Conserving ecosystems and fighting poverty in the Andes: Phase two of the CPWF begins
The Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF), a research initiative that represents the largest, most comprehensive investment in the world on water, food and environment research has identified water use and governance in the Andes, particularly within the agricultural sector as a significant factor surrounding not only food security, and welfare but also for the conservation of ecosystems .
Within the Andean systems of river basins the CPWF has an extensive history of working together with Andean institutions, NGOs and community groups in partnerships which seek meaningful impact on poverty through improved water and land management.
Stretching from Northern Ecuador and Colombia until Southern Peru and Bolivia, the Andean system of river basins are host to a number of competing water and land use demands such as major dam projects, and mining.
Although the region is classified as industrial the overall levels of low-productivity smallholder farming and high contribution of agriculture to GDP mean that considerable numbers of people remain in deep poverty. Rural areas, often have low endowments of ‘geographic capital’ (natural, social, human, and physical capital) in addition to this, chronic child malnutrition, high child-maternal mortality rates and low educational standards mean that Andean rural highland communities represent some of the poorest households in South America.
The first phase of the CPWF which ended in March 2010 undertook an extensive multi-disciplinary research of Andean watersheds which combined scientific analysis of water availability and productivity alongside socio-economic assessment of regional water governance structures and institutions.
The outcome of this was that a “ Basin Development Challenge” (BDC) was selected ie. a recommended development/ poverty intervention which would be expected to have the greatest impact considering the regional watershed’s greatest challenges and the experience and strengths that the CPWF’s research and development partners would be most able to mobilize.
The chosen BDC for the Andes has been defined as “Benefit Sharing Mechanisms” (BSMs).These are one of a growing range of market-based approaches that aim to provide opportunities for increased rural livelihood security and poverty reduction whilst creating, conserving, and restoring natural resources (such as water) that provide public benefits.
Within Andean watersheds communities in the highland villages often maintain a distinct culture from the more westernized downstream town dwellers which is often reflected in indigenous languages such as Quechua being the main form of communication. This has traditionally led to a marginalization of upstream communities reflected in higher levels of poverty and a lack of opportunity to participate in civil and political spheres at a regional and national level.
In the Andes there is a recognized causal relationship between the land use and management practices of upstream communities and the water quality and quantity downstream. Effects such as instability of dry-season streamflow and sedimentation are two of the main negative effects caused by inappropriate land use and management in upstream areas and affecting downstream water users.
The objective of BSMs in the context of the Andes phase 2 CPWF project is for downstream communities to provide incentives to upstream communities in the form of cash/ investment capital etc to practice better water management. This should result in downstream water users receiving a more abundant and reliable supply of clean water while upstream communities will benefit from investments that improve the productivity of their agro-ecosystems.
At the recent inception meeting for the second phase, CPWF research director Larry Harrington was in attendance. Larry is responsible for the design and implementation of all CPWF 2nd phase projects and their BDCs. He provided more insight into BSMs in the Andes.
Why were Benefit Sharing Mechanisms selected as the ideal BDC for the Andes in particular?
Primarily successes of various projects the in the first phase such as the SCALES (PN20) indicated that the Andes are advanced in the theme of BSMs and are the “ global laboratory” for these types of schemes. The Andes is unique within the CPWF system as there has been lots of enthusiasm and activity from governments, policy makers, donors, small farmer organizations, hydroelectric power companies and other private sector actors in the establishment of BSMS as a water resource management tool and poverty alleviation strategy.
As a research organization the CPWF is interested in supporting this process with a multi-disciplinary network of researchers that include hydrologists, agronomists, economists, scientists etc. In order to clarify how this process can be bettered, what lessons can be learned, in what circumstances are they best implemented etc.
Additionally other CPWF basins have taken an interest in this particularly the Mekong and there are plans for representatives from these basins to visit the Andes in order to learn more and perhaps see this in action.
What do you think are some of the barriers that prevent BSMs from being successful?
One of the biggest barriers facing the successful establishment of BSMs is a lack of knowledge. Amongst small communities there exists a lack of knowledge of institutional mechanisms such as BSMs as an opportunity for resolving water conflicts and improving land and water management practices. Additionally the Andes is a very wet basin it has lots of water flowing in different directions and this leads to a very complex mosaic system of water rights. Often implementing a BSM involves revoking certain traditional privileges and water rights from particular groups which could potentially face resistance.
In what ways does the beginning of the 2nd phase of the CPWF mark a change from the first?
One of the most important changes in the second phase is there is now a marked change in the relationship between the various CPWF projects within a particular basin. In the first phase there was little coherence between the variety of different CPWF projects within any one basin. The first phase at times saw as many as 70 different projects within one basin which did not have any particular form of structured feedback . The second phase now has a number closer to 20 different projects and they have been structured so that they directly feed into each other.
What does remain is that CPWF projects still seek a wide range of partnerships and alliances within basins.
More informtion on BSMs as found on the CPWF 1st phase Andes Basin Focal Project can be found here