have calibrated it in a good way, to get the most realistic results,” explains Crépin.
Even in villages located relatively far from the coastline and the mangroves, the authors found that there was significantly less damage to houses compared to similarly located villages with no mangrove protection.
One more reason to protect the mangrove
The authors also calculated the monetary value and based on avoided reconstruction costs, each mangrove protected family saved around USD 23 making the economic value for wind attenuation services of one hectare of mangrove USD 177,  which corresponds to 3.17 million USD for the study area was saved (in 1999 prices). 
”These results add to the knowledge we have of the important roles that mangroves play. This is another reason to invest in keeping mangrove forests,” Anne-Sophie Crépin concludes.
Das, S., Crépin, A.-S. Mangroves can provide protection against wind damage during storms, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science (2013),


Challenges to make farmed fish reach the poor

Farmed fish is big business and the aquaculture industry is growing, but not yet a savior for the hungry poor.  Today, more than 40 percent of all fish consumed derives from farming, but the distribution of it is skewed and the nutrition levels could be improved.  The contribution of aquaculture to global food security is both an issue of where the production occurs and what is being produced. 
In a paper in the Journal of Fish Biology, Beijer researcher and Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) theme leader Max Troell, together with SRC partner Marc Metian and partners from the organization WorldFish,  looked at the contribution of farmed fish to food security and nutrition needs of poor consumers. They found that fish farming is largely absent from Sub-Saharan Africa, home to a large proportion of the world’s poor. Although soil and climate is favourable, the region falls short when it comes to required production and the demand for aquaculture products grows quicker than the growth of aquaculture industry .
"In Sub-Saharan Africa the undeveloped aquaculture sector is dominated by smallholder, subsistence-type operations where access to the small amounts of fish produced is largely limited to producer households and their neighbors," Max Troell explains. 
Production of smaller-size fish is one pathway to increase access of farmed fish to poor communities, as it is more energy efficient and cheaper to produce. It can be  an excellent source of animal protein but because of species, size and method of rearing it is often inferior to small wild fish species as a source of essential fatty acids and micronutrients.
“The point is not how much fish is eaten but that fish consumption should fulfill its potential to help meet nutritional needs," Troell says.  
The authors conclude that more research is needed to identify small species that might be suitable for culture and the feed sector must continue to seek alternative feedstuffs that do not compromise the nutritional quality.
Beveridge, M.C.M. ; Thilsted, S.H. ; Phillips, M.J. ; Metian, M. ; Troell, M. ; Hall, S.J. 2013. Meeting the food and nutrition needs of the poor: the role of fish and the opportunities and challenges emerging from the rise of aquaculture. Journal of Fish Biology, VOL. 83, Issue 4. DOI: 10.1111/jfb.12187

Does the threat of environmental collapse change our behavior?

The Beijer Institute has been awarded funding from the Swedish research council Formas for a new project in the area of behavioural economics. Led by Dr Therese Lindahl, the project will investigate how and if people’s management of a natural resource is affected by the possible threat of a regime shift. 
Many natural resources, like fishing and grazing grounds, are managed as common resources, which often results in over-exploitation. Ecological research show that if an ecosystem, let’s say a grassland used for grazing, is grazed to hard and reach a certain threshold, it can quickly change in to another state, in this case a desert. The ecosystem has undergone a regime shift. Such shifts can have serious impact on human well being and threaten local livelihoods, especially in poorer regions where people may depend heavily on local ecosystems and the goods and services derived from them.
The risk of regime shifts can affect people’s will to care for their common resource. Therese Lindahl, program coordinator of the BENN research program of which this project is a part, and her team will use field experiments to investigate the links between the risk and peoples behavior.  She hopes the results will support finding policies that protect livelihoods and the ecological functions they depend on:
“We believe this project fills an important research gap that will provide essential information to help us better understand the social mechanisms underlying regime shifts in ecosystems and how we can overcome them“, says Therese Lindahl.
This project will be a part of the BENN research program.

Seminar: Our future in the Anthropocene

See videos from the seminar Our future in the Anthropocene held at the Royal Swedish Academy 27 November 2013
Beginning in large scale with the industrial revolution, humanity is now influencing every aspect of the Earth and the biosphere on a scale that matches the great forces of nature. A growing number of scientists think we have entered a new geological era – the Anthropocene.
Future Earth is an emerging international research initiative that will develop the knowledge for responding effectively to the risks and opportunities of global environmental change in this new era and for supporting transformation towards global sustainability in the coming decades. Future Earth will mobilize thousands of scientists while strengthening partnerships with policy-makers and other stakeholders to provide sustainability options and solution
This seminar aimed to explore different challenges in the context of the Anthropocene for societal development and human wellbeing, addressed within the Future Earth initiative.
Click on title below to see the lectures
The epoch of the Anthropocene Professor Will Steffen, Australian National University Climate Change Institute
The role of glaciers and poles in the earth system Professor Qin Dahe, Cold and Arid Regions Environment and Engineering Research Institute, Lanzhou 
Earth resilience in the Anthropocene Professor Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre 
Science-governance challenges in the Anthropocene Professor Melissa Leach, STEPS Centre, University of Sussex
Human health and global environmental change Dr Elisabet Lindgren, Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm Resilience Centre 
Human development in a "good" Anthropocene Professor Garry Peterson, Stockholm Resilience Centre


J. Marty Anderies Programme Director for BENN

We are pleased to announce that J. Marty Anderies is the new Programme Director for the Behaviour,  
Economics and Nature Network (BENN) .  Marty Anderies is an Associate Professor with joint appointment in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. He will lead the programme together with Therese Lindahl as programme coordinator.
The aim of BENN is to look beyond  current approaches and explore alternative ways to living within planetary boundaries that emphasize achieving a good “fit” between human behavior, the biophysical environment, and governance. With focus on the relationship between human behavior and the environment it will investigate what mechanisms lead to more pro-environmental choices and how they can be promoted and sustained. 
Marty Anderies received his PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of British Columbia. In 2010 he spent part of his sabbatical at the Beijer Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre and he is also involved in the Global Dynamics and Resilience Programme at the Beijer Institute. His research focuses on developing an understanding of how ecological, behavioural, social and institutional factors affect the robustness and vulnerability characteristics of coupled social-ecological systems. His work combines qualitative insights from present-day, historical and archaeological case studies of social-ecological systems with formal mathematical modelling and experiments with human subjects. It explores how individual decision-making processes interact with governance regimes to influence social and environmental outcomes.