Why Biodiversity matters for our economies

Above: some of the COP15 panelists (Photo credit: UN Biodiversity. Wikimedia Commons)

The world was watching Montreal last week for the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Early this morning, conference leaders announced a deal to protect 30% of the planet’s biodiversity by 2030 and restore 30% of degraded ecosystems. The deal wasn’t without its controversy – some African countries argued it didn’t go far enough to allocate funding for biodiversity conservation – but it’s largely considered a positive outcome. Dennis Tessier, MEDA’s Technical Director of Environment and Climate Change wrote about the conference’s goals and the Government of Canada’s funding response.

Biodiversity is fundamental to MEDA’s market systems work because it’s critical for people’s livelihoods and well-being. The small-scale food producers that generate biodiversity depend on healthy soils and waters to produce the world’s food and earn a living. So do the companies involved in the agri-food sector whose business models depend on the same healthy environment. If agricultural systems break down, so do the companies.

The problem we grapple with in market systems work is that private and public decision-makers aren’t really incentivized to preserve biodiversity. That’s because there are limited ways to profit from the benefits that biodiversity generates. Biodiversity efforts can also seem to conflict with economic development goals.

But market opportunities exist

Ecotourism, for example, is a huge industry that relies on biodiversity. Forest and other certification programs also provide financial benefits in exchange for biodiversity protection and enhancement. Another is landscape-based green supply chain sourcing which promises multiple benefits to market actors. Voluntary biodiversity conversation efforts by companies are also examples of market-driven responses to consumer and financial pressure. For example, lucrative funding may be restricted for businesses that negatively impact biodiversity – that constraint can incentive businesses seeking investment to conserve biodiversity. Still, other innovations are emerging, such as biodiversity offsets, which is a subset of carbon offsets. Unfortunately, small-scale producers often don’t see much financial benefit from these schemes. As market systems development practitioners, that’s one of the key challenges ahead of us.

So how do we facilitate innovations so that food producers in the Global South – particularly women and youth – can reap the benefits of green and decent work?

The connection between biodiversity measurement and crop productivity

MEDA’s team in the Philippines is trying a new approach, linking biodiversity measurement – specifically bird populations as a proxy for biodiversity health – to cacao crop productivity. Birds play an important role in agricultural ecosystems and crop productivity. For example, they help to control pests and propagate fruits and trees. In one area under study, producers are cutting down cacao trees to plant bananas, which is considered a more financially lucrative crop. Scientific fieldwork suggests that there are fewer bird species in cacao farms surrounded by banana farms, compared to farms bordering forests. Early assumptions suggest this could be due to the use of aerial-sprayed fungicides on banana farms. It may also be due to birds’ habitat loss. Either way, a drop in the bird population, or bird species, is likely to negatively impact cacao productivity.

Gender equality and social inclusion intersects with biodiversity conservation

Focus groups are also highlighting the connection between gender equality and social inclusion and biodiversity conservation. Women and youth don’t seem to factor into communities’ portrayal of biodiversity conservation, partly because gendered socio-cultural norms limit decision-making women’s roles. On top of limited influence, women and youth lack access to information and training. And yet, women expressed a strong interest and willingness to play a role in conservation and showed a good understanding of the cultural, conservation, and agricultural importance of biodiversity protection.

Our Philippines project has also integrated biodiversity into an enhanced version of MEDA’s Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM) framework. This innovation can support cacao cooperatives, businesses, and funds to recognize their impact on biodiversity loss, such as risks of supply chain disruption, and economic opportunities such as improved incomes from potential premium pricing.

As the value of biodiversity – and the cost of its loss – becomes clearer and impacts the pocketbooks of consumers and businesses, we can expect there will be increased regulation (or disincentives) and consumer pressure to protect biodiversity.

Biodiversity is not only environmental. It’s an economic issue

Our everyday economic concerns and decisions depend on nature. Biodiversity loss also has significant gendered impacts. Addressing biodiversity through a market system approach is a big challenge. But there are also big opportunities. MEDA’s role as a facilitator is to develop local partnerships that explore the market for biodiversity and how to incentivize lasting behavior change. Protecting biodiversity while facilitating the creation of decent work that improves incomes for small-scale producers will take creativity and a willingness to try new approaches. We’ll possibly fail at times. We’ll need to share the innovation risk with companies and other market systems actors. But it’s a challenge that MEDA and our partners worldwide are ready to accept.

Looking to read more? Check out MEDA’s Storehouse for more great content. Learn how entrepreneurs and farmers use their skills and talents to build prosperous businesses and livelihoods.



  • Jennifer King

    Former Technical Director, Market Systems. Jennifer is a sustainable development professional with technical and programmatic expertise in agri-food market systems and private sector development, women’s economic empowerment (WEE), and marketing and communications in various regions including Canada, South Asia, Nicaragua, and Africa. Jennifer currently leads MEDA's Market Systems Technical Unit. Previously, she managed a six-year women's economic empowerment and agri-food project in Myanmar.

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  • Roderick Valones

    Market Systems Technical Lead / Environment and Climate Change Focal Person, RIISA, MEDA. Roderick has over 11 years in leading and managing programs and development and emergency response initiatives involving multi-disciplinary teams.

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  • Zakaria Isshaku, Ph.D.

    Technical Specialist II, Market Systems. Zakaria is MEDA’s Senior Technical Specialist for Market Systems Development. An expert in building transformative agri-food market systems, he brings almost twenty years of experience in the international development sector. As a scholar, he is a published author in academic journals. Zakaria has broad expertise in project management, market research, sustainable development, market analysis, and international development, capacity building, and climate change science.

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  • Dennis Tessier

    Dennis Tessier is the former Technical Director, Environment and Climate Change (ECC) at MEDA. In this role Dennis had organization-wide responsibility to build capacity, develop strategic approaches, document best practices, mentor staff and oversee the provision of technical support to all of MEDA’s programming to ensure ECC is championed broadly.

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  • Mujtaba Ali

    Former Senior Technical Specialist, Environment and Climate Change (ECC), MEDA. Mujtaba contributed his expertise to program design, annual work plans, annual budgets, and other critical project documents. He also ensured that specific technical components for projects are implemented in his projects' countries, including Ukraine, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Myanmar, and the Philippines.

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