Nov , 2021, Volume : 2 Article : 2

Ecosystem Services from Agriculture: an outlook

Author : Nandita Mandal, Pragati Pramanik Maity, Aniruddha Maity and Anirban Mukherjee



The whole earth is a series of connected ecosystems. The ecosystem provides a range of benefits to society like purification of water, air, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, waste decomposition, and detoxification. There are four types of ecosystem services like supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural. Despite being the largest manmade ecosystem, agriculture and farming sector provides as well as relies upon services of natural ecosystems. Agriculture provides a bunch of ecosystem services to sustain human livelihood and depends on services provided by another ecosystem. Knowledge of ecosystem services provided by and towards agriculture is important for value addition, quantification, and policymaking.

Keywords: ecosystem services, ecosystem disservices, environment, benefits


An ecosystem is the complex of living organisms (animal, plant, and microorganism), their physical environment, and their interaction as a system (MEA, 2005). It represents a geographic area where living and non-living components of the environment work together to form a unit of life. The whole earth is a series of connected ecosystems. This provides a range of benefits like production of food, fibre, fuel, purification of water, air, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, waste decomposition and detoxification, etc (Roy et al., 2020). Daily (1997) has defined Ecosystem Services as “the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfil human life”. After a study published by MEA, 2005, ecosystem and its interaction with human welfare has gained attention. This report emphasises four major types of ecosystem services and these are i) cultural service ii) regulating service iii) supporting service iv) provisioning service. Agricultural farming practices cover one-third of the total global area and represent the largest engineered ecosystem but rely upon services provided by the natural ecosystem (FAOSTAT, 1999). Agriculture contributes towards food security, improving livelihood, reduction of poverty. But indiscriminating use of natural resources, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity has raised the issue of sustainability. So, to reduce environmental footprint of agricultural production understanding the relation between natural ecosystem, environmental and social system now become necessary. Agricultural ecosystem services give health, livelihood and survival to people and sustain live on Earth (Swinton et al., 2007). The services provided from agriculture are most importantly provision of food, fibre and fuel and other services from agriculture are such as soil conservation, water quality, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation etc. (Rasheed et al., 2021).

These benefits provided by agricultural ecosystem determine the potential biophysical capacity of agricultural ecosystems (Wood et al., 2000). In spite of these benefits, there are some disservices to agriculture that reduces production and increases economic loss (drought, adverse weather phenomenon, disease and pest attack).

Table 1: Ecosystem services of Agriculture

Type of Service




Nutrient dispersal and cycling

Seed dispersal

Primary production



Food (including seafood and game), crops, wild foods, and spices


Minerals (including diatomite)

Pharmaceuticals, biochemicals, and industrial products

Energy (hydropower, biomass fuels)


Carbon sequestration and climate regulation

Waste decomposition and detoxification

Purification of water and air

Crop pollination

Pest and disease control


Cultural, intellectual (educational) and spiritual inspiration

Recreational experiences (including ecotourism)

Scientific discovery

Source: The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report (MEA 2005)

Ecosystem services to Agriculture

Agricultural practices are the major source of livelihood across the globe and India’s major source of economy. It is solely dependent on Ecosystem and the service provided by it. Agriculture is a producer as well as consumer of the Ecosystem services, collectively called agroecosystem (Jarvis et al., 2007). This interaction is complex and bidirectional due to wide diversity in agroecosystem and its varying interaction. Agroecosystem provides a range of services to mankind for their sustainable livelihood.

Most of the ecosystem services provided towards agriculture is through soil. Soil properties, type and variety in fertility play an important role in determining whether farming can occur or not and the quality of the product. It also influences the productivity of that particular crop (Edwards, 2004). Not only soil properties but the soil fauna (earthworm, microorganism, micro-invertebrates, etc.) helps improve soil properties like structure, organic matter content, fertility, and crop production. Soil microbes (bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes) provide soil fertility by inducing organic matter decomposition and nutrient recycling. For example, some free living and symbiotic soil bacteria can fix atmospheric Nitrogen (Vitousek et al., 2002). Soil retention is the key to keep soil nutrient and makes it available to plant (Powlson et al., 2011). Cover crop and crop residue help to retain soil moisture and soil fertility. Crop cycle and crop rotation reduce soil erosion and runoff from the field, but certain farming practices can hamper soil fertility and soil microbial fauna.

Insects help in crop pollination which is the ecosystem services provided by insect toward an agricultural ecosystem (Losey et al., 2006). For crop pollination bees play most important role but birds, butterflies, moths are also important. Habitat of birds and other wild insects can improve pollination services for agriculture leading to increased yield and income (Wood et al., 2015). Not only in pollination, insects are also useful in decomposing wastes.

Agricultural practices solely depend on weather and climatic conditions of that area. From germination of seed to crop harvest all are regulated by climatic condition (Sivakumar et al., 2008). Of the total annual crop losses in world many are due to direct weather and climatic effects such as drought, flash floods, untimely rain, hail, storms. On the other hand, favourable weather condition influences farming (Seo et al., 2013). Plant growth and production increases at optimum temperature. Adequate rainfall is one of the important parameters of production.

Genetic diversity of natural ecosystem provides the raw material to select desirable trait. By improving naturally available local trait through genetic modification high yielding and high-quality varieties are made which indirectly resolves the issues related to food security (Groot et al., 2002). Genetic diversity is not only important to protect loss but also improving or maintain productivity. In addition, in many crop systems, particularly orchard crops and in the production of hybrid seed, different cultivars (genotypes) are required for seed or fruit set (Free, 1993). So, agriculture is benefited from ecosystem services in many different ways. From soil-based ecosystem to insect, genetic material and also atmospheric regulation, agriculture relies on many other ecosystem services influenced by functioning of multiple ecosystems.

Ecosystem services from agriculture

Agriculture contains the existence of human life in this earth undoubtedly. From the starting of civilization agriculture is the source of life. From food, fuel, fibre to basic necessities of sustainable human life, is provided by agriculture (Bommarco et al., 2018). None the less a huge number of other services are also provided by agriculture.

Most important service provided by agriculture is the maintenance of soil fertility and sustain productivity. Some agronomic management practices maintain or improve soil fertility. Soil organic matter provides essential nutrient to the crop (Caldeira et al., 2004). Soil microorganism, worms are fed by soil organic matter and crop residues in return they also help plant to grow, all together forms food web. Flow of energy in most of the ecosystem flows along the soil decomposer to above ground grazer. Another most important ecosystem services provided by agriculture is soil carbon sequestration through food production by photosynthesis. Also, incorporation of residues of crop in soil, cultivation of pulse crop, green manuring, and cover crop can store carbon that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere as CO2, and thus help to regulate climate change (Caldeira et al., 2004). Soil loss and can also be checked by land management. Tillage practices like zero tillage, conservation tillage conserves the top soil from loss and contains top soil fertility as well as soil biodiversity. Protection of soil through residue and cover crop reduces runoff and increases infiltration, increasing water availability to plants and improving ground water status. Farms that retain or restore some measure of the original vegetation provided by agricultural and forestry conserves some natural ecosystem and gives shelter to many species. Purification of air and water; detoxification and decomposition of wastes are the other important ES provided by agriculture (Heal et al., 2002). On the other hand, pest and insect feed, pray and makes habitat on agricultural land.

 Ecosystem disservices to Agriculture

Crop pest and disease caused by various pathogens decreases productivity and in serious case, it may damage the whole field. Sometimes plant disease leads to huge socioeconomic disaster too. To check disease and pest, over use of pesticide and chemical leads to genetic resistance to certain species (Duru et al., 2015). Not only that but also this chemical can leach through ground water and mix to the water bodies and may leads to destruction of pond ecosystem as well as aquatic life (Roy et al., 2020). In fields, competition for sunlight, water and soil nutrients by weed can reduce crop growth (Welbank, 1963). Soil erosion and loss of soil biota due to intense cultivation is one of the major disservices of agriculture (Pal et al., 2018). Besides, some plant restricts other plants growth by their toxic effect (Allelopathy) (Weston and Duke, 2003). Competition for water, pollination agent etc, also hampers agricultural production, adverse weather condition, water scarcity, also leads to huge loss of agricultural ecosystem services.


Though agriculture is a man-made ecosystem it helps to optimize the primary necessity of human like food, fibre, fuel etc. By doing so it also depend upon a wide variety of supporting services like enhancement of soil fertility pollination etc. For considering agriculture and ecosystem in a holistic manner, understanding of agriculture and ecosystem interaction is necessary. So, it is necessary to understand the biophysical aspect of ecosystem services to evaluate the trade off with other land management practices, make policy decision, and estimate economic value of ecosystem services. So that appropriate initiative and investment can be designed for increasing the ecosystem services as well as economic development.


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