Exploring the ecosystem limits to poverty alleviation in African forest-agriculture landscapes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE

Abstract

Agricultural development is a major pathway out of poverty in rural Africa. The cultivation of cash crops for sale alongside subsistence crops helps improve livelihoods and alleviate poverty in rural communities. The productivity of these farming systems relies on services provided by the agro-ecosystem within which they occur. These services include fertile soils, the control of pests and diseases, and crop pollination by wild animals. We know that some agricultural systems can damage these services in the longer-term - soil fertility declines, pest and disease outbreaks become more common, pollination levels are reduced. This means that although rural livelihoods might be improved by agricultural development in the short-term, ecosystem degradation and the associated loss of ecosystem services might threaten these gains in the medium to long-term.

Has agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa exceeded the capacity of ecosystems to support it? If so, what implications does this have for poor people in rural communities? Are there pathways rural communities might choose to take that enable them to benefit from agriculture-based livelihoods without risking longer-term ecosystem damage? Answering these questions is currently very difficult because a comprehensive understanding of the relationships between agricultural development, wealth distribution and socio-economic opportunity, governance systems, and ecosystem health is largely lacking for the smallholder farming systems typical of sub-Saharan Africa. There is, therefore, a major research challenge in this area that our proposed project aims to address.

We plan to explore the ecosystem limits to poverty alleviation in African forest-agriculture landscapes. Specifically, we plan to focus our work on a cocoa farming landscape in Ghana, and a coffee farming landscape in Ethiopia. Ghana and Ethiopia provide an opportunity to study forest-agriculture ecosystems that have contrasting recent development trajectories, levels of rural poverty and ecosystem health. In Ghana, agricultural development has significantly contributed to improved rural livelihoods but may have pushed forest-agriculture ecosystems beyond their limits; whereas in Ethiopia agricultural development is an important potential pathway out of poverty for the rural poor but it is unlikely to have pushed ecosystems beyond their limits yet.

By studying these contrasting situations, we hope to provide the scientific evidence that helps rural communities avoid the potentially detrimental effects of ecosystem degradation and hence have more sustainable livelihoods in the longer-term. To do this, we plan to explore (i) the limits to the services provided by forest-agriculture ecosystems resulting from agricultural expansion and intensification; (ii) the key social processes that maintain forest-agriculture ecosystems within these limits or move them beyond them; (iii) the role poverty plays in the processes that determine whether or not ecosystem limits are reached and exceeded; and whether ecosystem limits in turn affect poverty; and (iv) the potential pathways out of poverty rural communities might take; the potential risks ecosystem limits pose to these pathways; and how communities might act to reduce or minimize these risks.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from our research?

The ultimate beneficiaries of our research will be poor people and local communities in rural areas in Ethiopia, Ghana and more widely in Africa whose lives and livelihoods depend upon forest-agriculture ecosystems. Our project aims to identify who in these communities is most dependent upon or vulnerable to ecosystem change in terms of poverty alleviation. We also plan to determine how these dependencies and vulnerabilities may change across communities in the future for better or for worse. In this way, our project will produce important contextual information about the specific groups of people in rural communities who are likely to benefit most from our research.

An important organisation that will benefit directly from our research is the Nature Conservation Research Centre (NCRC), who are an NGO based in Ghana working with local rural communities, and policy and decision-makers in Government, NGOs and business on a variety of issues related to the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources. They are a co-applicant of our proposal.

Our work will benefit policy and decision-makers in Government, NGOs and business who have an interest in agriculture, environment and rural development in the context of forest-agriculture ecosystems in Ethiopia and Ghana, and ultimately more widely in Africa.

Our project focuses on forest-agriculture ecosystems in Africa that cultivate important cash crops such as cocoa and coffee, so consumers of chocolate and coffee products could potentially benefit from our research.

How will these groups benefit from our research?

Understanding whether farm management practices are likely to push forest-agriculture ecosystems beyond their limits to sustain these practices is challenging because ecosystem changes can be relatively slow, complex and non-linear. Our project is designed to unravel this complexity in a way that enables farmers to better understand the relationships between their farming activities and ecosystem services, and potentially avoid any adverse impacts of ecosystem degradation. It will also help individual farmers and their communities to plan more effectively for change by developing a process that enables them to consider the potential economic, social and ecological consequences associated with a series of possible future actions. Ultimately, we aim to enable rural communities to make more sustainable decisions about how they manage and develop their agriculture-based livelihoods. Within our project, we plan to work directly with rural communities associated with our study landscapes, but we will also develop plans with policy and decision-makers in Government, NGOs and business to engage with rural communities more widely in Ethiopia, Ghana and potentially elsewhere beyond the lifetime of our ESPA project.

We plan to establish NCRC as a regional knowledge hub with expertise on the links between agriculture, environment and development that they can then use to provide improved assistance and advice to rural communities, policy and decision-makers, business and civil society in Africa within and beyond our ESPA project. Our research provides the major evidence-base for this work, and NCRC's active participation in our research provides hands-on experience for key members of its staff.

Decisions by Government, NGOs or business in the areas of agriculture, environment or development often focus on issues within these areas rather than on the inter-dependencies between them. The new knowledge generated by our research provides the evidence-base that enables decision-makers to consider issues in a more integrated way. This has potential implications for Government policy, assistance and advice given by NGOs, and sourcing policies by agri-buisness.

Our research provides new knowledge that potentially helps consumers make more informed decisions about the food and drink products they purchase.
 
Description In Ghana we have demonstrated that shade management the use of dead plant material to improve pollinator midge populations can have a positive effect on cocoa yields.
Exploitation Route We are liaising with local partners in Ghana and Ethiopia to influence policy plans around climate change adaptation in the cocoa and coffee sectors.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

URL http://www.ecolimits.org/
 
Description The work is still ongoing, but we are working closely with local communities in Ghana and Ethiopia, and with regional governments, to provide insight into how to manage coffee and cocoa landscapes under climate change. In Ghana we have developed a model of the links between farm ecological status and the potential to improve yields through shade tree, dead biomass and fertiliser management, and how this link through to some aspects of poverty alleviation. We are beginning a similar analysis with our Ethiopia coffee study, where we find that nitrogen limitation seems to be a key factor in limiting yields. The Ghana work has directly influenced government thinking on climate change adaptation in the cocoa industry.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Socio-ecological response and resilience to El Niño shocks :The case of coffee and cocoa agroforestry landscapes in Africa
Amount £26,001 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P00394X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 10/2017
 
Description Partnership with Nature Conservation Research Centre, Ghana 
Organisation Nature Conservation Research Centre (NCRC)
Country Ghana 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have successfully implemented joint research in Ghana and Ethiopia, and held a number of joint workshops with policy makers
Collaborator Contribution The implemented field work and organised policy workshops and engagement with stakeholders
Impact Joint publications, policy and stakeholder workshops in Ethiopia and Ghana
Start Year 2010
 
Description EcoLimits Research Impact Meeting held in Ambassador Hotel, Bole, Addis Ababa, 27 February 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We held a one day workshop in Addis Ababa to present the findings from 3 years of coffee monitoring around the Yayu Biosphere Reserve. The majority of attendees were members of relevant government agencies and national NGOs. We had a very constructive afternoon session of discussion following a morning of presenting our results. We were given positive feedback regarding the work we produced as well as requests for additional research along the same vein.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description End of project workshop in Accra, Ghana in October 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We held a two day workshop to discuss outputs of our work with key national policy influencers.There was much interest in our output and a clear path outlined to influence Ghana's national strategy on climate smart cocoa farming.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Interviewed as expert for a Cocoa Pollinators review funded by Mars research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Ken Norris and I were asked to provide expert input into a review on the importance of pollination to the cocoa system in Ghana, which was a study funded by the Mars Corporation. We were interviewed for approximately 1 hour as part of systematic review of the literature on cocoa pollination in Ghana and expert input elicitation. It was believed we had been contacted as a direct result of the impact workshop our partners NCRC had organised in Accra in September 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Organised a workshop in Oxford titled "Workshop on ecological stresses on Coffea arabica: Comparison of in situ empirical studies", March 5-6, 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We organised a workshop where researchers from Ethiopia, UK, Germany, France and Sweden who had extensive research experience with Coffea arabica and datasets collected over similar time periods primarily in East Africa, were able to discuss in Oxford the possibility of producing comparative analyses to augment individual study results. We also planned to discuss future funding opportunities and/or other potential collaborations going forward.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Panel: Multi-dimensional poverty and tree crops in African agroforest systems (Organised by Dr. Morel and Dr. Hirons). Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), Montpellier, France, June 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The two PDRAs on this project organised a panel and the 2016 ATBC conference on Multi-dimensional poverty and tree crops in African agroforest systems. The panel inlcuded 2 presentations related to this project and 4 other presentations. The panel sparked discussion concerning the topic in general and potential future work and collaboration. Dr. Morel was invited to ETZ to speak further about the research as a result of this activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation at FLARE (Forest & Livelihoods - Assessment, Research and Engagement) Annual Meeting. Edinburgh, UK December, 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Mark Hirons presented work entitiled: The anatomy of a cocoa-forestry landscape in Ghana - implications for formalising on-farm timber governance at the FLARE annual meeting. About 40 people, mainly researchers and students attended the talk. The presentation precipitated discussions on the issue of formalisation and timber governance, which fed into broader discussions about key forest politicies such as FLEGT and REDD+.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation titled "The limits of ecosystem services from intact forest and an agro-forestry landscape to support livelihoods from small-scale cocoa in Ghana" at the Ecological Society of America, Portland, Oregon 6-11 August, 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I presented the almost finalised results of our analysis of the smallholder cocoa system we have been monitoring. I was included in a session specifically on ecosystem services and was one of the few presenters showing results linking development benefits to an empirically derived ecological production function. Those results have since submitted as a paper currently under review in PNAS.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017