MOUNTAIN-EVO: Adaptive governance of mountain ecosystem services for poverty alleviation enabled by environmental virtual observatories
The world's mountains host some of the most complex, dynamic, and diverse ecosystems. But these environments are under severe threats, ranging from local deforestation and soil degradation to global climate change. At the same time climate models project stronger warming at high elevations, with potentially disastrous consequences for its ecosystems services, and the complexity of mountain make predicting the direction of future changes in ecosystem services extremely difficult.
This project analysed how monitoring and knowledge generation of ecosystem services in mountain regions can be improved, and used to support a process of adaptive, polycentric governance focused on poverty alleviation.
This was achieved through adopting the concept of Environmental Virtual Observatories (EVOs) in four remote and poor mountain regions: the Ethiopian highlands around lake Tana, the Central Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, the Kaligandaki watershed in Northern Nepal, and the Andes of central Peru.
The central premise of our project was that ecosystem services management can alleviate poverty if it is embedded in local processes of adaptive governance that rely on continuous monitoring and knowledge generation about ecosystem services. The aims of this project were twofold: (1) to understand the process of knowledge generation in remote mountain environments, and (2) to investigate how citizen science can be used to implement a negotiated, interactive model of polycentric governance of ecosystem services that alleviates poverty.
Our activities comprised:
- Collecting evidence on local decision‐making processes and developing management narratives. We analysed which ecosystem services exist in each of our study locations, and how local decision‐makers use knowledge about ecosystem functioning to inform decisions about their livelihoods. For this, focus groups were identified with community representatives and structured so that marginalised groups were explicitly included. With these groups, coping strategies were described and discussed using participatory rural appraisal techniques. Subsequently, the team guided a process of participatory scenario development, in which the local actors were encouraged to create narratives of possible future strategies for ecosystem management.
- Undertaking citizen science supported by Environmental Virtual Observatories. Based upon the narratives described above, we implemented a process of participatory data collection (citizen science) supported by technologies developed by the project. The aim of these technologies was to facilitate the creation of localised and tailored virtual environments for the distribution of processed data and information, and to encourage interaction between stakeholders (e.g., data producers and decision-makers). These solutions are referred to as Environmental Virtual Observatories (EVOs).
- Fostering interaction and co-generation of knowledge with the Environmental Virtual Observatories. The team developed methods to widen access to, and participation in, the local Environmental Virtual Observatories. It focused explicitly on access for the rural poor beyond the internet, and developed specific criteria to evaluate such access. The suite of communications channels included automatically generated leaflets in the local language, community radios, and mobile phone applications. The team then developed criteria for the adoption and co-generation of knowledge through these media.
- Supporting and evaluating ecosystem services management and poverty reduction through Environmental Virtual Observatoriess. The team implemented and evaluated specific actions to foster poverty reduction through adaptive governance; specifically: (1) improvements of cross‐scale linkages with external agencies and organizations; (2) facilitation of cross‐level linkages within communities, particularly between community elites and marginal groups, and in improving participation of marginal groups in ecosystem services decision-making; (3) learning mechanisms for improving local community awareness of environmental (including climate) change.
Key academic findings included:
- Citizen science and related participatory approaches can be very powerful tools to promote inclusive governance on ecosystem services;
- New technologies provide great opportunities to support the co-generation of actionable knowledge on ecosystem services, which in its turn can feed into management and policy practices;
- Real-time monitoring of ecosystem processes can promote awareness, as well as a pro-active management of ecosystem services, and can potentially support an adaptive governance approach to climate change impacts;
- Implementing citizen science and participatory monitoring requires a good understanding of local knowledge-generation processes, a strong focus on long-term sustainability, and strong stakeholder buy-in.
The project was instrumental in ensuring that Peru's new law on ecosystem services puts explicit emphasis on the need for a strong and locally relevant knowledge base. It has also influenced policy frameworks such as Lima's water fund, which is a type of payments for ecosystem services (PES) scheme.
Dr Buytaert led previous work on virtual observatories in mountainous regions in NE/I004017/1.