A sudden shift toward trade protectionism could drive up agricultural commodity prices further. Such an increase would affect farm-level household income, favoring some farmers while harming others. End consumers, particularly the poor and vulnerable, would also suffer.
Another reason why the environment should be at the center of economic debates is its role as the world’s single largest employer. Almost a billion people, just under 20% of the world’s labor force, are formally employed in agriculture. Another billion or so are engaged in subsistence farming, and therefore don’t register in formal wage statistics.
Any initiatives to support economic development must support this population’s transition toward higher-productivity activities. This is particularly important at a time when increasingly sophisticated and integrated technology threatens to leapfrog an entire generation of workers in some countries. Efforts to benefit this huge population must focus not only on training and education, but also on new models that allow countries to capitalize on their natural capital—the landscapes, watersheds and seascapes—without depleting it.
Just as natural-resource insecurity can cause displacement and vulnerability, effective natural-resource management can support conflict resolution and sustainable economic development. On this front, efforts to achieve environmental remediation, to boost the resilience of rural communities, to advance sustainable agricultural production, and to support community-based environmental stewardship have all shown promising results.