Ecosystem service sustainability and poverty reduction under land use change: A case study in Yunnan Province, China

This project was part of the ESPA scoping phase, which ran between 2008 and 2011. The resulting proposal for further funding was unsuccessful.

This Partnership and Project Development grant aimed to develop a consortium project to build an integrated landscape-scale biophysical model to assess the temporal and spatial impacts on ecosystem services of forest-management policies in Yunnan, especially those arising under the Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP) and Natural Forest Protection Program (NFPP).

The project aimed to identify the explicit linkages between this model and poverty indicators, particularly for the rural poor, and use these tools to explore forest policy and management options that optimised the delivery of landscape protection, ecosystem services and poverty alleviation benefits, across local to catchment scales, now and into the future. We planned to use participatory assessment of ecosystem services and livelihood strategies, modelling of catchment scale biophysical processes, spatial Bayesian Networks to model the interaction between ecosystem services and poverty, economic valuation, understanding of governance processes, and social-ecological system modelling, to predict the level of ecosystem services (ES) provision and poverty under different policy and climate scenarios. 

We brought together a leading UK academic institution (University of Sheffield), a high profile international non-governmental organisation (NGO) specialising in applied research (International Institute for Sustainable Development, IISD) and a UK private consultancy with proven experience and excellent contacts in China (Scott Wilson Ltd), to produce research that was both cutting edge and relevant. We developed partnerships with government and research institutions at the national (Beijing) and regional/local (Yunnan) level, gained input from non-governmental organisations and used participatory approaches to involve local communities. Integration of their experience and expertise into the research development from the outset was key and ensured that the decision-tool met their needs, balancing the need to develop with the conservation of ecosystem services.

Many of the poorest people in the world rely on the benefits provided to them by ecosystems, or ecosystem services, at a subsistence level. Decision-making leads to changes in the physical and biological environment, affecting the provision of ecosystem services, and thus levels of poverty, at spatial scales from local to global, and temporal scales from the present to centuries. Currently, decision-support approaches lack an integrated modelling framework that can cope with the interactions between biophysical processes, socio-economic behaviours and governance (the structures and processes by which society makes decisions and shares power), and provide tools to support decision-making among the web of stakeholders which manage various aspects of ecosystem services.

A major scientific challenge was to develop a quantitative approach that could link the biophysical effects of decisions with their impact on different ecosystem services in order to predict how they would affect the livelihood of communities across these various scales. Yunnan Province, China, was characterised by high rates of poverty, most of the poor living in fragile mountainous ecosystems with low agricultural potential and dependent on a range of ecosystem services provided by the forested slopes. These ecosystem services played a vital role in sustaining human well-being, not just at the local scale, but also for communities at the wider catchment, national and international scales (e.g. flood control, carbon sequestration). The exploitation of these ecosystem services, driven by intensification of local agriculture, development and forestry policies, had caused rapid land-use change, which had led to soil erosion, flooding and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services. Responding to this the Chinese government had introduced two policies, the Sloping Land Conversion Policy (SLCP), and the Natural Forest Protection Programme (NFPP). However, these centrally enforced programmes have led to negative impacts on livelihoods, ecosystem services provision and the wider environment. 

Lead Principal Investigator
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: International Inst for Sustainable Dev
Country: Canada
Co Investigator
Organisation: Scott Wilson Ltd
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: Durham University
Country: United Kingdom