Tag Archives: poverty

Tim Daw on ecosystem services tradeoffs

  • In the video below Tim Daw, from the University of East Anglia’s School of International Development and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, explains his project Participatory Modelling of Wellbeing Tradeoffs in Coastal Kenya. The project, in which I’m also participating, has examined tradeoffs between social wellbeing and ecological conservation in small scale fisheries in Kenya using a combination surveys, models, scenarios, and participatory workshops.

For more information on the project is available on the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s website. The project is funded by the UK’s Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation programme. and there is more information on the ESPA website.

For more on poverty and ecosystem service tradeoffs see:

  • Bennett, E.M., Peterson, G.D. & Gordon, L.J. (2009) Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecology letters, 12, 1394–404. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01387.x
  • Daw, T., Brown, K., Rosendo, S. & Pomeroy, R. 2011. Applying the ecosystem services concept to poverty alleviation: the need to disaggregate human well-being. Environmental Conservation, 38, 370–379. DOI: 10.1017/S0376892911000506
  • Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G.D. & Bennett, E.M. 2010. Ecosystem service bundles for analyzing tradeoffs in diverse landscapes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 5242–7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0907284107

Ecosystem services and poverty alleviation

Ecosystem services for poverty alleviation (ESPA) is an exciting new research programme funded by a consortium of development and science agencies in the UK. I’m on ESPA’s international advisory board and they asked me for some thoughts on the ecosystem service science. Below is what I wrote:

The concept of “Ecosystem services” is a powerful idea that bridges the conceptual separation of the ecological and the social, to connect ecosystems to human well-being. The success of this idea has lead to many “payment for ecosystem service” schemes, which are now being implemented or are being discussed. These plans have the potential to channel substantial amounts of money into the enhancement of the natural capital, which produces ecosystem services, in ways that improve the livelihoods of the world’s poorest.

The challenge of ecosystem service research is that the policy success of the idea of ecosystem services has rapidly outstripped its scientific basis. This situation presents many risks that efforts may be wasted on activities that actively damage natural capital or reduce the livelihoods of the poor. More specifically in terms of poverty alleviation, ecosystem service research has sometimes merely  biological research coated with a veneer of social relevance, rather than using social needs to focus ecological research. Achieving positive outcomes, and avoiding negative ones requires a much richer understanding of ecosystem services than now exists. Below I suggest some ecosystem service research challenges that it would be useful for ESPA research to address.

Research Challenges
Effective ecosystem services assessment: Scientists and practitioners need to develop faster, cheaper ways of assessing the state of multiple ecosystem services, especially in data sparse regions. A better understanding of the following points would help design more effective assessments.
Bundles of ecosystem services: We need to better understand how multiple ecosystem services interact with one another over time. Are they tightly or weakly integrated? Over what scales? What are the social and ecological processes that connect them? In particular what are the trade-offs or synergisms between multiple ecosystem services? This issue is particularly import if we are to avoid situations where investment in specific ecosystem services (e.g. food production or carbon sequestration) results in reducing in other ecosystem services whose losses outweighs the benefits obtained for the increases. This is particularly important to ensure that increases in agricultural production actually increase human well-being.

Dynamics of ecosystem services: Most analyses of ecosystems services have been static, and there has been too much focus on species role in producing ecosystem services and too little on either social or spatial processes shape the supply of ecosystem services. We need to develop better ways to assess how multiple ecosystem services vary and change over time, and understand what are the key social, ecological and geographic factors that drive these changes. In particular it is important to understand what internal and external social and ecological dynamics can produce abrupt changes in ecosystem services (or alternatively what processes can produce resilience). Understanding these factors is important to know when are where abrupt changes are likely to occur, what can be done to avoid unwanted abrupt changes, or alternatively what can be done to promote desired abrupt changes.

Enhancing ecosystem services: Poverty reduction requires enhancing the supply of ecosystem services in degraded ecosystems, but other than agricultural research on provisioning services there has been relatively little work on how to effectively increase ecosystem services. Much environmental research assumes people have a negative impact on ecosystems, but people can improve ecosystem functioning (e.g. Terra Preta – the high productivity soil produced by pre-Columbian Amazonian civilizations). Social, ecological and technological processes can be used separately or in combination to improve ecosystem services, but while there has been a lot of research on the built environment, there has been little research on how ecological infrastructures can be built, enhanced and maintained. We need to better understand how to do enhance ecosystem services, especially how poor people can do it in degraded ecosystems, in wild and human dominated ecosystems, as well as in rural and urban locations.

Governing ecosystem services: It is currently unclear what are effective ways to govern ecosystem services. Today there is often a haphazard assignment of property rights to ecosystem services without analysis or research on the ecological and social consequences, or resilience of these strategies. Ecosystem services present multiple challenges in that their consumption, production and management occur at different scales making it difficult to connect ecosystem system services to existing property or land management. Furthermore, research has shown that not only can payment for ecosystem service schemes have negative impacts on other ecosystem services, but also that payments can erode the social norms and practices that are producing ecosystem services. These problems suggest that institutional innovation and experimentation is needed to develop effective institutions to govern ecosystem services – especially to enhance the wellbeing of the poor, and that the design of such programmes should not be done from a narrow economic perspective.

Human well-being and ecosystem services: How do changes in the supply of ecosystem services alter human wellbeing? People depend on ecosystem services, but we know little about how much benefit different people receive from different ecosystem services. What we do know is largely about either multiple benefits of food production or the economic benefits of tourism. We know little about how either regulating ecosystem services relate to human wellbeing, or how ecosystem services contribute to multiple aspects of human wellbeing. Addressing this issue in multiple ways is critical to understanding the connection between ecosystem services and poverty reduction. In particular better understanding how to develop agricultural landscapes that provide a diverse set of ecosystem services to the poor. Contributing to clarifying these relationships would be a major benefit of ESPA. In particular a richer understanding of how ecosystem services contribute to diverse aspects of human wellbeing, such as health, security, and good social relations, is important to be able to accurately value ecosystem services.

The above research challenges are written in a telegraphic form that is relatively unsupported. Some of these issues are raised and discussed in greater length in three recent papers I co-authored:

Two PhD positions on governance of ecosystem services in Southern and Eastern Afric

Two PhD positions at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  Applications are due May 2nd.  The positons are with a project Governance of ecosystem services under scenarios of change in southern and eastern Africa, funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).  To address the question  How may ecosystem assessments be best designed and applied for poverty alleviation?

One student will focus mainly on mapping and modelling of ecosystem services drawing on methodologies from the natural and systems sciences, while the other will focus primarily on governance of ecosystem services drawing more strongly on methodologies from the social sciences.

Both students will work on case studies in the Eastern Cape and/or Western Cape regions of South Africa , as well as in Madagascar, depending on their interests and skills. We envisage that the two students will work together closely to share experiences and insights, and advance novel social-ecological understanding of the case studies and methods for assessing and managing ecosystem services.

The students will need to spend at least 6 months/year in Stockholm the first two years and part of the year during the remaining period.

Position 1: Mapping ecosystem services and regime shifts in a poverty context
There are currently a limited range of approaches available to measure, quantify, assess and display data on ecosystem services. Many of these approaches are quite data intensive in their requirements and to date have not been applied in the management of African ecosystems and services.

This project aims to develop new methods for assessing multiple ecosystem services which can be applied in data poor situations. In particular, this project aims to understand how the “bundle” of ecosystem services associated with a particular social-ecological system may change under different future scenarios. We envisage paying particular attention to the potential for “regime shifts” — large, persistent changes in social-ecological systems and their trajectories of development (e.g., rangeland degradation, or the shift from subsistence to commercial farming).

Such shifts can have large impacts on ecosystem services and human well-being, and the data collected in this study will be incorporated into the developing global Regime Shifts Database.

The student will be supervised by Dr. Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs (Stockholm Resilience Centre,Sweden ), Dr. Belinda Reyers (CSIR,South Africa ) and Prof. Thomas Elmqvist (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden).

More details about the position and how to apply herePDF (pdf, 50 kB)

Position 2: Governing ecosystem services and regime shifts in a poverty context
How do bundles of ecosystem services co-vary with local livelihood strategies, ecological knowledge, and social organization? A combination of qualitative and quantitative social science methods and spatial tools such as participatory GIS will be used to identify and map how local ecosystem management, land use, and institutional structures across scales interact with and respond to the dynamics of multiple ecosystem services.

In particular, the project will focus on implications for amplifying or moderating the potential for so called regime shifts, i.e. large persistent changes in ecosystem services. The project will also assess barriers and bridges for improved governance of multiple ecosystem services at local and regional scales that allows for sustainable poverty alleviation in Southern Africa.

The student will be supervised by Dr. Maria Tengö and Prof. Thomas Elmqvist (Dept of Systems Ecology & Stockholm Resilience Centre).

More details about the position and how to apply herePDF (pdf, 50 kB)

Four short links to new papers

Four interesting new papers – Parks & Poverty, Pleistocene extinctions, Evosystem services, and making better assessments

1) Parks can help local people.  Protected areas reduced poverty in surrounding areas in Costa Rica and Thailand by K.S. Andam and other in PNAS (doi:/10.1073/pnas.0914177107)

2) Evidence for a long Anthropocene.   Pleistocene extinctions of mega-herbivores may have lead to global cooling due to reduction on methane.  Methane emissions from extinct megafauna by Felisa A. Smith and others in Nature Geoscience(doi:/10.1038/ngeo877)

3) Evosystem services, the services of evolution.  By Daniel Faith and others.  Evosystem services: an evolutionary perspective on the links between biodiversity and human well-being (doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2010.04.002).  Evosystem services seem fall into the category of regulating and supporting services to me.  However, an interesting idea.  It would be nice to see it further developed.

4)  A bit older, Reflections on how to make global scientific assessments better. From new journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability How to make global assessments more effective: lessons from the assessment community by Dale Rothman and others. (doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2009.09.002)

How much is African poverty really falling?

Martin Ravallion, Director of the Development Research Group of the World Bank,responds to Maxim Pinkovskiy and Xavier Sala-i-Martin’s NBER paper that estimates a decline in African poverty.  He agrees that poverty is decreasing, but believes they are overstating their case.

He writes Is African poverty falling? on the World Banks’ Africa can end poverty blog:

We must first be clear about what we mean when we say “poverty is falling”. What many people mean is falling numbers of poor. However, PSiM [Pinkovskiy & Sala-i-Martin] refer solely to the poverty rate—the percentage of people who are poor. (There is no mention of this important distinction in their paper.) And it is not falling over their whole period of their analysis, which goes back to 1970. Rather they find that the poverty rate has been falling since the mid-1990s.

Here we agree: aggregate poverty rates have fallen in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) since the mid-1990s.  Shahoua Chen and I came to exactly the same conclusion in our research, for the World Bank’s global poverty monitoring effort, although our methods differ considerably and (no surprise) I prefer our methods.

However, Chen and I also point out that the decline in the aggregate poverty rate has not been sufficient to reduce the number of poor, given population growth. …

Two points to note here: (i) Chen and I show that the poverty decline in SSA tends to be larger for lower poverty lines (in the region $1-$2.50 a day) and (ii) PSiM’s method attributes the entire difference between GDP and household consumption to the current consumption of households, and they assume that its distribution is the same as in the surveys. These assumptions are very unlikely to hold, and they give an overly optimistic picture.

In effect, PSiM are using a lower poverty line than us.

…  Another important difference is that Chen and I are more cautious about the data limitations. There are not enough good household surveys available yet to be confident that this is a robust new trend of a falling poverty rate for SSA. PSiM are not so restrained, as is plain from their title!

…Hopefully we will see a confirmation of the emerging downward trend for Africa in the years ahead, as more (genuine) data emerge.

Chris Blattman

African Poverty is Falling

A new NBER working paper African Poverty is Falling…Much Faster than You Think! from economists Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Maxim Pinkovskiy argues that African poverty has been rapidly falling across Africa since 1995.  They use methods they use to look at global income distributions to show that recent economic growth has reduced rather than enhanced Africa’s huge levels of inequality.

Figure 5 from "African Poverty is Falling...Much Faster than You Think" NBER 2010

Absolute poverty in China: Higher, but going down faster than previously estimated

From the Economist:

In December 2007 the World Bank unveiled the results of the biggest exercise in window shopping in history. Scouts in 146 countries scoured stalls, supermarkets and mail-order catalogues, recording the price of more than 1,000 items, from 500-gram packets of durum spaghetti to low-heeled ladies’ shoes.

This vast enterprise enabled the bank to compare the purchasing power of many countries in 2005. It uncovered some statistical surprises. Prices in China, for example, were much higher than earlier estimates had indicated, which meant the Chinese income in 2005 of 18.4 trillion yuan ($2.2 trillion at then-market exchange rates) could buy less than previously thought. At a stroke, the Chinese economy shrank, in real terms, by 40%.

Since then, many scholars have wondered what this economic demotion means for the bank’s global poverty counts. It famously draws the poverty line at “a dollar a day”, or more precisely $1.08 at 1993 purchasing-power parity (PPP). In other words, a person is poor if they consume less than an American spending $1.08 per day in 1993. By this yardstick 969m people suffered from absolute poverty in 2004, a drop of over 270m since 1990. The world owed this progress largely to China, where poverty fell by almost 250m from 1990 to 2004.

…[using a new poverty line of $1.25/day (2005 US$) Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion ] find that 204m Chinese people were poor in 2005, about 130m more than previously thought.

That is the bad news. The brighter news is that China’s progress against poverty is no less impressive than previously advertised. By Mr Ravallion’s and Ms Chen’s new standard, the number of poor in China fell by almost 407m from 1990 to 2004, compared with the previous estimate of almost 250m.