Ecosystem Services, Wellbeing and Justice: Developing Tools for Research and Development Practice

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: International Development


The management of ecosystems in the Global South often involves tradeoffs between the conservation of global ecosystem services (ES, e.g. biodiversity), on the one hand, and provision of ES (e.g. food) and protection from ecosystem disservices (ED, e.g. crop raids) for local people. In our ESPA-funded 'Just Ecosystem Management' research, we found that the use of justice analyses improved our conceptual understanding of such tradeoffs and provided theoretical insights into how we might work to resolve them. In this proposed follow-on project, we combine the insights on justice with recent innovations in wellbeing research, translate this novel conceptual approach into a robust strategy for empirical research and develop research tools for the wider ESPA community. The underlying rationale is that an equitable distribution of ES and ED, meaningful participation of poor people in management decisions and recognition of their knowledge and experiences creates positive impacts on the contribution of ES to poverty alleviation.

We build on knowledge of the Nam Et Phou Loeuy region in northern Laos accumulated under the I-REDD+ Project and a comparison of three governance interventions intended to reconcile global and local ES (resettlement, use combined with protection, tourism revenue sharing). We provide complementary, multidisciplinary data by applying the following main research questions in four sites:
(1) What ES and ED are present at the landscape scale?
(2) How does availability and use of ES/ED differ between sites with different interventions and for different stakeholders?
(3) How has availability and use of ES/ED changed over the preceding 13 years, and to what extent have the interventions caused the changes?
(4) What are local stakeholders' notions of wellbeing and justice, both individually and collectively, with particular regard to ES and ED?
(5) How do people perceive changes in their individual wellbeing? What contributions do ES make to wellbeing, what harms do ED create, and how has this changed?
(6) How do different stakeholders (collectively and individually) and experts evaluate different forms of interventions to be just or unjust, and how do their evaluations relate to wellbeing outcomes?

The project will produce four main outputs for ESPA research:
1) Empirical insights on how different interventions designed to reconcile local and global ES affect the contributions of ES to poverty alleviation.
2) Tools for wider research on the contributions of ES to poverty alleviation appropriate to remote areas of the Global South, including:
- Disaggregated ES and ED inventory
- Guidelines for expert justice assessments of ecosystem management
- Protocol for participatory workshops on ES, wellbeing and justice
- Interview guide on ES, wellbeing and justice
3) Data sets on ES/ED and their effects on wellbeing.
4) The Participatory Ecosystem Services Inventory Tool (PESIT), which would allow local communities to identify and measure a range of ES/ED and map key stakeholders with support from external facilitators.

The research will be planned and tools designed alongside the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in consultation with local stakeholders including government officials, NGOs and researchers. WCS are a major global stakeholder in ecosystem management and are actively keen to be involved in testing of tools in their own sites in Laos and Cambodia and applying these tools to improve the effectiveness of interventions in including and benefitting poor and marginalised individuals and groups. The tool will ultimately be made available in the form of a manual, disseminated over the internet and through presentations at selected international forums. It is expected to be of direct relevance to the work of government officials, donors and NGOs in the Global South, thereby creating tangible benefits for poor people in low-income countries.

Planned Impact

The proposed research seeks to achieve development impact by supporting managers of protected areas in the Global South in their efforts to reconcile conservation of global ES with provision of local ES. The intended impact is that poor people in low-income countries living near protected areas are more able to benefit from local ES, are empowered through the co-generation of knowledge on ES and realise greater participation in management decisions. This may be achieved as conservation and development practitioners recognize benefits of and have practical tools for incorporating justice concerns into ecosystem management, for involving poor people in identifying site-specific ES and promoting their participation in ES management decisions.

The research is intended to achieve impact through combining justice, wellbeing and ES in empirical research and promoting the application of these methods in ecosystem management through production of practical research tools. More directly, our research will generate impact through a) insights on how different types of governance interventions affect the contribution of ES to poverty alleviation and b) through development, testing and dissemination of a novel tool for participatory ES inventory.

The Participatory Ecosystem Services Inventory Tool (PESIT) can be thought of as a two-fold extension of participatory forest inventories. It will attend to the whole range of ES and disservices and will combine the identification of ES with the mapping of primary stakeholders. The tool will help ecosystem managers to involve local stakeholders in the co-generation of knowledge about ES, identification of tradeoffs encountered in ecosystem management and management decisions. The research partners will team up with NORDECO, a world leader on participatory forest monitoring, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a major global stakeholder in ecosystem management, to develop PESIT at two sites of the Nam Et Phou Loeuy National Protected Area in Laos. Development will involve coordination with partners, consultations at local and national levels, two trial applications at sites in Laos followed by refinement and a pilot test in the WCS project in Seima Protection Forest in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. The tool will be synthesized, published electronically and in print in English and Lao and results disseminated widely through the Monitoring Matters Network, at a workshop in Laos, at the Cambridge Conservation Forum and the 2014 World Parks Congress in Sydney.

The project is aimed at conservation and development projects worldwide, implemented by governments and international conservation organisations, such as WCS and WWF, in addition to governmental agencies, donors and international NGOs in Laos and other countries of Southeast Asia, such as the Lao Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and IUCN. 12% of the total project budget will be allocated to impact activities, including workshops and consultations in Laos, a presentation at the World Parks Congress in 2014 and an info brief on the just resolution of tradeoffs. We will also engage in website development (on the website of the Global Environmental Justice Group at UEA), blogs and various presentations to be made at the ESPA Global Forum and Cambridge Conservation Forum. UEA, University of Copenhagen and NUOL will also synthesize key insights on governance interventions reconciling local and global ES in support of poverty alleviation in an info brief in English and Lao. UEA will share its impact work at the ESPA Global Forum and work with the ESPA Directorate on other outreach activities.


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Description Protection of biodiversity often involves trade-offs with the use of resources by local people, particularly in the tropics where levels of poverty are high and livelihoods are strongly connected to land and natural resources. Our research combined the insights from environmental justice theory with recent innovations in wellbeing research. We aimed to bring forward the perspectives of people that are commonly least well represented: poor and marginal groups, and to provide practical insights which may contribute to both long-term ecosystem management and poverty alleviation by identifying mutually compatible ways forward.
Objectives of equity and justice are gaining credence in conservation policies, like the Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity. But these terms are poorly defined in policy and there is a lack of understanding on how to implement just or equitable policies. So research like ours which tests methods for understanding what justice is and how to promote more just policies and outcomes has relevance to conservation practice.
The project tested these ideas through empirical, multidisciplinary research in the Nam Et-Phou Loeuy National Protected Area (NEPL) in northern Laos providing critical forest habitat to 18 endangered species of large mammal, including one of the most important tiger populations in Indochina and run jointly by the Lao government and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Local people and livelihoods had undergone considerable change in the past 20+ years. They had traditionally survived through shifting cultivation of rice in the forested uplands and complemented this through hunting, fishing and foraging in surrounding forests, rivers and farmland. And since 2008 livelihoods have changed dramatically as farming has shifted to cash crops, growing maize to sell as feed for cattle in nearby Vietnam. But conservation organisations have focused largely on protecting wildlife and with minimal engagement with local communities other than education programs to promote the value of tigers and other animals, understanding of the impacts of these social changes on conservation and related opportunities and risks has been minimal. The study therefore aimed to highlight perspectives of a diversity of local inhabitants and draw implications for conservation and development practice. Access to land to produce or afford enough rice for a family, alongside opportunities to forage for meat and vegetables were central to local conceptions of wellbeing. Access to land differed considerably within villages, partially mediated by conservation interventions. Not all were better off under the changes, with food security worsening for many of the poorest households. Despite modernisation people were still highly dependent on the surrounding landscape for natural resources with hundreds of different plants and animals being collected for a wide variety of local uses as well as a few for sale. Even for households who were becoming better off, issues relating to the restrictions placed on their land use and resource collection by conservation, the top-down way in which decisions are made and the lack of attention to local priorities and values meant that many considered the impacts of the NPA to be unfair. As a result both new and old claims to land within the protected area have emerged or re-emerged, resulting in tensions between conservation and development trajectories.
The research was planned and tools designed alongside the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in consultation with local stakeholders including government officials, NGOs and researchers. WCS are a major global stakeholder in ecosystem management and are actively keen to be involved in applying these findings in their other sites in Laos and applying the tools to improve the effectiveness of interventions in including and benefitting poor and marginalised people. UEA aimed to utilise and build on current knowledge of ecosystem services and wellbeing in the study area and to build capacity within Laos through the National University, local NGOs and government officials for future research.
Exploitation Route These findings can be incorporated into everyday management practices and governance of protected areas to improve the participation of local communities and vulnerable minorities, the outcomes that they experience. They can be used to better integrate social and development related policies with environmental policies and programs. They can also be used to design better policies at national and international levels, that more effectively account for the social dimensions involved in land and natural resource sectors. Impacts have been and through various follow on projects and knowledge transfer activities promoted at each of these levels through the project. Ultimately this has contributed to the adoption of voluntary guidelines for conservation governance being adopted at the level of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in late 2018, which with further advocacy may also help to shape the post-2020 strategic framework of the CBD.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description At local level and in-country: Through validating findings with participating communities, we produced guidance for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) of Laos who manage the adjacent national park (Nam-Et Phou Louey National Protected Area) on working with communities, and a policy brief in lao and English languages directed to government and NGOs operating there. To promote uptake, we initiated a regional workshop involving numerous conservation and development stakeholders working in the region and were able to begin long-term dialogue on strategic coordination of their work. WCS subsequently approached the project team for advice on enhancing local participation in National Park management and the PI, Dawson, performed consultancy work for them on how to approach community engagement and impact mitigation. International impact on policy and practice: We held a knowledge exchange workshop alongside WCS staff at the International Congress for Conservation Biology in France in 2015. This project has also provided the basis for long-term engagement between UEA, the ESPA program, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), German Development Corporation (GIZ) and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Through these continuing collaborations and several international workshops, we developed guidance material for practitioners on equitable protected area governance. This was adopted as a set of voluntary guidelines in November 2018 at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's Conference of Parties in Egypt. In 2017, through these collaborations and in consideration of the publications produced, Dawson was invited to join the Steering Committee of the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy, a position which will facilitate considerable knowledge transfer and production of high-profile reports and publications leading up to the World Conservation Congress in Marseille in 2020. Up to $30,000 has been secured from IUCN to form an international working group, with members from all continents, to manage that working group.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description ESPA Regional Opportunities Fund
Amount £75,000 (GBP)
Funding ID ESPA/ROF/2015-16/02 
Organisation Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 12/2016
Description Justice and equity: Emerging research and policy approaches to address ecosystem service trade-offs
Amount £23,000 (GBP)
Organisation Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 12/2018
Description Land-use intensification in forest-agriculture frontier landscapes: effects on ecosystem services and poverty alleviation
Amount £200,000 (GBP)
Organisation Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2017