Mapping Ecosystem Services for Agricultural Improvement and Human Health in Sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: IBERS


The broad remit of this proposal is the development of tools for Managing Ecosystem Services for Health and Agricultural Improvement in sub-Saharan Africa. Within this sphere of activity, this Partnership and Project Development proposal will draw together a trans-disciplinary team capable of: Quantifying and mapping the links between the ecosystem services and the health and well-being of the people who depend upon them Modelling the impacts of changes to the ecosystem upon the population dependant upon its 'services' including climate change Developing practical responses to both existing and potential problems, aimed at reducing impacts upon the ecosystem and alleviating poverty and health problems through sympathetically improved agriculture; and Delivering these tools to those responsible for formulating policy and making decisions at the African research and policy levels. This consortium will work together to develop a full proposal along the above lines for submission under the ESPA Health Theme. The trans-disciplinary approach of this project will enable researchers from different disciplines and key actors to develop a common vision, while preserving the richness and strength of their respective areas of knowledge. By adopting this approach at the outset the research team will avoid carrying out parallel studies whose results are pooled only at the end. The integration of knowledge and the mutual adoption of a common language and common goals, will take place during the development phase, while the research problems are being defined.
Description This was a Partnership and Project Development Award to put together a new south-south/north-south network of researchers, whose aim was to plan a major proposal for submission to the ESPA program. This was achieved and although the major proposal was ultimately not funded, the network has carried on and new collaborations have resulted.

Our central question was how can we intensify agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa (sSA) in a sustainable manner so that risk of disease is not increased (i.e. potentially more malaria from new irrigation) nor compromise ecosystem services arising from what is currently natural or low-intensity managed land.

We adopted a cross-sector, transdisciplinary approach, with workshops in Africa led by African, Canadian and UK experts in agri-biotech, public health, epidemiology, demography, ecology, environment and ecosystem service economics, facilitated by a representative of the Global Environment Facility.

It was clear that the best approach to our question was synthesis of existing data and models combined with new, publicly available datasets (e.g. latest generation satellite remote sensing products). However a gap in data/knowledge remains the relationship among nutrition, health and ecosystem services in poor/vulnerable populations in sSA, both directly (e.g. unfarmed food) and indirectly (e.g. water for fisheries). This requires a major study with large cohorts in several populations across sSA. Key to this will be the development of rapid social-science census and new, affordable biomarkers for nutritional status that can be sampled within routine clinical surveillance in large cohort studies already underway.

Our proposal received good reviews from peers but was criticised for lack of political economy; in other words the context of governance/policy needed to make any conclusions relevant for action. We have since brought political scientists into our group and are developing new projects within our broad theme. In particular, our deliberations highlighted a) the need for transdisciplnary working, and b) that most scientists and their research organisations (in which we include ourselves) are not currently geared to this way of working. Subsequent meetings to challenge these issues has led to two policy/methodology papers (one in press) and a presentation at a global forum.
Exploitation Route The general cross-sector approach proved feasible and exciting, in dialogue and on paper at least, although this needs to be further expanded to include political economy. It is clear we need to link food production, human health in poor/vulnerable communities, poverty and ecosystem services quantitatively in sSA. Conventional disciplinary approaches or even partial interdisciplinary studies will not achieve the required synthesis.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment