New Postdoctoral Fellow will link ESPA research with global policy

Mairi Dupar, ESPA Directorate
August 7, 2017

This week, Mahesh Poudyal, an environmental social scientist and interdisciplinary researcher, joins the ESPA team as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. His task: to support ESPA’s Director Kate Schreckenberg and Science Advisor, Georgina Mace, to synthesise the findings of our eight-year research programme and help produce the flagship ESPA book, planned for 2018. Mahesh will also spend a good part of his time exploring and highlighting the implications of ESPA research for governments’ delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It’s a natural next step for a researcher who has spent this last three years leading the socioeconomic component of an ESPA study in Madagascar. A native of Nepal, Mahesh came to the United Kingdom as a teenager to study environmental economics at the University of York. After an interlude at Simon Fraser University in Canada for his Masters degree, Mahesh returned to York, where he was awarded a PhD in Environment and Politics in 2010. His doctoral work at York was “where my African adventure began”, he says. His research looked at land and tree tenure in northern Ghana – his paper on ‘Chiefs and Trees’ examines why communities may invest more in shea trees than in locust bean trees, as part of agroforestry systems. Now established as an expert in the interdisciplinary science of community agroforestry and tenure systems in Africa, Mahesh joined the ESPA-funded P4GES project: ‘Can Paying 4 Global Ecosystem Services reduce poverty?' The goal of P4GES has been ‘to influence the development and implementation of international ecosystem service payment schemes in the interests of poverty alleviation’ based on an intensive Madagascar case study.

The team focused on how ecosystem services payment schemes, including a REDD+ pilot, has affected poverty levels in and around the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena (CAZ) in Eastern Madagascar, one of the country’s largest remaining tracts of rainforest. REDD+ is a shorthand for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation along with the conservation, sustainable management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Now a key pillar of global climate change policy (via the United Nations climate convention), REDD+ is an approach to paying tropical forest countries to conserve forest cover, in recognition of the benefits that forest cover provides for the global climate. REDD+ is an increasing focus for investment by international agencies such as the World Bank and donor governments. The knock-on effects of different REDD+ schemes for local people’s livelihoods and wellbeing depend very much on how each initiative is planned and administered.


“I think one thing that attracted me to P4GES when I applied was the way of looking at big global ideas about payment – whether they actually flow through and make an impact on people’s lives,” says Mahesh. “One of the things we did as researchers in Madagascar was to try and talk to people who had never been in contact with outsiders – in some of the places, they had never met anybody from the capital coming to their villages, let alone a foreigner. Some of the sites were so remote we had to walk for a day or two to get there. We were not trying to find an easy way but trying to find people whose voices needed to be heard. Most sites were in the forest frontier: the communities who lived right next to forest and made use of the forest for their livelihood.” The Government of Madagascar has received World Bank funding to establish Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena as a protected area through its Third Environmental Programme – and the funding requires implementation of the Bank’s environmental and social safeguard policies. This means the Government had to undertake a study of how the protected area would affect local people: would it reduce their means of livelihood and leave them worse off than before? World Bank guidelines called for compensation for those negatively affected. In this case, the social assessment did indeed find that a number of villagers living in and around the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena would be due compensation – and some villagers received compensation in the form of micro-projects, such as poultry. However, research by the P4GES project revealed that the safeguard assessment and compensation had only scratched the surface of the more complex environment and poverty dynamics at play. “We found the assessment did not identify all the right people. And for those who did get compensated, the compensation was not adequate,” explains Mahesh. Those identified for payment were easily accessible (such as near the roads) and they also tended to be the better-off and better-connected households.


The P4GES team concluded that for places like the Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena, where most households are thought to be negatively impacted by a REDD+ scheme, it would make more sense to apply a blanket compensation to all households rather than trying to evaluate poorly the eligibility of each household. The results of the research on incomplete identification of affected people are detailed in the 2016 paper: Can REDD+ social safeguards reach the ‘right’ people? Lessons from Madagascar. “What is potentially forthcoming from carbon [financing] is a large pot of money but it’s not flowing through to the people. There is some kind of misalignment of costs and benefits,” reflects Mahesh. It's exactly these kinds of bigger-picture implications from ESPA research that will occupy Mahesh’s next eight months on the job, to March 2018. Looking forward to the challenge, he says: “Working in P4GES, I was working on a one-country project with a very national focus. My exposure to ESPA was through the annual science meetings.” “I really look forward to learning more about the wider work that ESPA has done and to meeting the people who have done it. My interest has always been to look at poverty and environment interactions, so this will be a busy but very interesting eight months.” For more on Mahesh's adventures, please visit:


Image credits: Mahesh Poudyal (forest and lemur), p4ges project (paddy workers)