Livelihoods from ecosystems - reviewing dryland African experiences and opportunities, and developing novel research strategies and partnerships

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

Dryland Southern and Eastern African environments have been the object of study by countless external institutions, each with their own interests.

Our approach was different: 1) poor people's environmental needs were at the centre of our research strategy; 2) we had been in extensive contact with individuals, communities and research groups from the South who had given the principal direction to this proposed ESPA work, and 3) our consortium was formed around African institutions and people that were working daily in ecosystem contexts of central importance to poor groups, namely woodlands, grasslands and wetlands.

Woodlands, grassland and wetlands were three ecosystems which potentially provided poor people with their livelihoods and resilience. Various African institutions had been working to improve ecosystem management practice by poor groups, developing their own innovations. In addition, they had made clear three areas where they believed Northern participation in ESPA was essential to: improve scientific understanding of the ecosystem services provided by the above; to increase the resilience of poor peoples to human and animal disease; and to build capacity at all levels to ensure implementation, with particular emphasis on resilience to climate change.

Southern researchers sought a Project and Programme Development grant to enable collaboration with UK researchers and others. The consortium had the skills mix and connections to assess progress and challenges, and African innovations, in ecosystem management; identified priorities for investment in natural and social sciences for improving ecosystem management; and engaged policy stakeholders so that the enabling conditions become conducive for scaling up good practice. This would be particularly valuable for assessing how emerging international 'green' funds could be an opportunity for poor people. We were also in contact with many other institutes and individuals in the South who would participate.

The principal activity was a week-long workshop of the research partners and complementary Southern associates. These included representatives from the local communities and study sites where we were working, plus local, national and regional non-governmental organisations (NGOs), scientists from universities (e.g. Moi, Nairobi, Kenyatta in Kenya; Dar es Salaam & Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, the University of Zambia, Malawi & Mzuma Universities, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique, Universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pretoria and Witwatersrand in South Africa amongst others) plus those at National or Regional Research Institutes (such as the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) & the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), South Africa, or the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS), Tanzania), plus research consortia (e.g. Cirrus Group, SA) and also Departments of Wildlife and Forestry from all participating countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC). At the workshop, particular days were dedicated to peer review among those working on ecosystem services and poverty alleviation; hearings from representatives of poor groups; and engagement with policy-makers and business people. The workshop was professionally facilitated, and was preceded by a summary of both scientific and grey literature on research status and needs, and the preparation of a brief on the research potentials offered by the current consortium.

We aimed to scope a research strategy that would fulfil all four ESPA objectives. We worked across a range of dryland southern and eastern African countries. All partners had strong institutional and governmental links within each country, as well as extensive experience of working on various problems associated with Ecosystem Services (ES) and Poverty Alleviation (PA). We assessed and prioritised amongst the six thematic areas identified in this call, matching research needs to some tentative options for ecosystem services research and poverty alleviation strategies that had been developed already in consultation with southern partners including the running of new regional climate change and land surface models with political scientists and economists.

Lead Principal Investigator
Organisation: University of Cambridge
Country: United Kingdom
Co Investigator
Organisation: Sokoine University of Agriculture
Country: Tanzania, United Republic of