Valuing, implementing and evaluating Payments for Ecosystems Services in rural West Africa

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

The loss and degradation of tropical forest ecosystems and the associated impact on ecosystem services and biodiversity at a range of scales (from local to global) is widely recognised.

These changes are anthropogenic, being driven by a range of processes the most important of which are agriculture and timber extraction.

Deforestation is linked to human development. Recent evidence shows that development initially improves following deforestation, but then declines due to continuing ecosystem degradation. This shows that sustainable, long-term development is linked to ecosystem health. The forest ecosystems of West Africa epitomise these dependencies. Estimates suggest that about 10 million hectares of forest may have been lost in the 20th Century, and around 80% of the original forest is now a forest-agriculture ecosystem. These ecosystems provide food, fuel, fibre and a range of ecosystem services for over 200 million people.

Forest loss and degradation is ongoing, being driven primarily by agricultural expansion and continuing degradation of forest-agriculture ecosystems. These cycles of deforestation and ecosystem degradation undermine rural livelihoods causing poverty, as well as reducing the capacity of forest-agriculture ecosystems to deliver key ecosystems services, such as carbon storage, clean water and biodiversity conservation.

There is widespread recognition across the West African region that business-as-usual is not an option, but a more sustainable solution to the development of rural livelihoods is urgently required that simultaneously addresses the issues of rural poverty as well as the protection of ecosystem services and biodiversity. This recognition is fuelling burgeoning governmental, private sector, civil society and community interest in Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes.

A number of pilot Payments for Ecosystem Services projects are developing across the region. The precise focus of these projects varies but all of them aim to establish Payments for Ecosystem Services schemes through the development and support of local communities and associated structures, thereby improving rural livelihoods, reducing poverty, and protecting forest-agriculture ecosystems. Despite their evident potential, these pilot projects face a number of challenges. First, there are significant gaps in knowledge and understanding required to underpin any Payments for Ecosystem Services scheme. Second, individual Payments for Ecosystem Services projects are inevitably rather isolated because there is no mechanism to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experience across projects, or access knowledge and experience from outside the region. Addressing both challenges requires a combination of research and capacity building.

Our ultimate aim was to develop the knowledge, understanding and capacity to support existing and future Payments for Ecosystem Services projects in West Africa that were designed to simultaneously address both issues of rural poverty and ecosystem protection. This formed the basis of a future consortium application to ESPA. We recognised, however, that additional north-south and south links needed to be established in order for us to do this, building on existing north-south and south-south collaborations. First, additional north-south links were needed to bring together the required research skills within an inter-disciplinary framework. Second, additional south-south links were needed to share knowledge and experience across pilot Payments for Ecosystem Services projects, and to bring in knowledge and experience from outside the region (i.e. Brazil). Our application for a Partnership and Project Development Grant was designed to address these needs at a workshop in West Africa that set the research, capacity building and implementation agenda for the project; established management structures and developed an impact plan. This then formed the basis of subsequent proposal development.

Lead Principal Investigator
Organisation: University of Oxford
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Oxford
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: University of Oxford
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: Institue of Zoology
Country: United Kingdom