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Food products

The range of food products derived from plants, animals and microbes (including food products obtained through the recreational and commercial gathering of wild species, crops, fisheries and livestock).


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Provisioning Services


What are food products and how are they derived?

Lilly pillies and bunya nuts are freely derived forest food products.

Fish, one of many fresh and salt water food products.

Food provides nutritious sources of vitamins, sugars, carbohydrates and important indigestible cellulose and fibres for humans to survive. Humans require food on a daily basis to maintain life. Food products can be grown and harvested recreationally or commercially by individuals or organisations and on various scales. Depending on whether food is grown and harvested in natural or cultivated ecosystems, to derive food products different levels of human inputs are required. For example, a rainforest (natural ecosystem) can be a continual source of food requiring very little to no human inputs to derive a product. The provision of food products is derived naturally from ecosystem functions (e.g. through the end products of pollination - honey, nuts, berries etc). 

Limited food products are usually realised from a cultivated ecosytem unless humans further contribute by the addition of seeds and other artifical inputs. Food derived from agricultural systems (cultivated ecosystems) usually require key inputs into the system to maintain their productivity and to supply food to consumers at reasonable price levels. Key inputs are water, nutrients and pest management systems. These inputs can be derived in two ways: through functions provided by natural ecosystems (e.g. biological control) or through human inputs (e.g. pesticides).

Food production directly depends on, or is a direct result of, many biological, physical and chemical processes and so there are strong linkages to many of the ecosystem functions listed in Table 1 below. As well as climate regulation (e.g. regulation of temperature and precipitation), the other main functions contributing to the provision of the service food are nutrient regulation, pollination, biological control, soil retention and food (e.g. biomass production). These ecosystem functions are required for the production of both commercial food products and those derived from natural ecosystems. For example, the same processes like pollination, biological control and nutrient regulation are required for the growth of wild fruit species (e.g. berries from lilly pilly trees) and commercial fruit species (e.g. bananas). The same applies for wild game animals (e.g. kangaroos and fish) and commercial food animals (e.g. cattlle and fish).

The diversity of foods that are produced in SEQ for human consumption are wide ranging and vary in the amount of human input required to produce and/or harvest them (see section below on human inputs). Food products produced in SEQ include: many products harvested from the land such as berries and honey; fish and shellfish from our waterways and coastal seas; fruits including pineapples, strawberries, lychees, citrus and nuts including our indigenous  macadamias; vegetables including all major salad and winter vegetable lines; old and new herb lines such as rosemary or lemon myrtle; beef, chicken meat, eggs and pork meats; dairy products including milks and cheeses.


Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Food.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation

Climate Regulation

Disturbance Regulation

Water Regulation

Soil Retention

Nutrient Regulation

Waste Treatment and Assimilation


Biological Control

Barrier Effect of Vegetation

Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats

Soil Formation

Provisioning Functions

Raw Materials

Water Supply

Genetic Resources

Provision of Shade and Shelter

Pharmacological Resources

Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity



With human capital inputs such as fertlisers, pesticides, irrigation or advanced fish finding systems, food products can be produced or captured to meet demand.

Sometimes from both natural and cultivated systems, technology, equipment  and infrastructure may be required to grow, harvest or capture our prey and for the maintenance and care of livestock. For example, to obtain food products from coastal or marine ecosystems, technology may include advanced fish finding systems, equipment such as boats, fishing rods or crabs pots or infrastructure such as oyster leases may be required.  

Access to clean sources of water is crucial for all agricultural operations, especially industries that rely on irrigation such as dairy and horticulture. Nutrients especially nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) and other key macro and micro elements are also essential for plant and animal production. Nutrients are sourced from the atmosphere and the soil and if they are not available in adequate quantities to maintain optimum growth during crop stages, they are often applied during farming operations (e.g. facilitated by humans through fertilisers). Maintenance of healthy soil profiles is also important in food production systems to maintain the capacity to provide food products over long periods of time. Many new practices that minimise soil disturbance, improve organic matter retention and soil cover and encourage greater biological activity in the soil are now part of normal farming operations.


Are there any barriers to people receiving this ecosystem service and its benefits?

Access to land and water are the major limiting factors for the production of food from terrestrial natural, cultivated or urban ecosystems in SEQ. Many natural ecosystems have been cleared for agricultural purposes as forest ecosystems (e.g. rainforests) have high naturally productive soils. Unsustainable management practices in cultivated ecosystems can destroy valuable productive soils limiting the use of land for future agricultural purposes. As competition arises from population growth and new land uses, the provision of this ecosystem service will continue to be compromised.

Cultural values will determine the demand (consumer choices) for different types of food products produced and/or harvested in SEQ. Proximity to markets and costs of particular foods can provide barriers to individuals purchasing and consuming, as well as other socio-economic issues. Agricultural and fishery food systems require a supportive political dimension that is founded on evidence-based criteria to ensure political decisions are sustainable for both the environment and the food industry sector.

Regulations in SEQ either prohibit or limit the collection of food products from most natural ecosystems, for example the size or number of fish that can be caught or the picking of berries from forests. Further information should be sourced from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection before collecting food products from natural ecosystems.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.


Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Food contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            




Markets for sale of produce are required to meet the aims of society for food resources, as well as development and extension organisations to support farmers.

Links to other publications and websites

Qld Farmers Federation
Nursery & Garden Industry Aust.
Aust. Prawn Farmers
Biological Farmers of Australia
Dept. of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture

The provision of food products from commerial enterprises in the SEQ region can be monitored by reviewing crop production volumes and the number of farming enterprises in the region. Along with agricultural production enterprises, SEQ is the location of major agribusiness supply and value chain operations, such as horticulture, meat chicken, beef and diary processing facilities. This provides a source of income for thousands of SEQ residents every year. Monitoring these enterprises would also provide an indicator of the health of this service.

Stock assessments of wild fish and other animal populations are required to determine whether they are being managed sustainably. The area of land could be a proxy for terrestrial ecosystems. Wild harvested products may need to be regulated to maintain healthy populations for the future.


How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

Food products are available for consumers in the supermarkets, corner shops and markets they frequent. Food products are rarely extracted from natural ecosystems in SEQ. In SEQ, food products are mainly produced on farms operated by family farm businesses, but many residents enjoy growing crops or keeping chickens in residential gardens for private purposes. Local community gardens are also becoming popular ways to learn about and obtain food.

To achieve the aims of society for food resources that are produced sustainably, a well skilled and disciplined management group needs to be in place; supported by technically savvy and innovative business and research, development and extension organisations. A good labour supply is also necessary to take on the many tasks undertaken in the production and harvest of food items and a market for sale of produce. Plant and animal breeding programs have proven valuable to humans in allowing a wider number of consumed goods to be grown in a wider number of areas - however there are limits. Packing and processing facilities also need to be available as well as transport and logistics through the value chain to the consumers.  

Most commercial farming and fishing businesses are aligned with representative organisations and particular information is available from these organisations. In SEQ the main contact group for broadacre industries is AgForce and for the intensive industries the main contact is the Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF). The QFF family consists of Growcom (representing the fruit and vegetable industry), Canegrowers, Queensland Dairy Organisation, Nursery and Garden Industry Queensland, Queensland Chicken Growers Association and Australian Prawn Farmers Association. Information can also be sourced from the Biological Farmers Association or from your local community gardens. For fisheries, Fisheries Queensland is the lead agency in developing the policy framework to protect and conserve fisheries resources, Government agencies such as the Queensland Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry are also a good source of information.

Most industries operate within a large number of legislative processes and due to this their organisations or government and research organisations have developed a large number of codes of practice, guidelines and Best Management Practice manuals to assist their industry. For information on the acts and legislation that currently covers the food sector contact state agencies. Plus there are various controls and requirements from local and federal government.