Challenges and opportunities in taking account of ecosystem values in Africa

Wetland in Kigali

Andrew Farmer, Geneva, 3 December 2013

A critical precondition for the use of ecosystem service values in decision making is effective rule of law. Participants raised concerns that in some cases environmental laws may be ignored by local or national decision makers, such as where major mineral or oil deposits are found in protected areas.

A training event on the TEEB for Water and Wetlands report was held 25th to 27th November 2013, in Kampala, Uganda, for participants from across Africa. The training addressed the importance of ensuring ecosystem services from water and wetlands are recognized, demonstrated and captured; examined techniques for qualitative, quantitative and monetary analysis of ecosystem service values; and considered how to use the values of ecosystem services in decision making.

There have been several studies on the economic valuation of ecosystem services in Africa and the results have influenced decision making. However, it is evident that the lack of information on ecosystem services for many wetlands in Africa means that the evidence based for effective decision making is limited.

Ecosystem service values can be used to inform decisions of all types. Discussion at the workshop included concern ranging from local management problems (such as reducing over-fishing, conversion of wetlands to rice cultivation) to developing different types of spatial plans (such as land-use plans and integrated water resource management plans). The challenges of engaging with stakeholders at different spatial scales relevant to these different types of decision making was highlighted, both to inform the understanding of the values people place on ecosystems and the services they provide and also to create buy-in for practical actions and policies.

Africa is characterized by many transboundary rivers and lakes of varying sizes. Co-operative consideration of problems and objectives has progressed on many of these water bodies (such as the River Nile and Lake Victoria). However, detailed examination of the values of ecosystem services in a transboundary decision making context has yet to be taken forward. This is a governance challenge, particularly where an economic pressure leads to a decline in an ecosystem service across a border. However, participants recognized the importance of improved understanding of ecosystem services to enhance transboundary water management.

A critical precondition for the use of ecosystem service values in decision making is effective rule of law. Participants raised concerns that in some cases environmental laws may be ignored by local or national decision makers, such as where major mineral or oil deposits are found in protected areas. Valuation of the ecosystem services of such protected areas is unlikely to outweigh the self-interest of those individuals making illegal decisions. However, participants did consider that even in these instances transparent information on the value of ecosystem services may help mobilize stakeholder opinion that might help address some types of illegal decision making.

Participants set out ambitious objectives to undertake valuation studies of ecosystem services for water and wetlands across Africa. Some projected studies are for individual waters and wetlands to help develop local management plans or influence individual economic decisions. Others are larger in scale to examine flows of ecosystem services in major river basins. The critical factors for such initiatives will be to ensure sufficient finance to undertake the studies, that there is access to sufficient technical expertise and, last but not least, that the results of such studies are listened to by those responsible for decision making.

About the author

Andrew FarmerAndrew Farmer is the Director of Research at the Institute for European Environmental Policy, in London. He is a Biologist by training and specializes in EU legislation in relation to water and air pollution, and pollution control policies more widely, including the operation of inspectorates. Andrew has extensive experience of issues arising from EU enlargement, particularly administrative capacity building in candidate and neighborhood countries.

 

Disclaimer:

The views expressed in this blog are purely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of TEEB and should not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of TEEB.

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