Ecosystem services and resilience

Photo: IWMI

Coordinator: Fabrice DeClerck

Ecosystem services and resilience is a cross-cutting theme of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems. At a recent workshop, held in Montpellier, researchers from a variety of disciplines came together to develop a shared understanding of what these concepts mean. Here are some of their thoughts:

In the context of poverty alleviation, ecosystem services research and management is about natural capital supporting the lives of the poor. It offers a holistic view that allows us to understand trade offs and synergies, both short and long term, on how mixed use landscapes can be managed for their multi-functionality. WLE recognizes the critical need to demonstrate how, under what conditions, and at what scale ecosystem service management contributes to improving the lives of the poor –either by increasing the degree of ecosystem service provided directly to the poor, ensuring the resilience of service provision, or by recognizing the efforts of the poor in providing ecosystems services.

Ecosystem services go beyond solely impacting the poor however, and are central to a global strategy for sustainability. Global agricultural systems are met with the dual challenge of increasing food production to meet a growing global population, and to reduce the negative impact of agricultural systems on the environment. The second goal recognizes the tremendous impact that agriculture has had as a driver of environmental degradation. WLE recognizes that the agriculture of the 21st century must move beyond yield and focus on the capacity of agricultural landscapes to provide multiple ecosystem services, including food production and hydrological services.

The management of ecosystem services necessitates an integrated research focus that transcends scales – from field to landscapes – and disciplines. It also requires a clear understanding of the drivers of ecosystem service provision, including the ecological (which ecosystems provide what services and at what scales) and the socio-economic (which services are people interested in and why) in order to create sustainable incentive mechanisms to ensure the continued provision of these services.