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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems through Trade-off Scenarios (ASSETS)

What happens to food security and ecosystems services on the forest-agricultural interface?  Over the next four years we’ll be looking at this as part of a grant from the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) program, funded by DFIDNERC and ESRC in the UK.  Our project, conveniently called ASSETS,  will undertake world class research on ecosystem services (ES) for poverty alleviation at the forest-agricultural interface and deliver evidence from a range of sources and in various formats (see below) to inform policy and behaviour which will make a difference to the lives of 2 million poor people living in our case-study regions, and potentially up to 550 million people living in similar environments around the world. We will integrate and develop cutting edge modelling and risk management tools to address a series of key scientific research questions (see them below).

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the project.  Last week Prof. Paul van Gardingen visited us in Colombia to discuss the project, and visit the field to see first hand places where farmers are replacing expensive inputs to livestock systems by generating and using ecosystem services through CIPAV’s silvopastoral systems.  Read all about Paul’s perspectives on the visit here.

And now this week we are holding the inception workshop in Southampton University (who lead the project), along with the major partners from Conservation International, University of Malawi, University of Dundee, and the Basque Center for Climate Change.  You can hear all about the project by watching Marcela Quintero and Carolina Navarrete explaining it here (thanks to Paul’s excellent video making skills).

Our Key Research Questions

The ARIES modelling framework will address a fundamental research question related to ES mapping: What is the causal chain of provision that leads from ecosystems to impact on human well-being? This underpins all the research questions in our project as well as being of wider significance to ESPA science. These are as follows:

Theme 1: Drivers, pressures, and linkages between food security, nutritional health and ES.

1)    What are the current levels of direct and indirect contributions of ES to local food security and nutritional health outcomes for the rural poor?

  1. What are the intra-household and community level differences in access to and use of ES for food security and health outcomes?
  2. What are the critical flows of ES that underpin food security in different forest and land cover situations, and what feedbacks operate as services are used?

2)    What are the drivers and pressures that have the greatest effect on the ES that are most important for food security and health outcomes?

Theme 2: Crises and tipping points: Past, present and future interactions between food insecurity and ES at the forest-agricultural interface

3)    To what extent are coping strategies to food insecurity dependent on ES over multiple spatial and temporal scales?

4)    How are the levels of direct and indirect contributions of ES to local food security and nutritional health outcomes for the rural poor likely to change under future land use and climate change scenarios?

Theme 3: The science-policy interface: How can we manage ES to reduce food insecurity and increase nutritional health?

5)    How can the risks associated with future environmental change be managed to minimise effects on human beings and ecosystems?

6)    How can we consolidate different levels of policy decision making (at the local, regional, national and global scales) to better manage ES conflicts, tradeoffs and synergies to sustain food security and health?

Getting out into the field

The key next steps are to get out in the field.  We will be working in southern Malawi, and in the Caqueta region of Colombia.  Both represent fascinating gradients of dependence on ecosystem services, moving from communities heavily dependent on fairly pristine ecosystems surrounding them, to communities who have essentially established livelihood strategies that sideline natural ecosystems and their respective services.  We are planning to have participatory analyses at the community level on food security and dependence on ecosystem services, complemented with detailed household surveys looking at food security status and trends, and the reliance on the myriad of ecosystem services available.  Plenty to come, and we’ll keep you updated here and on the ASSETS website, but for now I leave you with a presentation on the project from the lead researcher Guy Poppy of the University of Southampton, and two videos of farmers in Colombia explaining why their livelihoods are enhanced by effectively using ecosystem services.

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