ALTER - Alternative Carbon Investments in Ecosystems for Poverty Alleviation

Lead Research Organisation: Southern Agricultural Research Institute
Department Name: Natural Resources Research Directorate


ALTER aims to demonstrate that there are real and lasting benefits for wide scale poverty alleviation, particularly for the rural poor, by tackling soil degradation at a range of spatial scales, from field to landscape, and using opportunities within agricultural as well as severely degraded land. Throughout the world, soil degradation impacts on the health, wealth and well-being of rural people in many different ways. Soils have a key supporting role in maintaining agricultural yields, water availability, water quality, resources for grazing animals and other ecosystem services. Some are perhaps less obvious but still valued such as maintaining habitats to support honey-bees and local wildlife. In Africa, soil degradation is recognised as a major constraint to alleviating poverty in rural communities. We have chosen to work in Ethiopia and Uganda where there are contrasting issues of soil degradation in mineral and organic soils are a result of agricultural land use but similar reliance in rural communities' on a range of benefits from soils.

Solutions to soil degradation are not simple and require a much better understanding of how people benefit from soils, what they stand to gain if they can improve the condition of the soils that they manage whether for crops, livestock, timber production or as semi-natural areas, what they would need to do to accomplish this and what barriers may prevent this. In parallel we need to gain better insight into the likely success of different management options to improve soils. Ultimately these options will require some form of investment whether that be via money, time, resources or other mechanisms. We will investigate the relative pros and cons of these mechanisms from the perspective of local people, organisations involved with markets for Payments for Ecosystem Services and national objectives in alleviating poverty. A broader view of carbon benefits and trading is an opportunity to invest in lasting improvements in degraded ecosystems and the livelihoods of the poor that depend on these.

All of this research and evidence building needs to be placed into the context of climate change. We need to establish that whatever might be suitable, acceptable and viable for tackling soil degradation now will have long-term benefits to local people and that these benefits will not be negated by the on-going changes to local climate.

The ALTER project is an international consortium between The James Hutton Institute (UK), University of Aberdeen (UK), Hawassa University (Ethiopia), The Ethiopian Government's Southern Agricultural Research Institute (SARI, Ethiopia), Carbon Foundation for East Africa (CAFEA, Uganda) and the International Water Management Institute (Nile Basin & Eastern Africa Office, Ethiopia). This team brings together natural scientists, social scientists and economists to work together with rural communities and other local decision-makers and facilitators to improve our capacity to predict how human-environment linked systems respond to incentives and other drivers change. This predictive capacity is needed to be able to explore whether different options for change could result in substantive poverty alleviation.

Planned Impact

ALTER seeks to achieve high impact by developing and implementing a Pathways to Impact (PtI) plan that permeates and frames the expected outcomes of all project activities. This PtI has a statement of desired change, that "the overarching aim of ALTER is to establish whether investment in soil carbon can be used to alleviate poverty (in addition to or as an alternative to aboveground carbon) by restoring, enhancing or protecting the goods and services provided by ecosystems in regions where soils are degraded or under threat of degradation".
The desired change as a consequence of ALTER's outputs is that soil degradation is reversed through management to achieve short- and medium-term benefits for poverty alleviation and enhance resilience of ecosystem services, whilst local, national and international capacity to invest in soil is achieved.
The ALTER project would provide the evidence necessary for this change to be promoted by national and international organisations and to provide local people with sound knowledge of opportunities available to tackle soil degradation. We will seek to influence institutions and governance structures that most relate to poverty alleviation. These include National Development Plans and implementation of existing National Adaptation Plans of Action and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions.
The PtI is developed in collaboration with local partners and structured to utilise the Theory of Change and ESPAs Impact and Knowledge Strategies, whilst building on partners' extensive range of experience in stakeholder engagement and research support for policy. There are many opportunities for developing metrics for measuring impact within the project. These include quantifiable measurements of soil carbon, fertility, primary production and flow of ecosystem services leading to poverty alleviation. ALTER will implement a set of Ideals: Innovation: improving on existing practises and building capacity; Inclusion: harnessing the potential of partners, collaborators and wider stakeholders; Implementation: showing how 'good practice' works; Linkage: linking up with previous and existing projects and programmes and Legacy: creating practises, attitudes and organisational structures that outlast the project. We will utilise the PtI Advisory Working Group (see Pathways document) to develop these metrics as appropriate to each location to ensure appropriate coverage and relevance. Whilst ALTER will report to the Research Outcome System, we will also seek to monitor flow of data and information through relevant organisations and maintenance of networks to ascertain the impact on achievement of the Statement of Desired Change.
By engaging with multiple stakeholders, from local communities, research organisations to regional and national government, we will develop working relationships that facilitate two-way dialogues with those we seek to learn from, inform and influence. We will map out networks of stakeholders to ensure an efficient process of engagement that provides a two-way flow of information between the multiple research disciplines. This enables the identification of key actors and targeting of influence efforts to increase the probability of effective change. Engagement with stakeholders, both within ALTER and wider networks will help ensure that all opportunities to influence the contextual drivers are taken. This presents a logical sequence through which ALTER will achieve the desired impact across multiple scales.
We will develop multi-media approaches designed to suit the needs of the range of stakeholders involved. Effort will be channelled through a range of communication media: Policy engagement; Linking to other projects and initiatives; Social networking and new media; Extension services; Workshops; Master classes; Local internet; Academic; Government, planning and policy. The details of activities for each of these media are provided in the Case for Support WP4.


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