The ESPA framework: A socio-ecological systems analysis of the political economy of Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation
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ESPA aims to help the world's poor to improve their lives with the benefits they can derive from ecosystem services. We know from previous studies that many vital ecosystem services are taken for granted and degraded. People responsible for making decisions and forming policy tend to ignore the value of ecosystem services for the poorest people. As a result, the costs and benefits of the use and management of ecosystems are not shared equitably, with the poor capturing few benefits whilst being most vulnerable to environmental degradation.
ESPA's Political Economy theme sought to provide the evidence and tools required to ensure that knowledge about ecosystem services are integrated into more equitable policy and decision-making processes.
The concept of active management of ecosystems for poverty alleviation is in its infancy. Traditional approaches to assessing the role of people in ecosystems have focused on economics (mostly neo-classical) as the foundation for decision-making processes. The authors of this work propose that a shift is required away from purely economic-based approaches towards a new paradigm that describe complex socio-ecological systems that account for traditions, culture, non-monetary goals and a host of other factors that underlying human behaviour.
This way of looking at ecosystem services for poverty alleviation also recognises that the role of the individual is strongly influenced by the institutional and political context within which people operate. The project highlighted the factors and interrelationships that influence human well-being and then built a conceptual framework that could be applied by future ESPA projects.
This work was grounded both in the theory of complex socio-ecological systems and in the practical reality of case studies in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Amazonia. The project brought together leading experts from the UK and these regions to form a truly interdisciplinary team. Regional projects conducted systematic reviews of evidence linking ecosystem services and poverty alleviation. The earlier ESPA regional Situation Analyses were used as a starting point for this process.
The regional teams identified local stakeholders – including communities, government and the private sector – who worked with the project to assess the relevance of the framework within their local contexts. Forest ecosystems were used to evaluate and development the framework within each region.The project facilitated a process of South-South learning based on a high level of expertise and experience from the developing country partners.
The research team produced a comparative analysis of the political economy of ecosystem services for poverty alleviation, based on a review of the current literature. This helped to inform the development of the framework, as well as providing an extremely valuable resource for other projects, policy makers and practitioners.
The opportunity to bring together the developing country partners contributed to building the international ESPA community of practice, further enhancing the opportunities for researchers from the global South to participate in the wider ESPA programme. The development of this approach at the start of the main ESPA programme helped kick-start a range of activities across ESPA's themes and regions.