By Henry Phillippe Ibanes de Novion,  biologist

Every year across the world millions of people who produce food crops wait for the right time to plant their seeds. They count on the right amount of rainfall to fill the rivers, which in turn carry the nutrients required for the plants to grow. They also depend on the help of bees, butterflies, humming-birds and various other animals that transport pollen to each of their plants, fertilizing them and enabling fructification. If everything goes well, if it does not rain too much – which may flood the fields – or too little – causing drought – after a few months they will have a good crop to sustain their families, selling the surplus to buy what they need. The farmer – whether indigenous, quilombola, family-based or otherwise – works with nature and depends on its services to produce and live well.

For some time now, population increases, city growth, the development of ever larger industries and the need to produce in ever greater quantities have significantly increased the exploitation of nature and its resources. This exploitation has damaged the environment, which is almost never able to recover and recuperate its functions and nutrients and the proper functioning of its natural cycles. The rivers, which used to bring clean water, are now increasingly polluted, transporting sewage and waste. River flows have dwindled since we consume more water than the rivers can replace. Moreover, the destruction of gallery and headwater forests that protected the rivers from silting means that sediments such as sand are flushed directly into the rivers, accumulating on their beds and hindering the flow of water. Pollinators such as bees and birds are disappearing in many areas, either from destruction of their natural habitats or from pollution and the overuse of agrochemicals.

This process of exploitation and destruction, occurring at an accelerating pace, affects the smooth functioning of the natural cycles and services. The rains no longer fall during the right time of year and in the right intensity. Without the pollinators, the plants bear less fruit and production is affected. As the rivers dry up, they transport ever fewer nutrients, depleting the soils. All these alterations to the proper functioning of natural services (rainfall, pollination, soil fertilization), harm everyone who depends on nature, such as, for example, those who plant food crops. This help from nature, on which everyone ultimately depends, is called an environmental service.

[October, 2008]