Do ecosystem services influence household wealth in rural Mali?

The impact of ecosystem services on human livelihood is rarely demonstrated. We investigated whether ecosystem services influence household wealth in semi-arid rural Mali, where climate variability and soil degradation were expected to regulate subsistence production. Mean rainfall, mean rain use efficiency, and rain use efficiency trends (a land degradation proxy) over the last 25 years were used to quantify ecosystem services. Asset wealth was measured in 2527 households from 65 villages spanning the range in ecosystem services. We evaluated effects on wealth, controlling for household size and demographics, ethnicity, village size, crop selection, and distance to open water and markets. While wealth variation was dominated by demographics, significant associations with ecosystem services were observed. Predicted household wealth increased significantly (20%) with rainfall. Effects of rain use efficiency mean and trends were also significant, but only when conditioned on rainfall. With lower rainfall, wealth increased with mean rain use efficiency (+ 33%) but decreased with rain use efficiency trend (? 22%). With higher rainfall, however, wealth decreased with rain use efficiency (? 57%) and increased markedly with rain use efficiency trend (+ 185%). While ecosystem services are clearly important, their effect on rural poverty is complex and potentially obscured by coping strategies that mitigate environmental limitations.