Monday, August 02, 2010

Appreciate ordinary protectors of ecosystems

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] No doubt, some of those who live and farm next to important ecosystems conserve and protect these natural systems that are endowed with multifunctional life supporting services.
According to Thomas Yatich of the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre, ecosystems provide critical services but the communities who conserve and influence the quality and quantity of their life supporting products are hardly recognized.
“The services include provisionary ones such as timber, food and fibre, regulatory services such as microclimatic and carbon cycles, supportive ones such as soil fertility and those mediated by culture like the Kaya Bombo forest protected for its cultural values,” said Yatich.
However, the ecosystems, according to Yatich, have become degraded over time, as have the services associated with them. Evolutionary and political reasons as well as inadequate policy framework, among other factors, account for this.
In the pre-colonial period, said Yatich, most ecosystems remained intact because of traditional structures and values governing natural resources. “But in the colonial days people were translocated into lowlands, and forests were turned into farmland for products that were exported to Europe,” he said.
After independence, Africans who took leadership perfected the colonial regulations. Land use driven by policies, like those on food security, turned more forest areas into agricultural land. “Population increase led to high demand for food and, therefore, a move to convert more forested areas into to agricultural lands,” said Yatich, adding, “Innovations like the shamba system were aimed at addressing food security and forestation but farmers killed trees to prolong their stay on such lands.”
There has also been the failure of linkages between extension services and farmers’ land use methods in different agroecological zones. While there have been some multi-sectoral acts and policies, these have not only been inadequate but also done little to protect ecosystems.
But even bigger, according to Yatich, has been the lack of appreciation of the role of farmers in different ecological zones. Farmers have been reciprocating government demands, but their roles in influencing the quality and quantity of specific ecosystem services have not been recognized.
“For instance, do Nairobi residents appreciate farmers in upland areas that give them water” Yatich posed. The lack of appreciation can also be blamed on beneficiaries of those services like utility companies providing water, electricity, among others.
Poor linkages between policy and science manifest themselves in farmers upstream pursuing destructive land use practices that would not have happened had they been appreciated and rewarded.
Farmers’ activities upstream can cause water contamination and devastation of ecosystems, which in turn interferes with hydroelectric production.
The law might be clear in relation to protection of landscapes, but the enforcement is wanting and there is disconnect between law and practice.
Appreciate protectors of ecosystems
The World Agroforestry Centre, Yatich said, is now working on mechanisms to put acceptance and appreciation of farmers at the center of ecosystems protection. If implemented, this will result in less harmful land uses and make beneficiaries appreciate farmers’ roles.
The scheme, he said, was introduced in Southeast Asia to reward upland farmers for environmental services they produce.
The Centre is now pioneering this approach in Africa through seven sites including Sasumwa catchment and the upper Aberdares in Kenya where sedimentation and contamination are acute.
“If you reward farmers then you can save a lot,” observed Yatich who is now advocating for a structured appreciation of farmers by utility firms. In western Kenya in the Nyando and Yala river basins, the Centre has been carrying out scientific analysis since 1999. Similar activity is being conducted in Mount Kenya east, the main source of hydropower in the country.
In Tanzania, the Centre is working in the east and west Usambaras, Gulugurus Mountains, and in Uganda the Centre is active in the Albertine rift. West Africa has the Futajalon islands as a targeted area and in Malawi the project is located in Nchitsi district.
Site level enforcement establishes the state of the ecosystem, the existing ecosystem services and what can be done to reverse deterioration. Watershed delineation, land use mapping and other much needed activities are being carried out. “We identify the hotspots through land degradation assessment. We do hydrological analysis for changes caused by land use as well as water quality assessment and environmental acidity. We carry out socio-economic analyses as well,” stated Yatich.
“If you come up with scenarios on the impact to farmers, and the cost of transition and project money that utility companies will save, then you would draft a reward scheme for better land uses such as contour faming, agroforestry and planting trees. These will ultimately reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
But solid scientific evidence is needed to design a work plan, incentive mechanisms for the reward scheme, and to create institutional means that bring producers of ecosystem services and beneficiaries together for the betterment of ecosystems, and their sustainable use.
“There is potential for changing farming methods through the provision of extension services, encouraging sustainable practices, and offering incentives for organic farming,” he said.
“This is a process that fosters collective action and collective learning, and social capital is required for increased cover and reduced runoff,” said Yatich.
It also entails monitoring the impact of trees planted, and can show beneficiaries the important role of farmers so that they “invest in recognition.”
Need for a policy framework
Bits and pieces of acts and policies exist, but there is need for a comprehensive policy framework that fosters the kind of work the Centre is active in. “We are being systematic and this is crucial for the kind of action we are piloting across Africa.”
“We started in 2008 and now we have site level implementing staff,” he said. The World Bank, European Union, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Government of Finland and national partners, including national governments, are implementing partners.
The Centre periodically engages with the private sector to increase awareness of the interplay between ecosystems and businesses. The World Agroforestry Centre coordinates and manages the programme and ensures quality science, provides capacity building, leveraging expertise and technical support (tools, approaches and methodologies), guarantees proper implementation of project activities in different sites, and is accountable to donors.

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