Ecosystem services and food security: a new line of investigation


Child harvesting copoazú in the Lower Caqueta basin, Colombian Amazon (Photo: Gisella S. Cruz-Garcia, ASSETS project)

Ecosystem services offer material and non-material benefits. These services are in four broad categories including that of provisioning (such as food and water), regulating (such as in the control of climate), supporting (such as crop pollination) and culturally important support services. These benefits, possessing not only monetary but also major non-monetary values, are reflected in human well-being. Certainly, ecosystem services are essential for directly and indirectly assuring the food security and nutritional diversity of rural communities, with major implications for the poorest and most vulnerable households. This is, for instance, through the provision of wild foods (vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, animal meat, fish, edible insects) from a wide array of farming and forest landscapes; the provision of fuel-wood for cooking and fodder for animal feed; the support of agriculture, agroforestry and livestock production; preventing risks of natural disasters and soil erosion, while supporting water conservation; and enabling income-generating activities. As a result, the Ecosystem Services Research Theme, part of the Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area (DAPA) at CIAT, decided to further explore the relations between ecosystem services and food security as a new line of investigation.

According to the World Food Summit (FAO 1996), food security exists ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.’ The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2008) further identified four main dimensions (or pillars) that should be simultaneously present in order to be food secure: availability, access, utilization and stability. Availability refers to having a supply of enough good quality food; access is related to having adequate economic resources and/or physical access or entitlements to acquire food; utilization refers that the food consumed is offering the energy and all nutrients required for a healthy life, involving food preparation, dietary diversity, access to clean water and intra-household distribution of food; finally, stability assures that availability, access and utilization are satisfied throughout the year and at all times. In this new line of investigation, ecosystem services will be analyzed through the lens of these four dimensions and agriculture will be approached beyond food productivity.

Woman preparing a daily meal in Las Vueltas, El Salvador (Photo: Paul Peters, ABES project)

Woman preparing a daily meal in Las Vueltas, El Salvador (Photo: Paul Peters, ABES project)

 

The first project along this line of investigation is ASSETS – ‘Managing ecosystem services for food security and the nutritional health of the rural poor at the forest-agricultural interface’ – which is conducted as part of an international consortium of different organizations. ASSETS is part of the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation initiative (ESPA) funded by DFID, NERC and ESRC from the UK. ASSETS investigates the relations between ecosystem services, food security and the nutritional health of rural and indigenous communities from the Lower Caqueta basin and Ucayali, located in the Colombian and Peruvian Amazon respectively, as well as in Lake Chilwa catchment area, in Malawi. It is planned to further develop research with the main objective being to have a better understanding of the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystem services to food security and nutrition in impoverished rural areas, and ultimately the implications of ecosystem services for the wellbeing of the rural poor.

Children ready for lunch in Kalasin, Northeast Thailand (Photo: Gisella S. Cruz-Garcia)

Children ready for lunch in Kalasin, Northeast Thailand (Photo: Gisella S. Cruz-Garcia)

About the author:

Dr. Gisella S. Cruz-Garcia is Social Scientist at the Ecosystem Services Research Theme part of the Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area (DAPA) at CIAT. She joined CIAT in December 2012.

Original blog post:

Ecosystem services and food security: a new line of investigation
http://dapa.ciat.cgiar.org/ecosystem-services-and-food-security-a-new-line-of-investigation/

Links to related blogs:

The role of ecosystem services on food security and nutrition in the Amazon (Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog, CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems):

http://wle.cgiar.org/blogs/2013/05/22/the-role-of-ecosystem-services-on-food-security-and-nutrition-in-the-amazon/

Researchers travel to the Colombian Amazon to understand the relations between ecosystem services, food security and health using participatory methods:

http://dapa.ciat.cgiar.org/participatory-methods-on-ecosystem-services-in-the-colombian-amazon/

Weeds: are they really undesirable?: http://dapa.ciat.cgiar.org/weeds-are-they-really-undesirable/

References:

FAO (1996) Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. World Food Summit: Rome, Italy; pp.13-17.

FAO (2008) An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security. EC-FAO Food Security Programme: Rome, Italy.

Cockerels, Elephants and Baobab trees

by Amy Nicholass, University of Southampton Master Student

My experience of Malawi is of two landscapes, the human settled areas and the wilder Liwonde National Park, protected from human encroachment. The contrasts are evident across all the sights and sounds.

Cockerels seem to me to be abundant in southern Malawi.  The ‘cockadoodledo’ is frequently heard throughout the day. This has become such a familiar part of my Malawian sound-scape that their absence from the time-frozen Liwonde National Park was noticeable. Zomba and village life are full of music from singing, radios, churches and mosque calls. In Liwonde National Park we were responsible for the most noise. Our minibus clunking over the uneven trail accompanied by our excited muffled squeals when we saw elephants and other species we were proud to spot amongst the dense undergrowth or could pick out from their successful camouflage in the soft, fine grasses that hide them as they lie and chew the cud. When the engine stopped, the variety of bird calls and rustling of grasses and leaves were loud and we would listen with concentration hoping to hear hippo or elephants. Experiencing an elephant trumpeting was an intimidating sound, a natural version of the honking minibus and taxi drivers we more commonly experience in civilization perhaps?

In Zomba town, huge trees line the main road, shading the pathways and breaking up their uneven, rusty red surfaces with roots, as if improvising steps for the traveller more accustomed to smooth tarmac. These trees of cathedral proportion are however, the exception. Even massive root balls are dug out of the ground here to burn as charcoal. In the village forests trees over toddler age are hard to come by but shade and fruit producing mangoes are decades old in cropland and by homes. Exotic, fast growing eucalyptus trees oust natives from the forests and provide perfect firewood and building material a stone’s throw from front doors. Driving through Liwonde National Park I was in awe of the diversity of native tree species I had not yet seen, clearly reaching their potential. Full canopies spread wide, at ease with their neighbours of varying shades of green and yellow, interspersed with trees of pure white and naked of leaves, appearing starkly skeletal amongst the vibrant colour. Then there are the majestic, yet clumsy looking baobab trees. Having only seen one in a village, to see them in number sporadically spaced across the horizon like stocky grey sentinels watching out for invasion over the grassland far below, them made a lasting impression upon me.

© Marcus & Kate Westberg

http://www.globespots.com – © Marcus & Kate Westberg

I now understand why they are referred to as the ‘upside down tree’. It really does seem like they were dropped from a height and the trunk plunged into the ground crown-first with the bare roots reaching out into the sky. These seemed to me to be the elephants of the tree world and some were copper in colour, slightly iridescent with climbing lianas as thick as a man’s arm connecting them to nearby trees that appear strangled as if by a python. Village trees are often sparse and uniform in arrangement for ease of human use. The wild trees in Liwonde find their own patterns and there is a distinct lack of bananas and citrus trees. Pathways are forced through the undergrowth by elephant brute force rather than sheer numbers of humans or their machete skills. Whereas trees in villages have their bark removed in small patches for medicinal use or are cut in places for building materials for people, in the park baobabs can seem perhaps gutted by scratching elephants that shred outer layers of bark to reveal the pale innards. Colourful flowers are more apparent in the Zomba and the villages, Liwonde perhaps bursting into colour when the rains come again.

As we wound along the Liwonde park trail we passed through several different habitats, some with thick, dense woodland that could hide a family of elephants and you have to double take a large grey rock just in case it moves. Interspersed was an area of more open woodland. Next we happened across a stunning wide, open vista of shimmering lake and wetland with warthogs, wading hippos and distant bathing elephants, perfectly framed with palm trees.  Impressive termite mounds crop up all over the place in the park but are less frequent on the villages as they apparently use the high quality termite-processed soil for bricks. Birds that I did recognise in the towns and villages were the crows, storks, pigeons and many colourful chickens with chicks in tow. In Liwonde park many more exotic birds were noticeable, the prehistoric looking hornbill, tiny green lovebirds, black birds that looked iridescent blue when they flew, black and white kingfishers and tiny songbirds. Far from a pristine environment, people are still present in Liwonde, as park rangers, tourists or villagers passing through. I feel privileged to have experienced a wilder version of Malawi and to have seen what the country would have been like without the current levels of deforestation which make the mountain sides appear bare in some areas.

Participatory Rural Appraisals – the reality

by Oriole Wagstaff, University of Southampton Master Student

After hours of training, and planning methods, there was still a level of uncertainty about how exactly the Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRA) would unfold within the Malawian villages. The drive through the first village, like much of Malawi, was not only amidst beautiful landscapes but filled with hard working people and children; relentless in their smiling and waving, whilst chasing our bus. Malawi, as a nation meets its reputation as being welcoming and friendly. This, as always, eased any anxieties. Still, knowing what to expect about the formalities or procedures of how to introduce a PRA was difficult. When we arrived in the first village the greetings began. I had learnt beforehand, and after extra practice with our translators, the appropriate greetings in Chichewa. The headman especially was amused by this, much to our delight. Everyone introduced themselves and this ritual of greetings set off the first day of PRA’s.

PRA in Malawi - September 2012 (c) Carlos Torres-Vitolas

PRA in Malawi – September 2012 (c) Carlos Torres-Vitolas

Our first PRA experience was great. The participants were interested and keen to help. Their ability to speak English, and read maps, made for a smooth first session. The next few days revealed the real nature of PRA’s – unpredictability. Often people turn up at varying times, and it is almost impossible to predict the number that will arrive.  Regardless, all our PRA’s have for the most part generated discussions. This is the element of PRA’s that I enjoy the most; hearing the experiences that people have to share. As farfetched or shocking as they are these are the stories that I always hope to hear.

The initial PRA’s also revealed the first glimpse of data lost in translation. Our translator spoke Chichewa and English brilliantly. However, when a group of women started speaking in Yao (another tribal dialect) we were all a bit lost. Nevertheless this was easily solved. Translating the words for certain animals often proves difficult however where no translation actually exists. This was sometimes overcome by using images or describing the characteristics (as much as we could without actually have seen any ourselves) yet this sometimes increased confusion. At times, this planted a seed of doubt in our research about whether the participants were discussing the animal we were noting down. This doubt was often added to when varying groups of both men and women produced different answers. Nevertheless this provided insight into how perceptions of game, pollinators, pests and pest control vary.

Another unexpected element of PRA’s arose in the fairly awkward arrival of unforeseen members that didn’t meet the requirements. The open and casual nature of these discussions means that any curious passer-by could sit down with the participants. This seems to be a common occurrence in multiple villages and inevitably leads to the awkward situation of having to ask unexpected members to leave. Nevertheless this often made for a serendipitous occasion whereby we gained more participants for the next day. Interestingly group dynamics seem to change with the addition of only a few members and as I learnt recently any number above seven does not prove successful. In this particular case the group split in to two opposing groups who were particularly keen on playful debates around almost every comment the others made.

It is hard to ignore in such hard working communities a level of guilt and discomfort in taking people away from work. Often the underlying intention to improve food security through this research, without direct and physical benefits, can be hidden by the somewhat unusual nature of our discussion points. In turn, without immediate visible actions, these PRA’s understandably are an opportunity to gain something through compensation. This, as only a token of compensation for their time, has led to a range of reactions within all 3 villages we have encountered thus far. From vast gratitude, to reluctance to get involved, it is evident that compensation is key motivation behind involvement. Justifiably, negative reactions tend to arise from wanting greater visible actions or compensation, highlighting that the nature of our research is not immediate.

Nevertheless, generally people tend to enjoy the experience. Not only are PRA’s an opportunity to widen knowledge around our research, participants highlight their own appreciation of learning from us. This is a particularly wholesome thought and one that I hope works in both directions. Regarding the larger and often more dangerous animals, people take pleasure in sharing their own close encounters. It is impossible to ignore the wider, often cultural lessons learnt from the discussions. So far I have heard stories of magic and mystery, caution and danger, and if you are lucky, sometimes even witness some miming. This also highlighted my dependence on interpreting body language which, to my dismay, has proved fairly ineffective at interpreting some of the more intriguing stories.

Of the 10 PRA’s I have carried out so far not one has been the same as another.  Every PRA is an experience that reveals something new. The language barrier can at times be infuriating and I resent my ignorance of this language; a lesson I will learn for future research. Whether it is learning about the place and it’s people, the faults in PRA’s or the awkward encounters, PRA’s act as a platform for village stories, experiences, frustrations and education. They are definitely an experience and it is in fact their unpredictable nature with such a variety of people that makes them worthwhile.

Then and now, here and there

by Jessica Weyell, University of Southampton Master Student

Seven years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Malawi as a part of the charity, Malawi Education Link, set up by Caroline Hansford. Caroline was a teacher at my school (Hinchingbrooke Secondary School), who took a team of students to Malawi annually. The aim of our trip was to build teachers houses, schools and decorate the schools with educational aids. This year, I returned to a different region in Malawi, to conduct research alongside the ASSETS project. When visiting with school, I stayed in Dwangwa, by Lake Malawi, where I would regularly lye on the beach looking at the stars and wake up early to watch the sun rise over the lake with the fishermen securing their first catch of the day. This time we are staying in the Zomba district, a bustling and vibrant town in the picturesque south of Malawi surrounded by mountains.

Whilst I have no idea what Dwangwa is like now, Malawi seems very different today compared to seven years ago or, at least how I remember it being seven years ago.

The greatest difference so far is the number of mobile phones!! When I came with school, very few Malawians owned a mobile. There would be one person in each village that owned a phone. If people needed to use the phone, they would pay this person to use their mobile. Today, nearly everyone owns a mobile. Frequently, during a participatory rural appraisal, discussion will be disrupted by someone’s phone ringing. This change has made arranging visits to villages much easier as you can ring to make arrangements the next day rather than relying on a message being passed-on or a promise being kept. The latter is sometimes hard because of plans changing uncontrollably, such as a funeral having to take place.

Another striking difference is the value of the kwacha to the pound. When I visited with school, the exchange rate was around 270-280kwa to the pound. I would regularly think that something sounded so expensive when it was 600kwa, but would quickly remember that this was less than £2. Today, the exchange rate is around 500-520kwa to the pound. Despite only spending four weeks in Malawi previously, I still find this hard to remember and when items are priced at 1000kwa it takes a moment to remember that this is still only around £2. Further to this, the cost of living has also gone up. Previously, a glass bottle of coke would cost the equivalent of ~10p today; it costs the equivalent of ~25p. I have no idea if wages have changed to compensate for this increase in cost and it is difficult to judge as the wealth of the regions appear to be quite different. However, it would still appear that to purchase a glass bottle of coke is an expensive purchase for the rural villagers. Although, when I visited before, it was cheaper to buy soft drinks such as Coke, Fanta and Sprite that it was to buy water. Today, whilst water is still slightly more expensive, prices are far more comparable. In addition to the value of the kwacha to the pound, Malawi has also changed their notes since I visited last. Consequently, I still have money as a memento of my previous trip as they stopped excepting them in May of this year. The notes used to be much bigger and varied in size depending on their value. Today, they are all uniform size.

Furthermore, the region I visited in the past was fairly rural and relied quite heavily on fishing in Lake Malawi and sugar cane farming for their income. The area had a large sugar factory, which I was lucky enough to visit, that had fields and fields of irrigated sugar cane. In the villages I visited, there appeared to be mainly subsistence farming. I was lucky enough to sit with a group of people as we took the maize off the cob ready to grind into flour. I spent most of my time off the beaten track in the bush, moving bricks from kilns and transporting them to schools that were located away from the villages so as to be positioned centrally. Today, the area I am visiting is more urban, with a University nearby. The villages rely on farming for their income and it is focused around rice and maize. However, all the villages so far appear to have a diverse range of crops and, even livestock, for additional income and subsistence. Schools are also often located within the villages we are visiting. Consequently, the villages I am currently visiting appear to be wealthier than where I visited previously. However, I do not feel I have been able to get to know the areas as well due to conducting focused research.

Another difference between the regions is the facilities available. Zomba is lined with bakeries, clothes shops, chain-stores and even contains a permanent market. It also has medical centres, restaurants, numerous banks and more petrol stations in a mile long stretch than fast food chains in a UK city centre. Due to it being such a busy region with a university, there are many white faces and our group is not a novelty. Further from the centre of town, the roads are lined with many little tuck-shops and bustling markets. Dawangwa, on the other hand, was virtually empty in comparison offering only one grocery store and a modest market two days a week with no petrol stations or bakeries. It was not a very touristy area and people frequently thought we were painting ourselves white when putting on sun-cream as they rarely saw white people. However, in both regions, the rural populations still shout “mzungu” after us as we drive through.

Despite the many differences between both places and time, the similarities are the most striking to me. I am pleased that the nostalgia from my previous trip is perfectly justified as many of my observations and experiences from Dawanga have been the same in Zomba. Nights are filled with avoiding mosquito bites and, dining on colourful and tasty African cuisine. Mornings are populated with monkeys waking you up whilst running on the roof and, cold showers to wake you up. However, the best similarities take place during the day. I am extremely fond of the “African Massage” that I have received twice a day, driving on bumpy roads on car seats with little padding. Villagers live in the most modest of houses, with the vast majority lacking access to electricity and running water. Many children walk bare foot, dressed in clothes with rips but their faces are nearly always fixed with a smile. The villages have a great sense of community and treat people with the greatest respect and politeness. They are always pleased to greet us and, are eager to provide us with new knowledge.

As a nation that appears to have so little in comparison to us, they are some of the most happy and inspiring people you could meet. They work hard to obtain what they can and appear to be so pleased with the little they do gain despite the hard effort. They are humble and generous and I am pleased to see that Malawi still lives up to its name as the warm heart of Africa.

ESPA Director visits ASSETS Malawi project

Professor Paul van Gardingen, Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Director spent the first week of June 2013 in Zomba visiting ESPA ASSETS research sites and meeting with communities. Paul’s visit coincided with the College’s 40th anniversary and alumni reunion. As part of the celebration, the Director gave an interview on MBC TV in which he bemoaned the loss of forests and ecosystem services in Malawi and enthused how the ASSETS Malawi project will meet the country at the point of need.

Read this news item in the Faculty of Science Bimonthly Bulletin, University of Malawi.

Kids photographers

by Emma Green, University of Southampton Master Student

 

Today we visited the first village that we will be working in. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the village. I imagined the village to be quite small and compact but in reality this particular village stretched up to the top of the mountain and the houses seemed quite spread out. When we arrived we were greeted with lots of friendly curious faces.

Our group was given a tour around the village with many children in tow before they discovered our cameras … at this point we were no longer the main attraction and the children lined up for photos before running over to see what they looked like. Harriet, Sophie and I then let the children loose with our cameras; the end result was as follows – a Malawian village from a child’s perspective:

Then there were the not so successful attempts:

 

Things I have noticed about Malawi

by Sophie Van Eetvelt, University of Southampton Master Student

 

I have now spent 5 days in Malawi, and already feel qualified to share some of the differences and quirks that I have noticed here. Myself and the other researchers I’m with are staying in the city of Zomba (which is more like a small town by British standards), and this might give a slightly skewed viewpoint of the country as a whole as it is relatively wealthy and the national centre for learning. Nevertheless in just a few short days we’ve all been thrown into Malawian culture and experienced a good insight into life in this fascinating little country.

#1 There is music everywhere

Malawians seem to love their music. It blares from cars and pick-ups, shops and houses. Where we are staying we either hear the gospel voices of the next door choir, the prayers of the local mosque or the radio playing from our pick-up or nearby houses. Even upon visiting the first of the villages in a rural setting, our driver did not turn down his blaring music and no one seemed perturbed by the sound. And during a tour we were given of the village the local houses played the radio through speakers.

#2 The people remain proud of their tribal heritage

Bringing up the topic of tribes to a group of Malawians is likely to ensure an animated discussion. People are loyal to the tribe that their family belongs to and each one seems to carry with it certain characteristics, for example fierce warriors or hard workers. These make for the same kind of friendly joking and rivalry that could be compared to what we see in Britain between the different regions and countries.

#3 The fruit and vegetables taste better

A disgusting volume of fresh produce in the UK is thrown away before reaching the supermarket simply because it does not conform to the ideal shape or colour. It is refreshing to wander through the market in Zomba and see piles of small and bent carrots, brown-speckled oranges and tiny gnarled potatoes. But even more importantly – they taste far better than in the UK! The oranges are sweeter and the carrots are more flavoursome.

#4 Bikes are used to their full potential

Travelling from the airport in Blantyre to our accommodation in Zomba demonstrated just how much the nation uses bikes in everyday life. They are everywhere, and often heavily and precariously loaded with firewood, chickens or charcoal. Along the roadsides were many bicycle repair stands and I saw countless people fixing various components. Whilst the nature to which they are used can be dangerous along busy roads, it made me realise how little we use bikes in the UK and how much more we could get out of them!

#5 The people are polite and respectful

Malawi is well-known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’, and I can certainly see where this description comes from. Greetings are a BIG thing here. Even the children we met in the village ran up and shook our hands saying ‘Nice to meet you’ and ‘Muli bwanji’ (the Chichewa equivalent). When meeting someone for the first time it is customary to give them a warm handshake and introduce yourself. And everywhere we go we are told that we are ‘most welcome’. We’ve yet to meet a village Chief or Headman but will do so this week as we begin our work in the villages.

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I’m hoping to add to this list in the coming weeks that I’m here and look forward to discovering more of Malawi’s character and customs.

Southampton students off to Malawi

A group of seven students from the University of Southampton took off to Malawi last week. They will work alongside with the national and international ASSETS researchers but are independently funded Masters and PhD students. We understand that such an interaction is of great benefit to the students themselves, as well as the colleagues in Malawi and the wider ASSETS team. The student results will be meaningful by themselves but add value to the ASSETS core research.

We are looking forward to exciting blog posts from the students over the few next weeks. They will be categorised ‘associated-students‘.

Read about this in the Faculty of Science Bimonthly Bulletin, University of Malawi.

The role of ecosystem services on food security and nutrition in the Amazon

It is now well established that it is imperative to understand how and under which circumstances ecosystem services contribute directly and indirectly to human well-being, including food security, nutrition and health of the rural poor. Food, nutrition and health of small-scale farming families throughout the world depend to a major extent on the benefits obtained from nature, ranging from the provision of a wide diversity of food resources, fuel-wood for cooking and medicinal plants, to the sustenance of agriculture and disaster risk reduction.

Indigenous community in Lower Caqueta basin, Colombian Amazon. Photo: Gisella S. Cruz-Garcia

 

In this regard, the project ‘Managing ecosystem services for food security and the nutritional health of the rural poor at the forest-agricultural interface’, also called ASSETS, was established with the aim to document the relations between ecosystem services, food security and the nutritional health of local communities living in the forest-agriculture interface. The project analyses ecosystem services through the lens of FAO’s four pillars of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability, along a gradient of deforestation. Three contrasting places were chosen for ASSETS: the lower Caqueta basin in the Colombian Amazon, the Ucayali region in the Peruvian Amazon, and the Lake Chilwa catchment in Malawi. The several rural communities chosen in these study sites not only show differential access to forest resources, but also face, to different degrees, the consequences of deforestation, new agricultural production alternatives and extreme climatic events such as floods and droughts.

There is almost an absence of deforestation in the Lower Caqueta where indigenous communities from various ethnic groups depend, to a major extent, on forest resources to satisfy their basic needs. In this region, Yucuna, Tanimuca, Cubeo, Miraña and Macuna families practice hunting, gathering, fishing and slash-and-burn agriculture. Their diet is composed by cassava with fish (or wild animals) and they consume a wide diversity of wild and domesticated fruits. They build their houses and craft diverse utensils, such as baskets and brooms, using forest plant resources.

Image prepared by Alejandro Coca

 

Conversely, although Ucayali is also part of the Amazon basin, it presents an alarming rate of on-going deforestation as observed in satellite images (i.e. by Terra-i) and reflected in adaptive livelihood strategies of mestizo and indigenous (Shipibo-Conibo) communities. Despite the fact that Pucallpa has suffered a high and sustained pressure on its forests during the past decades (due to e.g. illegal logging, palm oil and livestock expansion), there are still major forest resources, playing a crucial role for local livelihoods and disaster risk reduction, which surely need to be conserved. At the same time, communities in Ucayali present diverse levels of dependency on forest-related ecosystem services, for instance, varying with the access to markets and forests.

On the other hand, Lake Chilwa catchment has been already dramatically deforested and local communities struggle day to day to fulfil their basic needs. Moreover, extreme events such as droughts and soil degradation aggravate the situation in this region.

ASSETS is interdisciplinary by nature, including the use of participatory methods, household and dietary surveys, modelling, economic valuation and risk analysis, aimed at investigating the three major research themes:

  • Drivers, pressures and linkages between food security, nutritional health and ecosystem services;
  • Crises and tipping points involving past, present and future interactions between food insecurity and ecosystem services at the forest-agriculture interface;
  • and the science-policy interface.

The outputs of this study will ultimately propose alternative types of ecosystem services management to be reflected on the adoption of adequate multi-sectorial policies (health and food policies, ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation strategies) that reduce food insecurity, increase nutritional health, and ultimately improve the well-being of the poorest families living in the forest-agriculture interface.

The project will permit us to understand how benefits provided by ecosystems in the forest-agriculture interface are allocated within and across communities. This knowledge is expected to contribute to the design of better policies and practices that aim to achieve a sustainable, efficient, and equitable allocation of water, land and other resources that are main topics of interests of CGIAR Water, Land and Ecosystems Program (WLE). Undoubtedly, other WLE projects and initiatives will benefit of the different types of analyses and models to be developed in order to understand the ecosystem services versus food security and nutritional health linkage.

This project is conducted by an international consortium including the University of Southampton, theInternational Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Conservation International, the Basque Center for Climate Change and the University of Malawi Chancellor College. ASSETS is part of the ESPA initiative funded by DFIDNERC and ESRC from the UK; and belongs to the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.

Research at CIAT is led by the Ecosystem Services Research Theme part of the Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area, and is conducted in the Colombian and Peruvian sites. We are starting to get the first results from the field in Colombia and we are coordinating the start of fieldwork activities in Peru. There are three more years to go for ASSETS and much more to come.

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Please find the original post at the blog of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). The program combines the resources of 11 CGIAR centers and numerous international, regional and national partners to provide an integrated approach to natural resource management research. It is led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Authors are Gisella Cruz Garcia and Marcela Quintero.

Forests and trees are essential for global food security

Conference Banners at FAO Headquarters (c)Carolin Bothe-Tews

Conference Banners at FAO Headquarters (c)Carolin Bothe-Tews

Trees are more than just forest and wood use. At an international conference at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, 400 experts from 100 countries discussed the importance of trees for food security. It became clear what a complex role forests, agroforestry systems and even individual trees can play for food security.

Under the title ‘Forests for food security and nutrition’, the FAO in partnership with the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the World Bank and Bioversity International organised the first international conference on the subject of forests and food security. Participants in the conference, which was held at the FAO headquarters in Rome, ranged from representatives of indigenous peoples to representatives from politics, civil society, national and international organisations, universities and research institutes to the private sector.

In his opening address, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva called for greater recognition of the contribution forests make to food security and nutrition for the rural population. He was supported in this by high-ranking speakers, such as David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition, Gabriel Tchango, Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forests, and others.

Insects and other forest resources important to two billion people

At the conference opening, the new FAO study Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security was presented, emphasising the importance of one of the primary sources of nutritious and high-protein food from the forest – edible insects. Insects are part of traditional nutrition for some two billion people worldwide. Gathering or breeding and marketing insects provide both jobs and income.

The three-day conference offered a rich selection of papers, discussions, publications, side events and opportunities for networking on all aspects of the topic of food security and nutrition through resources from the forest ecosystem.

A conference statement emphasised the direct and indirect benefits that forests, trees outside forests and agroforestry systems bring for food security and nutrition for millions of people worldwide. Direct benefits include consumption and sale of products harvested in forests and the animals hunted there, and indirect benefits take the form of jobs and income opportunities, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Besides the importance of ‘forest foods’ (leaves, seeds, nuts, honey, fruit, mushrooms, insects and other forest creatures), the forest ecosystem also plays an enormous role as a source of fodder and firewood. 2.6 billion people rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking. The traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and other local communities has priceless value for worldwide food security and nutrition, and strengthens the resistance of communities to the impacts of climate change and social transformation.

Forests and their resources are rarely incorporated into development strategies

Over-utilisation of resources, soil degradation, lack of land use planning, inadequate intersectoral coordination between ministries and incorporation into national development strategies were identified as the most important challenges and bottlenecks. Often, there is little investment in research, and data is not available to generate effective policy decision-making. Inefficient technologies in the use of wood as an energy source in particular can lead to health problems for users, particularly women and children worldwide, and high levels of emissions.

Secure titles to land and regulations which secure use rights and access to trees are especially important. The Voluntary Guidelines of the Committee on World Food Security for Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests are a good beginning. All this offers agricultural producers additional incentives for investment. However, it also requires microfinance systems for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

More qualified and better paid jobs in the forestry sector would also be significant to make working conditions more attractive. SMEs have high potential here, and can be particularly interesting as a source of jobs for women.

The conference closed with a number of recommendations, which cannot all be listed here. They include broader partnership between the various parties involved, consistent application of the voluntary guidelines mentioned above, establishing strong structures in rural areas, strengthening women’s rights, improved use of the knowledge of local populations, and also establishing and strengthening producer cooperatives.

This text is taken from: RURAL21 – The International Journal for Rural Development

Update, September 2013: All conference presentations are now online at the conference website.

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