BESSA: Building Ecosystem Services Research Capacity in Semi-Arid Africa

Many of the world's poorest people live in marginal and degraded ecosystems and are directly dependent on natural resources for their food and livelihoods.

If poverty is to be reduced, ways must be found to enable these people to increase the productivity of their provisioning services without further degrading them, and ideally restoring their natural resources, thereby improving their livelihoods with income from the other services.

The existing Pro-Poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa (PRESA) programme aims at helping smallholder farmers and residents living in the highlands of East and West Africa to benefit from fair and effective agreements between stewards and beneficiaries of ecosystem services. PRESA participants have identified a lack of sound biophysical evidence on which to base reward mechanisms for provision of ecological services, particularly in light of climate change and uncertain markets for food and other primary commodities.

This project enhanced the capacity for the PRESA programme to deliver effective agreements for African farmers while linking UK environmental scientists to the social and economic mechanisms of translating ecosystem services into direct benefits to farmers. By partnering key UK and African expertise in soils, climate change, biodiversity, hydrology and economics, the project developed and used contemporary ideas on the mechanisms of ecosystem resilience and recovery along with analyses of tradeoffs and synergies between food security and other ecosystem services to help provide or improve the biophysical science base for effective implementation of these agreements.

The BESSA project established a partnership between the Macaulay Institute, the Plant and Soil Science Department at the University of Aberdeen, the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of York, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Kenya, the Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa (CEEPA) at the University of Pretoria, and the Biomechanical & Environmental Engineering Department at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya.

The consortium helped to strengthen existing capacity for integrated analysis of ecosystem services by early-career scientists in the existing PRESA Programme by carrying out a training course, case-studies and exchange visits, as well as identifying future research needs leading to the development of a proposal for follow-up funding. This allowed them to become more familiar with the requirements for interdisciplinary research, the strengths and limitations of current modelling approaches, and the real-world opportunities for enhancing non-market benefits from ecosystem services from regional case-studies.

The UK researchers benefitted from learning from existing experience of the process of developing and implementing payments for ecosystem services, including the policy requirements to how different methods of payment could improve people's welfare and quality of life. This raised awareness of research needs and the demand at both national and international levels, and formed the basis of an evolving research network focusing on tradeoffs and synergies between different ecosystem services in the context of poverty alleviation in semi-arid Africa.

Lead Principal Investigator
Organisation: Macaulay Land Use Research Institute
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: James Hutton Institute
Country: United Kingdom