ESPA Africa Declaration: Accountability to local communities can improve environment and poverty outcomes

African researchers are calling for sustainable development policies to be accountable to local communities. The recommendation was issued as part of a declaration adopted by academics and policymakers representing 10 countries at the African Finale of the Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme.

The ESPA declaration emphasises that many vulnerable communities depend directly on natural environments and the benefits they provide, including agricultural land, fish stocks, timber, clean water and biodiversity. However, many ecosystems are rapidly being degraded due to global, regional and local economic factors, as well as climate change. For instance, in the Western Indian Ocean, local and global demand for fish, combined with new harvesting technologies, are contributing to the systematic depletion of fish stocks, threatening the livelihoods of millions.

ESPA’s research found that there is often insufficient effort to understand the dynamics between poverty and ecosystems. As a result, efforts to reduce poverty may have unintended consequences for the environment, while conservation efforts may fail to deliver benefits for the poor and marginalised. Well-designed programs that include local communities in the management of natural resources can improve the wellbeing of those communities and protect the ecosystems they rely on.  

“Many decisions that affect very local levels are actually made at very high levels,” said ESPA Director Kate Schreckenberg, speaking at the ESPA African Finale Conference held in Nairobi on 08-09 March at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF). “Transparency and clear communication are key so that communities can speak up when they don’t receive the compensation that they expect. They should have meaningful participation in decision-making about the environments they live in and depend upon.”

Based on ESPA’s eight years of global sustainability science, the drafters of the declaration extracted 14 policy priorities central to the African context. These priorities fall under five categories: land use intensification; coastal management and fisheries; conservation areas; supporting environmental stewardship; and environmental governance. With this declaration, the researchers hope to bridge the gap between academia and policy, and work closely with governments, regional organisations, the private sector, and civil society to achieve better outcomes for people and the environment.   

“We are convinced,” the researchers write, “that these actions are crucial to avoid high risks of irreversible ecological change and harm to vulnerable groups, and to ensure that environment and development interventions raise people out of poverty.”

In her keynote address, Kenya's Environment Secretary Alice Kaudia said, “When extreme floods come on board, we have quality soils being washed downstream and that reduces the productivity of the farms. During extreme droughts we are losing massively in terms of livestock deaths and even human losses… [We need] science-based information that can enable us to create wealth out of ecosystem-based investments.”    




“I think this Declaration makes a lot of sense and I would like to endorse it,” said Irungu Kang’ata, Senator for Murang’a County. “It may assist us policymakers in reviewing issues from the perspective of sustainability and climate change, such as the matter of the Murang’a County water tower.”

The drafters of the declaration collectively represent 10 research institutions, namely LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa; Stockholm Resilience Centre; Stellenbosch University; the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research; Madagasikara Voakajy; University of Antananarivo; Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute; Nature Conservation Research Centre; Makerere University; and Conservation International.  

ESPA is a global development research programme funded by the UK Government, supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, Department for International Development and the Economic and Social Research Council. ESPA aims to provide new world-class research evidence demonstrating how ecosystem services can reduce poverty and enhance wellbeing for the world’s poor. Over nine years, the GBP43.9 million ESPA programme aimed to give decision-makers and natural resource users the evidence they need to address the challenges of sustainable ecosystem management and poverty reduction. ESPA involved 922 researchers, half of which come from developing countries.

The full Africa Declaration can be accessed by clicking on the pdf link, see below.

For more information, contact africaimpact [at] or communication [at]

PDF icon ESPA Africa Declaration212.54 KB