Sonali Senaratna Sellamuttu/IWMI.

A framework for ecosystem services and resilience

Earlier this month the WLE launched its Ecosystem Services and Resilience Framework. WLE supports an approach to sustainable intensification whereby healthy, functioning ecosystems are seen as a prerequisite to agricultural development, food security and human well-being. Ecosystem services and resilience is a core theme of the program’s integrated approach to natural resource management. The Framework will serve as the guiding document for WLE’s efforts to ensure that ecosystem services and resilience concepts are incorporated into agricultural development and resource management decisions.

Ecosystem services and resilience framework

CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). 2014. Ecosystem services and resilience framework. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute (IWMI). CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). 46p. doi: 10.5337/2014.229

Originally featured on, this photostory highlights three examples of the complex links between people, nature and agricultural landscapes.

The Volta Basin in West Africa

1) People and nature are intrinsically linked and both are required to enhance the flow of ecosystem services to and from agricultural landscapes. In West Africa’s Volta River basin pressures on water resources and other ecosystem services are affecting agricultural productivity in both irrigated and rainfed systems.

Akosombo dam in Ghana
Akosombo dam in Ghana, whcih provides 20 percent of the country's electricity.
C. Zanzanaini/Bioversity International

2) Poor management of the region’s many reservoirs (used primarily for hydropower production, as well as transportation and irrigation) has increased siltation and sedimentation, in turn reducing the storage capacity of the reservoirs. This has impacted irrigation potential in the dry season and reduced fish populations in the reservoirs.

Fish in Burkina Faso
Fish from a small reservoir in Burkina Faso.
C. Zanzanaini/Bioversity International

3) Region-specific interventions such as targeted planning can help enhance ecosystem service flows through the strengthening of human and institutional capacity. Institutions and governance bodies would then be better placed to support rural communities, ensure a sustainable approach to urban development, and address the land ownership and tenure constraints that discourage investments in ecosystem restoration.

Collecting water Golinga reservoir Ghana
Collecting water Golinga reservoir Ghana.
C. Zanzanaini/Bioversity International

Forest habitat and hydropower in Costa Rica

1) Costa Rica’s Volcanica Central Talamanca Biological Corridor is a 114,000-hectare initiative founded in 2000 to maintain biological connectivity. The Corridor’s steering committees have since shifted to an ecosystem service-based approach to match conservation objectives with the priorities of a number of different groups operating in the Corridor, including farmers, urban residents, the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity and the ecotourism sector.

Dam in Turrialba Costa Rica
Dam and multiple agriculture land uses in the Turrialba part of Corridor in Costa Rica.
C. Zanzanaini/Bioversity International

2) In one notable example of this approach, Costa Rican cattle farmers receive annual payments from the Institute of Electricity for undertaking soil conservation practices aimed to reduce sedimentation rates in the Angostura dam, which generates hydropower. These conservation practices have increased farm productivity and stability for individual farmers, and shows how the collective action of numerous small farms can lead to landscape-level results.

Cattle farmers in Costa Rica
Cattle farmer in Costa Rica.
F. DeClerk/Bioversity International

3) New research from WLE partners shows that implementing soil conservation in areas were erosive crops (crops that do not retain soil) are grown on steep hills is the most cost-effective strategy for reducing reservoir sedimentation rates. Using Payment for Ecosystem services to encourage soil conservation through agroforestry practices and forest conservation is cheaper than the USD 10 million that would otherwise be required to dredge sediment from reservoirs.

Erosion priority areas in Talamanca
Erosion priority areas in Talamanca.
N. Estrada Carmona/Bioversity International

Rice ecosystems in the Mekong

1) Prevailing high levels of poverty, household food insecurity and huge environmental pressures (due in part to agricultural intensification, hydropower and large-scale irrigation development) of the Greater Mekong sub-region suggest that the region’s current economic growth is neither sufficiently inclusive, nor sustainable. The future of countries in the region depends on the stewardship of natural resources and the sharing of benefits derived from resource exploitation.

Rice field in the Greater Mekong
Rice field in the Greater Mekong region.
Jim Holmes/IWMI.

2) Rice production in the Mekong exemplifies the intrinsic link between people and nature. Rice ecosystems are not only important for rice production throughout the region, but also harbor a diverse set of organisms that provide multiple benefits, including pest control and maintenance of soil fertility, as well as being an important source of food in their own right. Some rice-based ecosystems contain more than 100 useful species from an ecosystem services perspective.

Fisherman in the Greater Mekong region
Fisherman in the Greater Mekong region.
Eric Baran/WorldFish.

3) The costs and benefits associated with the present, region-wide push for intensified rice production must be carefully evaluated at both the community and household levels. It is important that development opportunities are realized without undermining the aquatic resources on which many people currently depend, and which make significant contributions to the resilience of rice systems, particularly in the face of climate change.

Unhusked rice
Unhusked rice.
S. Borei/WorldFish