Empowering the poor for improved ecosystem services benefits and resilience

Jyotiraj Patra (Regional Advisor, ESPA) and Yeeshu Shukla (Regional Resilience Officer, Christian Aid)
August 8, 2016

Key Take Outs:

  • Poor and marginalised people’s rightful access to, and equitable benefits from, ecosystem services is critical to their resilience and well-being.
  • Resilience building initiatives should better integrate and support activities to better manage ecosystem services in a given context.
  • Nuanced understanding on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and adaptation to climate change is key to resilience building in multi hazard zones at the frontlines.
  • Pro poor resilience building strategies require fostering multi stakeholder partnerships involving government, research institutions, non- government agencies and community groups.
  • Continuous engagement between research programmes and development agencies will help co-production of policy-relevant and practice-oriented evidence to improve people’s lives.

For Heera Devi, a women member of the Maha-Dalit[1] community in the economically backward and flood-prone region of Supaul district of Bihar in eastern India, livelihood opportunities are limited to subsistence-farming and daily wage labour. The devastating Kosi floods (2008) submerged large tracts of agricultural land in the region and subsequently left a heavy deposition of sand and silts. Sand de-casting is resource intensive which many in these communities can’t afford and have been trying to rebuild and revive their subsistence farming amidst this. Another important aspect is limited availability of irrigation for the agriculture. As the soil contains considerable amount of sand, water retention is very low with the soil in the fields and erratic rainfall and changes in weather patterns only exacerbate the problem. The subsistence farmers could not afford capital intensive bore wells to support irrigation in their fields.   Life for many poor and marginalised families in this region has been a tail of constant struggle and deprivation in the aftermath of Kosi floods. Erratic weather patterns, including extreme events, have further eroded their sources of livelihood and income. Unable to cope with the these changes and the resulting loss and damage, many young men from these villages have migrated to far flung regions of Punjab and Haryana in north India. Christian Aid and its partners, through the UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded Programme Partnership Agreements (PPA) programme, have been supporting these marginalised and vulnerable families and communities rebuild their lives with dignity.

Post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation programmes have had adequate planning and investments to support and revive the livelihoods, mostly of which are agriculture-based.  Recurring floods have severely impacted some of the key ecosystem functions such as soil health and water availability in the region, making agriculture non-remunerative and a risky enterprise. Options for livelihood diversification and access to government’s support are severely constrained because of the prevailing socio-economic and political context. Their voices and concerns are very often marginalised by those with power and proximity to the government agencies. Mr. Sahadeo Oraon, an elderly community member asserts, “Paisa (finance) Pani (water) and are two of the primary constraints for the communities. In addition we lack the voice and representation to access various support schemes and social protection measures of the government”.

Such unequal power relations and the resulting inequities are one of the underlying drivers which limit poor and marginalised people’s rightful access to and benefits from ecosystem services they are dependent on. This in turn further exacerbates their exposure and vulnerability to other potential threats such as environmental change, unstable market and political instability.

This joint field visit helped us understand and realise how power and politics play a significant role in poverty alleviation and resilience building. More than seven years of Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) research in different contexts in Asia and Africa have been providing new insights into the multiple interactions that enables, or constrains, benefits from ecosystem services. Various mediating factors, including power dynamics and people’s rights over the natural resources and its use, determine the winners and losers in a given context. ESPA, and other ESPA-like research programmes, have been highlighting the need to pay adequate attention to these drivers while designing and implementing ecosystem services-based interventions to benefit the poor. Similarly, power is central to Christian Aid’s newly launched Resilience Framework (the current framework is based on the collective learning of CA over the last few years of work and presents an improved understanding on resilience, building on the earlier resilient livelihoods framework) and has been at the core of its DFID-funded PPA projects. The approach followed under the PPA work in Bihar is a good example of the use of the key elements of the Resilience Framework where communities were engaged in self-analysis of their existing environment keeping capacities, risk and vulnerabilities at the forefront, subsequently deciding on the appropriate action plans to deal with emerging issues in their immediate environment. Technical assistance with the agricultural research institutions and facilitating access to resources with the government is a key part of the approach being followed on the ground.

DFID invests and supports programmes aimed ‘to end extreme poverty and building a safer, healthier, more prosperous world for all’.[2] While ESPA and PPA are programmes of different characters and mandate, they work towards bringing about positive and long-lasting improvements in people’s lives. Collective and joined-up efforts among such programmes could further amplify on-the-ground impact by co-producing evidence and supporting development planning and investments of governments, private sectors and other international institutions.

We hope researchers and practitioners will effectively use these opportunities of cross-programme learning and co-production of evidence for positive change in society.


[1] Most deprived sections among scheduled castes in India who lag behind in the mainstream development process.


Image icon solar resize.jpg1.44 MB