Adaptive governance of mountain ecosystem services for poverty alleviation enabled by environmental virtual observatories (MOUNTAIN-EVO)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Central Asia
Department Name: Grants Administration


The world's mountains host some of the most complex, dynamic, and diverse ecosystems. But these environments are under severe threats, ranging from local deforestation and soil degradation to global climate change. Global climate models project stronger warming at high elevations, with potentially disastrous consequences for its ecosystems services (ESS). For instance, melting glaciers alone will affect the water supply of millions people, while soil degradation and erosion put local agricultural practices in danger, but also cause water quality degradation and siltation of downstream reservoirs.

At the same time, the complexity of mountains also makes predicting the direction of future changes in ecosystem services extremely difficult. For instance, global climate models do not capture the local weather patterns, and traditional models of the natural and physical processes may not represent the extreme and region specific behaviour. This leads to large uncertainties in future predictions about mountain ESS.

Under such conditions, the value of day-to-day information about how local ecosystems behave increases sharply. Continuous monitoring of crucial ecosystem processes becomes paramount. It allows local decision-makers to flexibly change course in response to unexpected behaviour and large uncertainties. However, because of their remote location and difficult access, monitoring ESS in mountain regions tends the lag behind the rest of the world. The same remoteness and lack of access are also responsible for the propensity of mountain regions to host poor and underdeveloped communities compared to the surrounding lowlands. Lastly, mountain regions tend to be more prone to conflict, which further inhibits human development.

This project will analyse how monitoring and knowledge generation of ESS in mountain regions can be improved, and used to support a process of adaptive, polycentric governance focused on poverty alleviation. For this, we will blend cutting-edge concepts of adaptive governance with technological breakthroughs. The availability of cheap and robust sensors and communication technologies provides great opportunities for citizen science: bottom-up, user oriented data collection focused on local concerns. We will take citizen science to a next level, by integrating it in a broader framework of participatory data processing, knowledge generation and sharing. We do this by adopting the concept of Environmental Virtual Observatories (EVOs) and leverage it for poverty alleviation. We see the potential of EVOs to be decentralised and open technology platforms for knowledge generation and exchange that enable participation of marginalised and vulnerable communities bypassed by the traditional mechanisms.

Therefore, in this project we will analyse how EVOs can be used to generate knowledge and to alleviate poverty in 4 remote and poor mountain regions: the Ethiopian highlands around lake Tana, the Central Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, the Kaligandaki watershed in Northern Nepal, and the Andes of central Peru. In each location, we will collect evidence on the local decision-making processes on ESS and their local socio-economic context. At the same time, we will develop a technology toolset to enable EVO development for each case. Subsequently, the results of both processes will be brought together to implement tailored EVOs to support citizen science and local knowledge generation. We will create novel ways to interact with EVOs beyond the traditional Internet focussing on leaflets in the national language, community radios, and mobile phone applications. We will evaluate how the improved access to local observations fosters cross-scale linkages between the poor and external actors, as well as linkages between communities and marginal groups. Lastly, we will investigate how this can lead to better community awareness of environmental change and identification of pathways for poverty alleviation.

Planned Impact

Our project is designed to maximise local impact. We have a well-balanced research team, with the majority of research occurring in situ in the 4 locations. This will enable us to generate direct and locally relevant impact while minimising the required resources. Our impact strategy is based on 3 pillars of activity:

* Capacity building

The project will employ 6 local researchers (Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Peru) and enable 1 Ethiopian student to pursue a PhD at a top UK University. They will have the opportunity to work for 3 years in a global, diverse and academically excelling research team including research visits to relevant consortium institutes. This will strongly benefit their research capacity. At the same time, they will be working on very local research questions with a high potential for improving local quality of life. These are optimal conditions to create a generation of researchers that will contribute actively to the local research and development landscape, instead of moving abroad and contributing to the local brain drain.
A second target group for capacity building are local NGOs, government agencies, and communities. Our main vehicle for impact creation is the organisation of two series of workshops, near the beginning and the end of the project, respectively. These workshops will include hands-on sessions with local technicians from the project partners. The local researchers will follow up on these sessions, providing further support and capacity building throughout the project.
Lastly, all the technologies developed in WP 3.1. (Facilitating access to EVOs) will generate capacity building opportunities that will extend well beyond the lifetime of the project (see technology transfer).

* Technology transfer

Given the substantial technological component of the research, we have specific mechanisms in place for technology transfer during the project (see also Data Management):
- Monitoring equipment will be administered and taken over by the local partners. Active capacity building (see above) and educational tools based on EVO technologies will be used to improve long-term sustainability.
- EVO technologies: In each of our study regions, we have identified a local actor with an existing web-platform for data management and dissemination interested in incorporating the newly developed technologies in their system (see their respective letters of support). (1) the Tana Subbasin office of the Abbay Basin authority in Ethiopia; (2) the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology of the Government of Nepal; (3) CEDEPA Norte, CONDESAN, and the National Water Authority in Peru; and (4) the Aga Khan Development Network.
Our setup will use standards-based cloud services, thus facilitating the adoption of the new technologies and services, and minimising incompatibilities with existing infrastructure.

* Internationalisation and South - South exchange

The international setup of the project provides excellent opportunities for international impact creation and South-South exchange. As explained in the case for support, we have planned several South-South exchange activities, including an active programme for virtual exchange and workshops. CONDESAN in particular has good experience with South-South exchange, for instance through their active role in the Mountain Partnership, which is a United Nations voluntary alliance of partners dedicated to improving the lives of mountain people.
Lastly, several of the project partners are actively involved in the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) based at the University of Berne. MRI will provide linkages to several international programmes on the development of mountain regions, including their Integrated Analysis and Modeling Concerted Effort, Integrated Monitoring Concerted Effort, the alpine Long-Term Ecological Research Network, and the Research Coordination Network proposal.
Description It is the *process* of undertaking this research, particularly its participatory nature, which is beginning to have some impact on society; at least locally, i.e. within local communities and local government administrations. Individual people, on one hand, and local institutions, on the other hand, are slowly beginning to realize that they may participate more actively in the processes that affect their livelihoods and their lives - as opposed to merely being recipients or targets for extension of 'specialist knowledge' generated from often distant or external sources, Soviet style. Better understanding exactly *how* this locally lived experience is integrated or assimilated into decision-making processes, whether consciously or not, will take more time and further study. But the personal experiences of partners in the villages and districts where the ESPA project is being carried out are clearly pointing to new realization that greater local involvement in environmental monitoring and governance of natural resources is possible, and that this could contribute fruitfully to enhance poverty alleviation efforts.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment
Impact Types Societal

Description Sustainable pasture management in Kyrgyzstan. Zhyldyz Shigaeva participated in extended meeting of national Coordination Council on sustainable pasture management in Kyrgyzstan. Issues for discussion focused on improvement of pasture legislation. Organized by CAMP Alatoo, GIZ, and Ministry of Agriculture of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description MOU with GIZ 
Organisation German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ)
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Future collaboration with GIZ in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, builds tightly on the approaches trialled and findings coming out of the ESPA research project.
Collaborator Contribution Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed; now in process of negotiating specific financial contributions from GIZ (under their "Ecosystem-based Adaptation to Climate Change (EbA) in Mountains of Central Asia" project) to UCA for further expansion of ESPA-oriented research (including social and environmental monitoring) and 'citizen science' approaches in the Naryn region. Also in process of negotiating support for development of environmental exhibitions to feedback to community partners and other mountain stakeholders in the project region. (Dated: March 2017)
Impact When complete, expansion of social-ecological monitoring will have occurred in new region, informing local development options and contributing to climate change adaptation; and environmental awareness of selected communities and other local partners will take place through a mobile exhibit. Partnership is multi-disciplinary, including social and natural sciences and the use of GIS/RS technologies.
Start Year 2016
Description MOU with GSLEP 
Organisation Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program
Country Kyrgyzstan 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with UCA in 2016. GSLEP programme of work being informed, in part, by findings from the ESPA research project.
Collaborator Contribution GSLEP seeks to promote the conservation of biodiversity and enhance the sustainability of people's livelihoods in the high mountain ecosystems of Asia. Together, the partners are collaborating to develop a regional environmental management plan in the Central Tianshan "snow leopard landscape" which encompasses the upper Naryn river watershed.
Impact Development of environmental management plan in progress. Target delivery date is the occasion of the global Snow Leopard Forum, which will be hosted by the Government of Kyrgyzstan and held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in August 2017.
Start Year 2016
Description Community based workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Workshops with community stakeholders and local government decision makers.

In 2016, the following workshops were organized about dissemination of collected data within the ESPA project:
8 November 2016 - Workshop in Dobolu - 15-16 people
10 November 2016 - Workshop in Eki-Naryn -15 -16 people
11 November 16 - Workshop in Naryn (Naryn Natural Reserve) - 8 people
22 December 16 - Workshop in Naryn (NNR, Salkyn Tor, Pasture Committees, herders) - 13-14 people

In each workshop:
1. During the workshop we gave the short presentation on ESPA project and current activities
2. Disseminated the first collected data and information in form of graphics, diagrams, maps and pictures (data were collected by using WS, CyberTracker, camera traps)
3. Conducted focus group discussions on how to improve the analyzing and dissemination of data, how these data and information can be used or help to generate additional income or help in their economic activities and decision making, do community members need to collect other additional data, get their comments and feedback
4. Discussion of further steps (improvement of data dissemination, installation of screens, trainings with school teachers and school children, trainings among local partners on analyzing the data)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
Description IGU Regional Conference, Moscow 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation at IGU Regional Conference, Moscow, August 2015. Title: Improving local governance of ecosystem services through participatory monitoring systems in Naryn Kyrgyzstan. Reporting on work carried out in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan - specifically in Dobolu and Ortok villages and Naryn city; and results from local workshops and focus group discussions (about types of data are of interest to local stakeholders, and how such data should be collected and subsequently how results may be disseminated to community members).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Invited lecture at AUCA, in Bishkek 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited presentation at monthly meeting of AUCA Anthropology Club. Presentation by Altyn Kapalova, entitled "Water Resources Management in Kyrgyz Mountain Communities: Formal and Informal Actors."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Life in Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation by Lira Sagynbekova at the annual conference "Life in Kyrgyzstan." Based on household survey conducted in Dobolu rural municipality in June 2016, the study aimed to reveal the nexus between environment, livelihoods and labour migration and look at how environmental factors, climate change and socio-economic factors lead to undertake migration strategy.
Presentation title: 'Environment, Rural Livelihoods and Labour Migration in Central Kyrgyzstan.'
Conference 'Life in Kyrgyzstan' held in Bishkek, 6-7 October 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Mountain Futures Conference, in Kunming 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation about the concept, objectives and approaches within the ESPA project, with introduction of Kyrgyz case study. Focus on participatory monitoring approach and equipment used. Title: "Participatory environmental monitoring for adaptive governance of natural resources: Experiences from the 'ESPA project' in the Tian Shan Mountains, Kyrgyz Republic." Mountain Futures Conference: Nurturing seeds for change in the Anthropocene.  Kunming, March 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description World Mountain Forum, in Uganda 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation about challenges in rural livelihoods, labour migration strategy, and role of remittances in local livelihoods (how different spending patterns of remittances affect wellbeing and sustainable rural livelihoods) by Lira Sagynbekova.
Presentation title: 'Effects of labour migration on wellbeing and sustainable rural livelihoods in Kyrgyzstan'
World Mountain Forum 'Mountains for our future' held in Uganda, 17-20 October 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016