UN Environment’s TEEBAgriFood – The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food Initiative

Published: 13 May 2019
Last edited: 13 May 2019
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The TEEBAgriFood Initiative developed a unique comprehensive evaluation framework which allows assessing of impacts and externalities of agriculture and food systems – the environmental, health, social and cultural externalities, both positive and negative, and across value chains. It builds and illustrates the case for “systems” instead of “silo” thinking. This holistic approach of ‘true cost accounting’ allows decision makers to better compare different policies and the market to value agriculture and food more accurately. Thereby TEEBAgriFood will help to overcome barriers and effectively upscale agroecology and lead to more equitable agriculture and food systems. For its comprehensive approach providing opportunities to contribute to the majority of the SDGs and offering an effective system of ‘true cost accounting’, TEEBAgriFood was recognized with the Future Policy Vision Award 2018, awarded by the World Future Council in partnership with FAO and IFOAM – Organics International.


Central America
East Asia
East Europe
East and South Africa
North Africa
North America
North Europe
North and Central Asia
South America
South Asia
Southeast Asia
West Asia, Middle East
West and Central Africa
West and South Europe
Scale of implementation
Area-wide development
Buildings and facilities
Coastal desert
Coastal forest
Cold desert
Connective infrastructure, networks and corridors
Coral reef
Deep sea
Desert ecosystems
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Green roofs / Green walls
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Hot desert
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Pool, lake, pond
Rangeland / Pasture
River, stream
Rocky reef / Rocky shore
Salt marsh
Seamount / Ocean ridge
Temperate deciduous forest
Temperate evergreen forest
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical evergreen forest
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Tundra or montane grassland
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Urban wetlands
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Access and benefit sharing
Ecosystem services
Food security
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Urban and Disaster Risk Management
Resilience and disaster risk management
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources
Sendai Framework
Target 1: Reduce global disaster mortality by 2030
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
Target 3: Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to GDP by 2030
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with a company
Direct engagement with associations
Indirect through consumers
Indirect through financial institutions
Indirect through legal actors


Geneva, Canton of Geneva, Switzerland


Without transforming the way we produce energy, and the way we produce and consume food, international agendas such as the Paris Agreement or the 2030 Agenda will not be achieved. We need to substantially change the way we are producing, processing, distributing and consuming food, in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, most of the time many positive and negative externalities are not accounted for, making this fundamental transformation impossible. For instance, agricultural productivity is typically measured by yield per hectare, a simplistic metric that provides an incomplete picture of the true costs and benefits associated with agriculture and food value chains. This calls for a holistic, effective system of ‘true cost accounting’ as offered by the TEEBAgriFood Framework.


In order to improve and secure our eco-agri-food systems and, in particular, to mitigate their negative impacts, all stakeholders including governments, businesses, farmers and citizens, need to be aware of them.

How do the building blocks interact?

With the right Objectives (BB1) and assumptions, the Development of TEEBAgriFood (BB2) could begin and develop TEEBAgriFood’s Evaluation Framework and methodologies (BB3). The result - TEEBAgriFood’s Evaluation Framework - can now unfold its Potential as a Transferable Model (BB4).


Even though the concrete impact of TEEBAgriFood is to date limited, it is path-breaking as it is the first time that all wider benefits and costs associated with all relevant dimensions of the eco-agri-food value chain have been presented in one single report. As it is clear that only after we have recognized and demonstrated the value of what is being lost, our responses – be they policy responses, business responses, or citizens responses – will adapt, TEEBAgriFood’s influence on future research and decision-making cannot be underestimated.

TEEB first achieved global recognition in 2008, when officials from 13 of the world’s largest economies (the G8+5), commissioned the first-ever global analysis of the economic benefits of biological diversity and the costs of its loss. TEEBAgriFood is one of two most ambitious applications of TEEB. The Interim Report presenting the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework was launched in 2015 at UNFCCC COP 21, with the Exploratory Studies released individually between autumn 2016 and spring 2017. The Global Alliance for the Future of Food, presented the underpinnings of the framework at key international events.

On 4 June 2018, the Scientific and Economic Foundations Report was released, welcomed by a number of eminent people, including Erik Solheim, Pavan Sukhdev, Alexander Müller, as well as by stakeholders from international organizations.


Haripriya Gundimeda

Dr. Haripriya Gundimeda, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay says: As a Professor of Environmental Economics in India, I have been closely involved with 'The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity' (TEEB) for the past several years. TEEB for Agriculture & Food has been particularly eye-opening for me, as a researcher, as it sheds light on the complex, deeply intertwined and often invisible linkages between agriculture and food systems and human well-being.


As a result of the TEEBAgriFood reports, I have picked up the charge to apply the systems approach and comprehensive Framework to an example that is close to home for me: the rice-wheat value chain in Punjab. In this region, there is a short timespan between rice harvest and preparing the fields for growing wheat. When you add the lack of economically viable alternative harvesting technologies, it creates significant externalities in the form of air pollution due to burning rice stalks, harming the health of not only local citizens, but those in surrounding Indian states. At the same time, policies that mandate the blending of biofuels with oil creates even more damage that goes unaccounted.


When speaking of national accounting, in fact, our indicators fail to ignore the depreciation of soil assets and wrongly indicate an increase in economic growth, as fertilizers and pesticides are increasingly used, and the chemical sector experiences value addition. It is important, therefore, that we connect all of these dots and plug any loopholes in current economic thinking. I plan to use the TEEBAgriFood Framework to reflect a wider systems approach of these policies and agricultural practices, to illustrate their unintended impacts and hidden costs.

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Ingrid Heindorf World Future Council (WFC)

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