Alain Vidal, Director of the Challenge Program on Water and Food and member of the WLE Program Team, shares reflections from the launch of the “Get the solutions flowing” campaign on the eve of World Wetlands Day.
A good introduction to World Wetlands Day in Rotterdam was paying 10€ to park in the open space of a former industrial plant, which has been converted into a “green” conference center. Here ecosystems, especially wetlands, are business; they play an irreplaceable role in protecting economic activities against floods. But, does it mean that ecosystem services have been hijacked by the business sector, to echo Jeremy Cherfas’ recent blog post?
On the eve of World Wetlands Day, Wetlands International, WBCSD and the City of Rotterdam launched the “Get the solutions flowing” campaign. The campaign will run through 2013 and aims to create a major ripple effect in governments, business and NGOs to ensure wetlands are at the center of the solutions. I was invited to attend this campaign’s launching event where I represented the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), among other international leaders from the business, government, and NGO sectors.
Of course, I shared some of the Challenge Program on Water and Food’s (CPWF) examples and the International Water Management Institute’s (IWMI) experience on the value of wetlands and the services they provide. Their services are extensive and highly valuable; wetlands help mitigate flooding, control pollution, and can regulate the climate. “Cultivation in the 1 square kilometer GaMampa Wetland in South Africa yields an estimated annual gross value of USD 6,788 to the surrounding communities.”
Protecting wetlands will require a number of shifts, which was recognized widely by participants. Wetlands solutions should be developed at a landscape level as opposed to the household or community level—which, from a WLE perspective, was a welcomed confirmation of the program’s niche in landscapes. Another shift will need to come from the way in which current research and development work is conducted. Water researchers and professionals work in a very different space than those from wetlands/ecosystems. An integrated approach may not be as easy or natural as we pretend.
The launch event’s key conclusions focused on the challenges of scaling up local successes. It concluded that moving from islands of success to oceans of change requires platforms for engagement and changing behaviours. By chance, such ideas have become a new priority for development partners; IFAD’s new strategy identifies policy dialogues as a clear priority.
To me, “oceans of change” is synonymous with development outcomes. Indeed, outcomes can be defined as changes in stakeholder’s behavior through shifts in their practice, investments or decision-making processes. But why are outcomes so challenging for researchers? Before looking outside for reasons, let’s consider a major internal reason: the reluctance among researchers to shift themselves—to change their habits and paradigms. But let us recognize this is difficult and challenging.
A simple example: WLE is developing a paradigm shift which moves from enhancing agricultural productivity while minimizing environmental impacts, to a paradigm where sustainability is the entry point to agricultural development. This new paradigm starts by enhancing and protecting ecosystem services as a method to increase agricultural production.
But one major question we must ask is: Do we, agricultural researchers, agree with this shift? Are we ready to partly re-orient the research we have done to demonstrate the relevance and effectiveness of such a shift?
If we do, then we can learn from the Wetlands Event’s key conclusion: our need to re-orient research. For wetlands, we can re-orient our research to look at landscapes management instead of managing wetlands at a local level. Applying this approach to the paradigm shift that WLE is advocating for, we should look at enhancing and protecting ecosystem services (at a landscapes level) as a tool to increase agricultural production and development. Is this something we are ready to invest in?
About the Author:
Alain Vidal is the Director of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, and a member of the WLE Program Team. Alain began his professional activity in Morocco in 1986, which ignited a 10-year research career with the French Environmental Research Institute, Cemagref. He worked with FAO on innovations in scientific research uptake and technology exchange, before returning to Cemagref from 2003 to 2009 as its Director of European and International Affairs. He has authored or co-authored more than forty refereed papers, and edited 5 books. Alain received his PhD in water science from the University of Montpellier in 1989.