BKS - Bridging knowledge systems for pro-poor management of ecosystem services

Lead PI
Dr Saskia Vermeylen
Lancaster University, Lancaster Environment Centre
Start Date
1 September, 2010
End Date
31 May, 2013
Project Code

Please see project website for project updates. You can also read about this project in Solutions and in the Impact Story 'All Washed Up?'

In the era of globalisation, many poor rural communities are faced with rapid land use change which threatens to reduce the supply the goods and services from nature, such as food, building materials and fertile soil.

The management of these 'Ecosystem Services' (ES) in a sustainable and equitable (i.e. pro-poor) manner in this day and age requires an ever more comprehensive understanding and knowledge of nature and society and their interactions, at different spatial levels and time scales.

Locally developed Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) has often been treated as separate from or inferior to scientific (or 'global') knowledge. It has been argued that the over-reliance on scientific knowledge has been a key reason why top-down aid programmes have often failed to deliver sustainable rural development.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has helped to increase the recognition that TEK is of fundamental importance for the sustainable management of ES.

Pro-poor management of ES can only be achieved by drawing on both TEK and scientific knowledge because ES delivery is highly dependent on local conditions, TEK is intimately linked with cultural and practices and traditional or informal governance structures (at the very local to the more regional level) scientific knowledge on ES is still patchy - especially in developing countries.

This has to be done in a collaborative, constructive and non-hierarchical manner. We developed a methodological framework which could do just that. The challenge and novelty of the framework lied not primarily in the knowledge which it captured or integrated (although that was highly relevant), but rather in the process of creating decision support tools for ES management that could (a) bridge TEK and scientific knowledge and (b) be used to design policies for sustainable and equitable ES.

The project consisted of the following three phases: An initial desk-based study which identified the state of the art in knowledge bridging and the development of TEK-science integrated decision support tools. It was used to design a number of engagement methods for eliciting TEK and relating it to ES and land management options.

Secondly, these engagement methods were tested during fieldwork in Zambia. Instead of trying to map all ES mentioned in the scientific literature, we focused especially on those that were raised by local people as being important or being of concern. We used the uncertain ecology and economics of a new agricultural crop (Jatropha), as a case study to examine how TEK and science linked up or supplemented each other.

Thirdly, using the TEK elicited from local farmers and scientific knowledge from UK and Zambian academics, we developed qualitative models that described the impacts of land use options on local ES and livelihoods.

These models were used to design an expert system that assessed what rewards (financial or otherwise) farmers would need in order for them to be able and willing to practice sustainable ES management. We assessed how these models could be deployed at different levels, from households, villages and traditional authorities, to national government agencies and international NGOs.

Further information:


Name Role Organisation Country
Dr Saskia Vermeylen Zambia
Dr Saskia Vermeylen Lead Principal Investigator Lancaster University United Kingdom
Professor Richard Bardgett Co Investigator The University of Manchester United Kingdom
Professor Bill Davies Co Investigator Lancaster University United Kingdom
Professor Imasiku NYAMBE Co Investigator University of Zambia Zambia
Dr. Cosmas Milton Obote Ochieng Co Investigator African Centre for Technology Studies Kenya
Dr Dan van der Horst Co Investigator University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
Professor Kenneth Wilson Co Investigator Lancaster University United Kingdom
Emmanuel Mutamba Project Management Green Living Movement Zambia
Emmanuel Opong Project Management World Vision Zambia
Donald Zulu Project Management Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre Zambia