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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Agriculture Policy and Dev

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.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/K010379/1 01/09/2013 31/07/2014 £345,537
NE/K010379/2 Transfer NE/K010379/1 01/08/2014 30/09/2017 £253,687
 
Description 1. We found novel relationships between forest cover and agricultural productivity e.g. cocoa farms have higher yields when close to intact forest, and yields decline with distance.
2. By defining ecological limits to agricultural production, we identified significant scope for yields and livelihoods to be improved through relatively simple to implement measures.
3. We showed that relaxing specific ecosystem limits, improving yields and livelihoods could alleviate poverty in certain dimensions, but that other poverty dimensions were insensitive to agricultural improvement.
Exploitation Route We are currently working with our African partners to share our research findings with policy and private sector stakeholders in Ghana and Ethiopia and feed these inot ambitious climate smart/ emissions reduction programmes.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description We have achieved impact through three main routes: 1. The project realized important and interesting new knowledge relevant to the cocoa and coffee sectors in Ghana and Ethiopia which was sought after by broad number of stakeholders. 2. The project was able to engage with policy makers and sector stakeholders to provide information on our findings in various formal and informal settings. Our lead African partner NCRC continues to do so in an on-going fashion in both countries. 3. The project was able to prepare 6 formal policy briefs in Ghana and several in Ethiopia are being prepared now. These were circulated widely in country and are available online.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description NBAF funding for molecular genetics work
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NBAF446, NBAF844 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Department NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility (NBAF)
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description NERC El Nino grant
Amount £200,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P00394X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Article on cocoa work in Planet Earth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Several researchers of this project were interviewed for an article in UKRI's publication Planet Earth, for the Autumn Winter 2018 issue. This article was intended to highlight the main findings of our work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://nerc.ukri.org/latest/publications/planetearth/autwin18-cocoa/
 
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 Emissions reduction programmes in Ghana and Ethiopia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Ethiopia and Ghana are developing ambitious carbon emissions reductions programmes focused on the main coffee growing areas in Ethiopia and on the cocoa cropping system in Ghana. These programs are based on transformational approaches to landscape management, which recognise the multi-functional roles landscapes play, and the critically important relationships between landscapes, rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation.

Our African partners already have a direct involvement in the emissions reductions programmes in both Ghana and Ethiopia, and are therefore extremely well placed to act as a bridge between the science emerging from our work and these programmes. Furthermore, they can play a critical longer-term role that maintains the links between the UK science teams and these programmes.

In Ghana our data is already being fed into the design of the USD50 million Cocoa Forest Emissions Reduction Program while in Ethiopia our data is being harnessed under the auspices of the USD70 million Oromia Forest Landscape Program and the Coffee and Tea Development and Marketing Authority to design the National 20-Year Climate Smart Coffee Sector Pathway. As such we have harnessed a significant impact opportunity around these developing programmes.

Our Ghana partner has engaged in multiple national-level meetings (since Sept 2015 to date) with government, multilateral institutions and private sector on the incorporation of ECOLIMITS data into the detailed design of the emissions program. The results of our microclimate/tree shade threshold analysis across poverty levels and main recommendations is being fed into this process. Participants have included government REDD+ officials, local and international NGOs, key certification bodies, private cocoa buying companies, officials from the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana and the Forest Research Institute of Ghana and representatives of cocoa farmer organisations. This process will continue throughout 2016 as the Ghana Cocoa program design is completed.

Our Ethiopia partner, with support from our Ghana partner, has been engaging key players and stakeholders in Oromia State's developing REDD+ programme (since November 2015 to date) around the importance of maintaining tree cover for resilience of coffee yields as well as the ecological or social barriers for farmers to realise these recommendations. Participants include members of the Oromia Forest and Wildlife Enterprise (OFWE), the recently established Coffee and Tea Development and Marketing Authority, the Jimma Agricultural Research Centre (a preeminent body for coffee disease research in the country), private sector companies, farmer associations, key development agencies and local and international NGOs. Discussions to date are requesting ECOLIMITS team to facilitate a 20 year scenario plan document assuming implementation of key recommended interventions to improve sustainability.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
 
Description Impact workshop in Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 2 day-workshop in Accra, Ghana to brief key governmental and private actors on our research findings. Day 2 included refining/final development of 6 policy-briefs - available at: http://www.ecolimits.org/project-impact.html, and discussion about how the research could role into Government policy, private sector activities and the need for further research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ecolimits.org/project-impact.html
 
Description International Coffee Organisation (ICO) Congress 2016, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Contribute to joint presentation together with Kew Botanical on Climate Impacts on Coffee Arabica in Ethiopia Highlands.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
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 Presentation at the European Society of Tropical Biology 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I presented at the Annual meet for the European Society of Tropical Biology in Paris on a talk titled "Quantifying Net Primary Productivity, Potential Poverty Alleviation and Forest Conservation in an African Forest-Cocoa Landscape". This was a focused meeting for primarily tropical ecologists; however, I was presenting in a session focused on human modified systems. It was a useful meeting for disseminating our results.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
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
 
Description Promotional ESPA video 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The ESPA directorate was interested to do a short documentary on our work in Ghana, called "Promoting sustainability and wellbeing in Ghana's cocoa forests". This was primarily led by our partner NCRC in country, with input from several of the UK PIs and PDRAs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.espa.ac.uk/multimedia/video/promoting-sustainability-and-wellbeing-ghanas-cocoa-forests