ASSETS researcher Malcolm Hudson reports in the ESPA newsletter

The original article can be found in the ESPA October 2012 Newsletter:

Multidisciplinary Research on Forest Ecosystem Services, Food Security and Health starts in Malawi

By Dr Malcolm Hudson, University of Southampton

The ESPA ASSETS (Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems Through Trade-off Scenarios) consortium  (funded by ESPA Consortium Grant EE112/ K1396905 or NE/J002267/1) met for their first case-study country workshop in Malawi in September 2012. This was to start field work on our four year project to study the interactions between forest ecosystem services, food security and nutritional health at the forest/agriculture interface.

ESPA ASSETS PI, Guy Poppy, on a transect walk led by local villagers (Photo: Malcolm Hudson)The workshop, which was hosted by Chancellor College, Zomba, started with a week of training in Participatory Rural Appraisal and research ethics for 20 Malawian researchers led by Kate Schreckenberg and Carlos Torres Vitolas of the University of Southampton and Dalitso Kafumbata of Chancellor College, Malawi. This was mostly for young researchers but also included senior environmental professionals from Worldfish and the Malawi Department of Forestry, as well as ASSETS team members from Colombia, Spain and the UK. The training was followed by data collection in a pilot study village of around 120 households, located close to a forest reserve. This included participatory mapping of forest ecosystem services, various exercises to understand local livelihood strategies of different well-being groups and an exploration of coping strategies associated with food shortages. We intend to make the detailed manuals for the participatory data collection available to the ESPA community in the near future.

Zomba Mountain Reserve, badly damaged by fires this year (Photo: Malcolm Hudson)The field team were joined for the second week by other members of the multidisciplinary ASSETS team from Colombia, the USA and the UK, including members of the field team who will be exploring the same issues in Latin America. Further data collection took place in the pilot village, including focus groups exploring governance, water and forest resources, and prioritisation of ecosystem services. This will inform the next phase of community appraisals, household surveys (including health and nutritional assessments) and ecosystem service assessment and modelling in 800 households across six villages on a transect which crosses the Zomba Mountain Forest Reserve.

A visit to Zomba Mountain, which delivers vital water resources to the region, revealed the extent of encroachment and pressure on the forest ecosystem. Extensive areas of land have been burnt, and we saw huge fires within the reserve, set illegally to help timber collection and hunting. In our focus groups, charcoal burning was identified as being a major pressure which is pushing the remaining forest resources towards a tipping point – but this practice, which provides essential income for the poorest, is widespread across the whole country with growing demands from urban markets. We explore these issues in more detail on the ESPA ASSETS blog.

A further environmental problem faces the people of Southern Malawi. Lake Chilwa, which provides 25%–30% of Malawi’s fish production, is drying out – a cyclical change that appears to be being exacerbated by climate change and rising population. A recent cholera outbreak among fisherman has given this area some wider attention (Dry cholera kills 9 in Malawi – Nyasa Times). The ASSETS team will be working with the Lake Chilwa Climate Change Adaptation Programme which is led by our partners Daniel Jamu of WorldFish and Sosten Chiotha of the University of Malawi, to see how the challenges around the lake interact with the issues of resource use from nearby forests.

As well as making progress on fieldwork, our team met with local partners to identify data needs and opportunities to work with policy makers as part of our Theory of Change, which will be supported by our partners at CIAT in Colombia. A meeting with the national Advisory Board identified opportunities for our project to extend its impact. We were also approached by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and were filmed for a 30-minute documentary which has been screened across the country and highlighted in the national news.

Our Malawi researchers started field work in our case study villages in October, and our partners in Caquetá, Colombia are initiating parallel studies in the Amazonian rainforests.

Photos: Dr Malcom Hudson

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